I'm trying to make a subtle background out of a collection of symbols, arranged in randomly order in multiple roughly structured rows.

A bit like:
G+ Background

The Symbol Sprayer Tool is close to what I need, but it distributes only a single symbol in a circular area rather than along a line.

How can I create something like this?

  • Its probably easier to place the objects manually to make sure the spacing is as you want it. – Sam Collins Feb 19 '15 at 11:05
  • There's a helluva lot of space to fill, and a fair number of symbols to use... hence I'm looking for automated methods. – yellow-saint Feb 19 '15 at 14:28
  • Are the symbols the same size or do they vary? Same size is kind of easy. Or at least easier. Varying sizes can only be done manually. Illustrator has no "auto-fit" functions. Your sample is a repeating pattern :) – Scott Feb 20 '15 at 0:30
  • More or less the same size. So you're suggesting creating a pattern manually and just repeating it? Bleurgh, that sounds distinctly like effort :P I think there might be call to build a little plugin for this... – yellow-saint Feb 20 '15 at 10:16
  • Slightly relevant: graphicdesign.stackexchange.com/q/18829/8845 – Saaru Lindestøkke Feb 25 '15 at 12:29

In the end I couldn't find a mechanism to automatically distribute and repeat a pattern, but this article on The Noun Project's blog did give a really good runthrough of how to do it; manually, but reliably and relatively easily.

Summary of article

enter image description here The most important thing to note, is that each shape on the edge of our square needs to have a duplicate icon exactly in the same position on the other side. This is super easy to do since our pattern is 300x300px, as all we need to do is open the transform window (Window > Transform), and type in +300 after the value in the X field. Adding 300 pixels will move our icon over to the right, while subtracting 300 pixels will move it to the left. The same can be said for the Y axis, only adding pixels will move the object down, and subtracting pixels will move it up. enter image description here ...

enter image description here

With the selection tool, highlight all the elements of the pattern (including the square unfilled shape) and drag it into your swatches panel (Window > Swatches). In the dialogue window that pops up, select ‘Pattern brush”. enter image description here

  • 2
    If you can summarise the key points of that article (use a grid, setting up the pattern, etc) that'd make a really good, useful answer that'll still be useful if that link goes down. – user56reinstatemonica8 Feb 24 '15 at 17:32
  • @user568458 - done! – yellow-saint Nov 21 '16 at 21:17
  • 1
    And the link is now down, so thanks for that! – spro Jun 27 '18 at 19:55

AstuteGraphic's ColliderScribe Plugin might be able to help you. If you see on their page, the offset spacing function allows you to place irregular objects a certain distance from each other.

If you combine that with the seamless pattern tool you should be able to achieve the effect you describe

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