This tutorial was made from the point that you’re still on your way practicing and improving your Adobe Illustrator skills, as well as you’re a newbie to this area: Icon Design. And we want you to know that all the tools and methods we take on in this tutorial are derived from our own devices, our experiences and experiments. We know, and maybe you’ll know it too after reading this guide over, that there are several ways doing this kind of thing out there, but all the stuffs presented here are what have worked ’till now and we totally feel comfortable and have fun with. So we hope you feel the same way too.
(This post follows up the tutorial series “Icon Design Made Simple“.)
- Application: Adobe Illustrator
- Level: Beginner
- Finish time: About 20 minutes to one hour, or even more
What to do
In this tutorial, we’re going to create a simple mini set of icons with 64 x 64 pixels.
What we need
To do this, we will need almost the tools in the Illutrator’s Toolbox, except for the Mesh tool, and some of the palettes: Gradient, Color, Swatches, Transparency, Layer, Path Finder, and Align. Besides, there are some essential commands we frequently use in this tutorial such as Copy/Paste commands, Group/Ungroup commands, Offset Path, and Make Opacity Mask.
Here is the diagram that shows the process of drawing a button icon:
Don’t forget to press Ctrl/command + S to save your work at a certain interval during the process of drawing.
OK. Let’s get to it!
Create a Round button
Create a new document that is 64 x 64 pixels. Choose the Ellipse tool and draw a circle by clicking and dragging the Ellipse tool while holding down the Shift key, or clicking on the artboard and set 64 for width and height in the dialog box, and click OK.
Select the circle by using the Selection tool (V), and set the Color Fill to none and the Stroke to 1pt.
With the Selection tool, position the circle so that it stays fit inside the artboard, and select the circle again. Next, do one of the followings:
- Choose the Scale tool. In the Scale tool dialog box, mark the check box Uniform first, and then apply a new scale value. Click Preview to see how the circle changes. Continue adjusting the scale value until you get the result as shown in Fig 1.2. Last, click Copy to duplicate the circle.
- Go to Menu > Object > Path > Offset Path to set the Offset value to -3, and click OK. See Fig 1.3.
To avoid the pixelation issue and make sure the icon to be sharp, we normally set the Offset path to an integer.
Here is the result from (1) or (2) – see Fig 1.4.
When you obtain the outline as shown in Fig 1.4, choose the Selection tool and dragging the tool over the entire artboard to select all the circles, and then fill them with a radial gray gradient.
Change the stroke weight of all the circles to none. Use the Gradient tool (G) to adjust the gradient angle and direction of each circle until the desired result is achieved as shown in Fig 1.5. Please pay attention to the highlight.
Change to the RGB color mode (if the current mode is CMYK or something else). See Fig 1.6.
Select one circle path or two. Go to the Gradient palette and click on the small diamond button. Give the gradient color a twist by using the Color palette and keep doing it until the result pleases you. See Fig 1.7.
Click and drag some color from the Swatches/Color palette and drop it into the Gradient bar. Change the color’s tone until you get the result as desired. Select the two circle path and press the keys combination Ctrl/Command + G to group them. See Fig 1.8.
Done! Here goes our finished Round button icon.
Next is an additional step. Select one of the circles and look at the Swatches palette, you will find a new gradient there. Do me a favor – save it for later uses. See Fig 1.10.
So, you made it, a nice and plain Round button icon – simple and well done. Now, with that finished icon, we can turn it to new icons with more usability, by adding some extra content into the icon. Let’s create some that show the “STOP” and “PLAY” actions.
Create a “Stop” button
Make a duplicate of the finished Round button icon by pressing the V key and clicking on it. Press Ctrl/Command + C to copy the icon and then press Ctrl/Command + V to paste it on the artboard. See Fig 2.1.
Select the Rectangle tool (M) and use it to draw a square path while holding down the Shift key, and then try to position that path in the center of the button icon.
Use the Offset Path command (Object > Path > Offset Path) to make a duplicate of the square path, and scale down the duplicate to make it smaller than the origin. The value used here is -2pt.
Select both of the original and duplicate paths and fill the white color for them.
Select the outer square path and use a gradient to create a thick and sharp border for making the “Stop” look prominent.
Adjust the color level of the gradient until the desired result is achieved.
Create a “Play” button
For the “Play” button icon, let’s take on the “Stop” button you just finished above.
Select all the paths of the “Stop” button and put them into a group (by pressing Command/Ctrl+G).
