How to Create a Journal Mockup in Adobe Illustrator

foliage repeating patterns available in my store


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Mockups are well known to contribute to success in business. They present your products to the world in an attractive fashion and that’s why they are very important.

Trouble is they also cost money.

So, today we’re going to offer you an alternative if you’re in the business of selling paper journals: creating your own journal mockup in Adobe Illustrator.

This is particularly handy if you print repeating patterns on those journal covers.

This mockup will allow you to easily and quickly turn around beautiful product photos for marketing purposes when you need them. Indeed, once your journal mockup is ready, all you need to do is open the file, bring in the new pattern, apply it to the mockup then export the whole scene as JPG.

Another free alternative would be product photography using your phone camera but this would take some time, I mean more time than filling in a journal mockup, because product photography typically requires product staging, the right light and photo processing afterwards.

Essentially, the journal mockup in this tutorial can be handy for those days you don’t fancy the hassle of product photography or don’t have the time for it.

So, are you ready for the challenge?

Let’s learn how to create these in Adobe Illustrator!

Who This Tutorial Is For

Small business owners who sell simple journals whose cover show repeating patterns.

Time Required

15 mns



What You’ll Need for This Tutorial
  • Access to Adobe Illustrator
  • An existing repeating pattern tile
  • All basic Ai skills

We suggest you work from the original pattern file. Make a copy of the original pattern file then delete all art on the canvas and keep 1 artboard only. Your pattern tiles should already be in your Swatches panel like ours below ( top row).


To start off, we’re going to create a rectangle and that would be our cover:


Now, we need to round the top and bottom corners of this rectangle while keeping the top and bottom left corners intact, like in the below:

How do we do this?

After you’ve created the rectangle, the rectangle gets hightlighted with a bounding box – mine is pink here – and a tiny disc in each corner. The magic is in those tiny discs. That’s what we’re going to work with here.

If you hover over the disc in the top right corner, your cursor should turn into a black arrow with a curve.

Double click this same tiny disc.

This should turn it from its prior look – with a circle in the centre – to a disc without a circle in the centre:

It should also open up the Transform panel:

The tiny disc without a circle in the centre indicates that this specific corner is now ready to be rounded. This is how you tell Illustrator you’re about to round this corner. So, it is important to click this tiny disc, whether you use single or double click. If you don’t tell Illustrator you’re about to change the look of a particular corner and go straight into clicking the disc of a random corner to anchor your cursor and then start pulling it towards you to round the corner, it will round all other 3 corners in the same manner. So, don’t do this here and instead first click the disc (preferably double clicking but if you wish to explore, feel free to use a single click).


The reason for the double click is that it brings up the Transform panel which will allow us to work precisely. We could have used a single click to change the appearance of the tiny disc but it would not display the Transform panel and we’ll have to work by sight afterwards, which is not ideal when doing certain types of commercial work. Here for instance, it’s important that both right corners look the same. The Transform panel gives you better control over what you do to those corners because it allows you to work with precise values for the rounding.

The part of the Transform panel we’re looking at is the Rectangle Properties section of this panel. More precisely the area highlighted in red above. This is where you can manipulate the corners of your rectangle.

The pixel measurement tells Illustrator the curvature required and the corner style – the pixel corner icon next to the pixel field – will apply the style you picked to the corner.

Now that we’ve told Illustrator we’re about to change the look of our corner with the double click above, let’s left click – single click – the same tiny disc to anchor our cursor then keep the left side of our mouse pressed while pulling the disc towards us until we’re satisfied. As you do this, you should see your corner being rounded.

Now, release the mouse.

When you release the mouse, you should see a pixel value and a corner style showing up in your Transform Panel like this:

Now, ensure the link icon between the left and right corners is broken. If it not, click it to break it. Why? If it’s not broken, it will not only apply that value to the bottom right corner but to the left corners too and again to the first right corner we rounded. It would result in a mess that’s not anything like what we need.

So, copy and paste the value that’s currently in the top right corner into the field of the bottom right corner to round the latter the exact same way.

And that’s our corners taken care of!


Now that we have our journal cover in position and shaped right, it’s time to apply our pattern to it.

To do this, select it and click the pattern you wish to apply to the cover (your pattern should be in the Swatches Panel).

If you wish to scale your pattern up or down, proceed as follows:

  1. Select the cover
  2. Right click your mouse
  3. Select Transform then Scale to open the Scale Panel
  4. Untick Transform Objects
  5. Choose your scale % in the Uniform field (keep that option selected) – under 100% will decrease the size of your pattern tile
  6. Untick then tick Preview again to have an overview of what the scaled pattern looks like
  7. Click OK when satisfied

In my case, here’s our new cover:

And that’s our cover done!


Create a long rectangle that you’ll use as spine.

Give it a colour that goes well with that of your cover and make sure it fits on the left side perfectly (use the alignment and the snap tool for this).

Group spine and cover.

And that’s one journal cover almost ready!


To give it a bit of dimension and realism, we’ll add a drop shadow. To do this, proceed as follows:

  1. Select your journal cover
  2. Go to the top menu bar
  3. Pick Effects
  4. Pick Stylize
  5. Pick Drop Shadow to open the Drop Shadow window

The only thing we suggest you amend here are the X Offset and Y Offset. In our case, we’ll use the value of -5 for both. Feel free to explore the options in this window and play around with them to find what suits you best.

