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Learn how to create an asymmetrical polka dot pattern in Photoshop using a displacement map.

Setting up your pattern

Open Photoshop and click to create a new document. For this tutorial I use the dimensions 400 x 400 px with resolution set to 300 dpi, RGB color mode and transparent background.

To start we need to create a basic polka dot pattern. Next create a circle. For this tutorial I demonstrate using the Elliptical Marquee tool but you can also use the ellipse shape tool.

In the top menu change style to fixed size and enter the values 100 x 100 px for width and height. Click on the canvas and you will see the selection. Next fill the selection with black. By default the foreground color is black and background color is white. If your colors are not set to the default you can use the keyboard shortcut – D to get them back to the default colors.

With the default colors use opt + delete (Mac) or alt + backspace (PC) to fill the selection in with the foreground color black. The selected area is still active so you need to deselect the pixels by using the keyboard shortcut cmd/ctrl + D.

When working in Photoshop I like to have my layers panel open. To open your layers panel go to Window – Layers.

Next, center the object on the canvas. You can always use the move tool and drag it to the center, but to make it precise click on the marquee tool (M – keyboard). Select all – cmd/ctrl + A. Select the move tool (V – keyboard) and this will bring up the align tools in the top menu. Here you can select to center it vertically and horizontally. Then click cmd/ctrl + D to deselect the area.

Next duplicate your circle. In the layers panel right click on your circle layer and select duplicate (keyboard shortcut – cmd/ctrl + J). With your new layer right click and click to convert it to a smart object. In this case we are going to use a filter and whenever you use a filter you always want to convert your layer into a smart object first.

To create the polka dot pattern effect go to Filter > Other > Offset. Since our document is 400 x 400 px for the horizontal and vertical offset value you want to enter half of your document size. In this example enter +200 horizontally and +200 vertically. For the Undefined Areas make sure wrap around is selected. This will cause the offset to repeat on the four corners.

To save the polka dot pattern go to edit > Define Pattern.

Next create a new document 3600 x 3600 px the size of digital scrapbook paper and set your resolution to 300 dpi and background contents to white.

In the layers panel select to add a pattern adjustment layer and select your newly created polka dot pattern. When the dialogue box is open you have the option to change the angle and scale of pattern. Click on ok to save settings.

Creating the Displacement Map

In order to achieve the asymmetrical polka dot effect we need to create a displacement map. This will be used to distort our basic polka dot pattern and give it the asymmetrical look we want.

Open a new document. Generally when creating a displacement map you should create it in the size of your end use. In this case we want it to be 3600 x 3600 px to match the size of our digital paper with a white background.

With the document open make sure your colors are set to default with black as the foreground color and white as the background color. If they are not use the keyboard shortcut key – D to bring up the default colors.

Next go to Filter > Render > Difference Clouds.

Note: In order to use difference clouds you need to start with a colored background. In this case I had white set for my canvas. If you start with transparent pixels then select clouds instead.

In order to use the displacement map go ahead and save this file as a .PSD file and then you can close out of that document.

Create an Asymmetrical Polka Dot Pattern with a Displacement Map.

Return to the document with your polka dot pattern and right click on the pattern fill layer and select to convert it to a smart object.

To apply the displacement map go to Filter > Distort > Displace. In the dialogue box you can change the horizontal and vertical scale. For this example I use a 15 value for horizontal and vertical displacement. Click on OK to save changes and then you will be prompted to select the displacement map so navigate to your saved file and click on Open.

With the displacement map applied you will see that it has distorted the look of the polka dots. If you want to play with the amount of distortion in the layers panel under smart filter you can double click on displace and it will bring up the dialogue box again. If you change the settings it will prompt you again to select your displacement map file.

How to change the colors of your Pattern

To change the color of your polka dots in the bottom of the layers panel click to add a color fill layer. Select your color and then right click to create a clipping mask. This will cause the polka dots to take on the selected color. Add an additional color fill layer below the polka dots to change the background color.

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