Make a duplicate of the “Stop” button by selecting the group and then using the command “Copy” (Command/Ctrl+C) and the command “Paste in front” (Command/Ctrl+F). The duplicate now will stay over the original one. So, click and drag the duplicate to a position next to the original, making it easier to preview and compare them both together.
It is highly recommended in icon-drawing that the “Paste in Front” command (Command/Ctrl+F) be used all the time instead of the normal Paste command (Command/Ctrl+V). Doing that is much easier for us to put the duplicated and original icons side by side.
Ungroup the duplicate by selecting it and choosing the Ungroup command from the right-click menu.
Select the green border path and use the Add Anchor Point tool (+) to add an anchor point to the middle point of the square. The purpose of this is to turn the square into an arrow shape.
To turn the square into an arrow shape, delete the two corner points at the right using the Delete Anchor Point tool (-).
Delete the white square path inside.
Press the A key and click on the corner point, then hold down the Shift key and move the corner point to the position as shown in Fig 3.6.
Make a duplicate of the arrow path and set its offset path value at +2pt (using the Offset Path command as done with the “Stop” button).
Select the arrow shape and fill the white color for it.
As you see in Fig 3.8, the Play symbol looked a bit smaller than the Stop, so we need to select both of the arrow paths and use the Scale tool to scale them up to a bigger value. Position the two paths in the center of the button icon. You’re done.
The final outcome in 64 x 64 pixels.
Create a Polygon button
Take the same steps as done with the Round button above to create a Polygon button icon.
How to create a basic set of navigation icons (next, back, up, down)
The approach for drawing these kinds of icon is similar to that for button icons. However, you are going to go through several steps that differ a bit in using other tools and commands like the Add/Delete Anchor Point tools and the Offset Path command to make duplications.
To create the navigation icons, we start with the Rectangle tool, and we are going to create the DOWN icon first.
Create a Down icon
Create a new document that is 64 x 64 pixels. Draw a rectangle by dragging the Rectangle tool.
Select the rectangle path and set the Color Fill to none and the stroke to 1pt. Position the rectangle path so that it stays in the center of the artboard.
With the rectangle path selected, add 5 more anchor points to it by using the Add Anchor Point tool (+). Make sure that those extra points reside in identical positions.
You can use the rulers or the grids or the Align palette to re-position those extra points identically.
Choose the Select Direction tool (A) and use it to select the two points at each side while holding down the Shift/Alt key.
Choose the Scale tool. In the Scale tool dialog box, mark the check box Uniform first, and then set 220 percent for your scale value.
Choose the Delete Anchor Point tool and use it to delete the two points at the bottom.
Re-select the two points you dealt with in Step 3, and move them downward while holding down the Shift/Option key until you get the shape of the arrow exactly like the one below.
Select the two points on the tip of the two arrows at both sides and move them upwards to the position that makes a straight line with the point in the center, and we will have a shapely arrow as shown in Fig 5.6.
Select the arrow, and go to the Object menu, choose Path > Offset Path. In the Offset Path dialog box, change the offset value to make a copy that stays inside the original one.
The Offset Path command is very useful when you want to create concentric shapes or make multiple copies of an object with an equal distance from each other. (Concentric shapes are the shapes that are drawn inside or outside of the other ones with only one same point. That is, the shapes are concentric to one another).
A given negative offset value (-) makes a copy that stays inside of others, and a given positive value (+) does the opposite.
Select all the paths and use the Delete Selection tool to delete anchor points, if any, which have not made up the shape of the arrow. Please don’t ignore this step, or you will encounter weird issues when you want to edit the icon or scale it down for exporting to smaller versions. We will go into details on the next section.
Fill a linear gradient for all the paths.
Change the stroke weight of all the paths to none.
Use the Gradient tool (G) to adjust the gradient angle and direction of each path until the desired result is achieved like the one below.
Select the Rectangle tool (M) and use it to draw a rectangle at the tail of the arrow. This rectangle path is aimed at creating the thickness for the icon.
Finish. Here is the outcome.
Create the rest navigation icons
What we created above was a DOWN icon, which would be used as a page-down or download symbol. Instead of creating other new navigation symbols that have the same style, we just take on the completed DOWN icon and change the direction of the arrow by using the Group/Ungroup command and the Layer palette.
Put all the paths of the completed down-arrow icon into a group. Look at the Layer palette you will see all the paths have been grouped.
Click on the group in the Layer palette and duplicate it. By pressing Ctrl/Command + C to copy and Ctrl/Command + F to paste, the duplicated should stay over the original group.