This drop shadow feature is a feature that belongs to Adobe Photoshop and, from what we understand, it’s simply been added to Illustrator too. Bear in mind that this feature, when used a lot and on many shapes, may end up slowing down saving files and further manipulation. Here, this shouldn’t happen as we’re only working with 2 shapes.

Click OK when done.


These can easily be done by adding a rectangle and text at the top.

Feel free to format these as you wish (rectangle with inner or outer frame, decorate inside, the sky is the limit!). We aligned it by sight but you could use the ruler to be more precise about this or use the align tool to align it to the entire journal, with or without the spine (the choice is yours) and ungroup if needed.


To create the second journal:

  • Make a copy of our red one
  • Ungroup if need be
  • Recolour the spine manually
  • Recolour the pattern (see how to below)
  • Recolour the text area on top
  • Group everything (for both journals)


To recolour the pattern, use the Recolour Artwork feature on the top menu that gets activated once you’ve selected the object you need to recolour:

Here we’ve created a rectangle that we filled with my red pattern then selected it and click on Recolour Artwork. It opens up this window:

Click Advanced Options to open this window:

Now double click the colour highlighted in white above and it will open this window:

Here you have various ways of changing your colour:

  • Doing it manually by moving the little circle on the left colour spectrum and the slider on the colour gradient on the right
  • By inputting the exact colour code if you know it (HEX code, RGB and CYMK codes)
  • By choosing a colour in your Color Swatches panel if you created one

When done, click the colour underneath and it will get highlighted in white and repeat the same process to change it.

Once you’ve changed all your colours, click OK (you’ll be required to click OK twice) to close your window(s) and here you have it:

That’s how you change the colour palette of your pattern.


If at any point you need to change the colour white, you’ll need to first ensure you untick the White box in the Preserve section of the Color Reduction Options window.

You open the above window by clicking on the List icon next to the Preset field in the Recolor Artwork window.

Once you’ve unchecked the White box, click OK then you’ll be redirected to the Recolor Artwork window and there click Cancel. Then go back into the Recolor Artwork window and you’ll see that the coulour white now has its own dedicated box too (the change you did in the Color Reduction Options window got registered). Now you can change the colour white into another colour. I ended up not to in the end but that’s how you’d go about it basically.


If you experience this, while you’re following this tutorial, and you’re fairly new to working with repeating pattern tiles in Illustrator, don’t panic.

It could be a case of EITHER your pattern was incorrectly put together OR Illustrator’s buggy behaviour is at it again. In a nutshell.

When we mention the possibility of your pattern not being built correctly, we do not refer to the actual creative work. Instead, we’re referring to the technical gymnastics you go through to build a pattern tile. If you created your pattern yourself, this could mean going back a few steps and getting all design elements in position again for cropping, ensuring your edges have been correctly design and redoing this work if need be.

If you have not created the pattern you’re using, say you bought the pattern, we will assume the pattern was correctly designed and you will then need to zoom in and out to test the pattern. Why zooming in and out? Adobe Illustrator is notoriously known, in the world of surface pattern design, to be buggy in the way it handles patterns. Meaning, patterns that are correctly built can look off when applied to a surface because lines pop up between tiles or in a random fashion throughout the pattern. That’s an Illustrator bug that pattern designers know well. If the pattern was designed correctly, those lines should disappear as you zoom in and out. And we’re talking big zoom (beyond 300% to 1000%). Don’t be shy and dare to zoom as far as you need to. If there is a problem with the pattern itself, the line should stay irrespective of the zoom %. If the line disappears depending on the zoom %, then there’s a good chance the pattern is just fine and it’s Illustrator. The final test would be the actual print (on paper or fabric).

At least, that’s our experience so far.

Don’t forget to give your second journal a drop shadow too.


Though we would not normally recommend doing photo work in Adobe Illustrator – Photoshop or GIMP is the go to software for photo manipulation because they were designed for this – adding a photo to vector art for creating marketing collaterals is perfectly ok and Illustrator will handle the photo just fine.

So, go pick a photo for your background (if it’s not yours, do make sure its license allows commercial use first). Feel free to use the one we use here that we got from Pixabay.

Once you’ve downloaded the photo onto your computer, open it in Illustrator.

Then copy and paste it onto your file.

You will probably need to size it down to fit it onto your artboard (mine is 1500 x 1000px wide – feel free to use those dimensions for yours).

Finally, lock the sublayer the photo sits on. One way of doing this is by clicking the start of the sublayer in the Layers Panel and that click should display the lock icon like in the below photo:

Layer Unlocked

Layer Locked

The reason why we locked the sublayer – therefore the image on it – is so that we can then freely move our journals around without ever accidently moving the photo. When a layer has got multiple design elements, we like locking all those that we won’t be working with to avoid accidental mispositioning that may create unnecessary work for us later on.

Finally, move your sublayer to the very bottom of your layer if it’s not already there so that it shows up, on your canvas and final marketing graphic, underneath your journals.


Journal Mockup Idea

Now position your journals as you wish to make them look visually interesting.

Feel free to throw in some florals, other design elements and some branding if you wish as well.

And that’s how you create pretty journal mockups in Adobe Illustrator!

And next time you have a new journal with a brand new repeating pattern, all you need to do is use this file again with the new pattern and you’ll have a graphic to promote your new journal in no time!

Don’t forget to share this tutorial around if you liked it!

Any questions you may have, pop them in a comment below and we’ll respond at my earliest convenience.

Log & Mitten

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