Select the duplicated group and rotate it so that the arrow tip shifts westwards (NEXT) or any of the rest directions. To do that, move the pointer outside the bounding box and near a bounding box handle so that the pointer changes to , and then drag.
We are going to continue with the NEXT icon. To clean up the way for doing this NEXT arrow icon, drag the group of the DOWN icon out of the artboard, and un-group it by right-clicking on it and selecting the Ungroup command.
Adjust the gradient angle and direction of each path until the desired result is achieved like the one below.
With the Pen tool (P), draw two more new paths as shown in Fig 6.4 to create the thickness for this icon, making an identity with the DOWN icon. Okay, you’re done with the NEXT arrow icon.
Following is another way to create the navigation icons.
With the Pen tool (P), draw one half of the arrow, and then use the Scale tool to make a copy in the Vertical mode (set in -100%). See Fig 7.1.
Move the two halves of the arrow so that they stick together, and then use the Pathfinder palette to merge them.
Click on the Expand button and use the Delete Anchor Point tool (-) to erase any anchor points. Don’t worry, doing that does no harm to our shape.
How to create a semi-transparent arrow icon
Let’s get back to the Step 11 of making the DOWN arrow icon.
Group all of its paths and select the group. In the Transparency palette, click on the small icon at the upper right corner to bring up the Options menu.
With the Options menu opened, select Make Opacity Mask. See Fig 8.3.
Now we have the thing like the icon skeleton as shown in Fig 8.4. Look at the Transparent palette, we will see two square boxes – one is displaying the icon with color, and the other is showing nothing in it but the black color.
Click on that black box and the Layer palette now should contain only one layer named <Opacity Mask>.
Draw one path in black color and big enough to cover up the icon, which will now look dull.
Change the color level of this path by using a gray gradient with the R,G,B values ranged from 0 to 255.
Now in the Transparency palette, click on the icon box to stop editing the opacity mask.
And here is the result.
You may also fill a gradient that goes from white to green, instead of using the opacity mask. But the result you got will only be appropriate to a white background.
How to create simple-shaped icons
Create a Status icon
With the Rectangle tool, click and drag on the artboard while holding down the Alt/Shift key.
Select the Rounded Rectangle tool and double-click on the rectangle you just created. With the Rounded Rectangle dialog box opened, type 4 pt in the Corner Radius. Click OK.
Fill the white color for the rounded rectangle. Next, position it in the center of the rectangle, and you might have to scale it up/down until it is in proportion to the rectangle.
With the Pen tool (P), draw a triangle as shown in Fig 9.5.
Select the rounded rectangle and the triangle and click on the Unite icon in the Pathfinder palette to merge them all. You’re done.
In case the Pathfinder palette is not there, go to the Window/Pathfinder menu or press the keys combination Command/Ctrl + Shift + F9 to call it up.
Create a Pencil icon
On the available rectangle, draw one rounded rectangle.
Select the two paths and click on the Divide icon in the Pathfinder palette. See Fig 9.9.
Take a look at the Layer palette (Fig 9.10), the two paths now have been detached from the main group, and we got one new group containing several small paths. Select this new group and right-click on the artboard then choose Ungroup.
Delete any path that is not part of the shape of the eraser.
Use the Rectangle tool and the Pen tool to draw the rest of the pencil.
Group all the paths of the pencil and then rotate the group to 45 degrees while holding down the Shift/Alt key. You’re done.
Now, with the same tools used above, please create new icons as shown below.
How to give a style to your buttons - Simple and Glossy
Drawing the following button (square) is similar to that of the circle button.
Use the Rounded Rectangle tool to draw a shape as shown in Fig 10.1.
Use the Offset path to make a duplicate that creates a small path inside.
Select the duplicate and press Command /Ctrl + C and then press Command/Ctrl + F two times to create two new paths that stay over the path at Step 2.
Select one path created at Step 3 and move it downwards a little bit. Next, scale that path up to make it bigger than the rest. While holding down the Command/Ctrl key, select the two paths as shown in Fig 10.4.
Click on the Divide icon in the Pathfinder palette to separate these two paths, and then ungroup and delete any unnecessary path.
Adjust the gradient of the path we got at Step 5 until the desired result is achieved.
Here are the final outcomes.
With the Ellipse tool (L), draw one pretty big ellipse on the button.
Select the square path at Step 2 (Simple style) and the ellipse just created, and click on the Divide button in the Pathfinder palette. Next, ungroup and delete any unnecessary path. See Fig 10.9.
Adjust the gradient of these paths until the result pleases you.
And finally, here they are.
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