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How to Create a Gearbox Settings Icon Using Simple Shapes

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This post is part of a series called Icon Design.
How to Illustrate a Brain Icon for OSX and Vista
10 Tips for Effective Icon Design

Much can be done in Illustrator without relying on the Pen tool, as demonstrated by the recent hourglass tutorial. Utilizing only simple, predefined shapes, as well as tools like the Pathfinder and transformations, entire illustrations can be created from scratch. In this tutorial, we'll create an icon suitable for portraying options, settings, preferences, etc., similar to OS X's system preferences icon. So let's get started!

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Step 1

Begin by creating a new document of any size you'd like, I've used 600px by 400px, as that's the size used for the tutorial images.

We'll start with drawing the gear. First, draw a circle and center it relative to the artboard (by doing this we can easily align all of the shapes we'll need to draw). Then draw three more circles that get progressively smaller toward the center (and center them in the artboard). Also, add a light gray fill to the circles, which will make it easier to work with the Pathfinder pallet when we cut out pieces of the circles.


Step 2

Next, select the largest and second largest circles, then open the Pathfinder palette and click the Minus Front button to subtract the smaller circle from the larger one.

Now select the other two smaller circles, and do the same.


Step 3

Next, draw a rectangle, center it vertically in the artboard, and place it over the top half of the circles.

Select it, and click the Rotate Tool in the toolbox. Hold down Alt and click the very center of the circles to place the light blue origin point there, and a dialog box will appear. We can now rotate the rectangle relative to the center of the circles. Since we want six of these spokes on the gear, enter 60 for the angle in degrees (360 / 6 = 60).

Then, click copy to make a copy of the rectangle rotated.

Finally, with the new rectangle still selected, press Command + D to repeat the transformation three more times, until you have five evenly spaced rectangles.


Step 4

Select all of the shapes, then in the Pathfinder palette click the Unite button to merge them into a single shape.

Finally, select the new shape and rotate it 30 degrees by selecting Object > Transform > Rotate from the menu.


Step 5

Now we've got the basis for our gear, but it's lacking the critical attribute that makes a gear a gear - the teeth! So, draw a small rectangle as shown below.

Select the rectangle, and then go to Effect > Warp > Arc... enter -6 for Bend, and leave Horizontal and Vertical Distortion at 0, and click OK.

Then, select Effect > Stylize > Rounded Corners..., enter 6 for the Radius in pixels, and click OK.


Step 6

Now that we've got our tooth, center it vertically in the artboard, and place it over the gear so that the outer edge of the gear meets just where the bottom corners of the tooth begin to curve.

Then, select the tooth and select Object > Expand Appearance to trace out the effects we added into a path.


Step 7

We now need to rotate the tooth around the rest of the gear, and we'll do it the same way we did earlier with the spokes. Start by selecting the tooth and then the Rotate Tool from the toolbar. Then, Alt-click the very center of the gear. Since we want 18 teeth, enter a value of 20 for the angle in degrees (360 / 18 = 20).

And click copy to rotate a copy of the tooth.

With the second tooth still selected, press Command + D 16 more times, for a total of 18 teeth.

And finally, select all of the shapes and again click Unite in the Pathfinder palette to merge everything into a single shape.


Step 8

At this point we can remove the stroke from the gear and fill it with a slightly darker shade of gray (I used #C6C8CA).

Select the gear and copy it (Command + C), and paste it directly behind the original (Command + B). Then, fill it with a dark gray and nudge it down a few pixels.

And do the same thing again (copying the original gear and pasting it in back), but this time fill it with white and nudge it up a number of pixels (you might not see it unless you change your background color).

Now we can group all three shapes together, but before we do, make a copy of the top, light gray gear and move it off to the side - we'll need it later.


Step 9

Draw a circle slightly larger than the smallest opening at the center of the gear, and add a thin stroke to it (enough to overlap both sides of the inner edge of the opening - I used 15px).

Select Object > Path > Outline Stroke to trace out the stroke.

Fill the new shape with a dark to light gray gradient (from top to bottom).

And finally select the shape and send it to the back (Command + Left Bracket key , or right-click and select Arrange > Send to Back).


Step 10

Now repeat the same process as in the last step, but overlap the second largest circular edge as shown below. Fill this circle with a dark to light gray radial gradient, going from dark in the center to light toward the edges.


Step 11

Now, select this shape, copy it (Command + C) and paste it directly in front (Command + F). Now change its gradient from radial to linear.

Then, change its blending mode (in the Transparency palette) to Overlay and lower its Opacity to 50%.

And finally, select both of the ring shapes and send them to the very back (Command + Left Bracket key).


Step 12

We've almost finished the gear. The last step is to add a bit of a metallic texture to it. Alright, so we do have to use the Pen Tool, but this is the only time, and it's easy - promise. :)

Draw a few oddly shaped triangles (some distortion is good, we don't want them perfectly equilateral), and have their points all converging in the center. Now fill them with varying shades of gray.

Select all of the shapes and group them (Command +G). Then, select Effect > Blur > Radial Blur...

Enter 50 for the amount, and set the method to Spin.

Note: the radial blur effect is quite processor-intensive, so if you're working on a slower computer, you can set the quality to Draft for now. This will greatly speed up rendering of the effect, and you can easily go back and change it to Good or Best before you save the final product as a graphic or print it.


Step 13

Still have that copy of the original gear shape we made way back a while ago? Good, because now it's time to use it (and just in case, in your infinite wisdom, you decided not to follow my advice to make a copy, you can just make a copy of it now. Once you've got the shape, move it over the top of the metal texture, and center them with each other.

Select both objects, and then select Object > Clipping Mask > Make (Command + 7).

And finally, center the shape horizontally and vertically in the artboard, and group all of the shapes together that compose the gear. And we're finished with that!


Step 14

Now it's time to create the box that will contain our gears (and form the boundaries and shape of our icon). Start be creating a rectangle that covers about 2/3 of the gear. Fill it with a light to medium gray gradient.

Next, select Effect > Stylize > Round Corners..., enter 20px for the radius, and click OK.

Then, select Object > Expand Appearance to convert the rounded corners into a path.


Step 15

Continue by drawing a smaller rectangle above the first. This will designate our window through which we'll see the gears. Center it with the first rectangle.

Select both rectangles...

...and click the Minus Front button in the Pathfinder palette to cut the smaller rectangle out of the larger one.


Step 16

We'll now repeat the process again that we did earlier with the gear, to create the inner bevel around the window. Start by drawing a rectangle a bit larger than the window opening.

Change it's stroke to something fairly thick, enough to overlap the window edge (I used 20px).

Send it to the back (Command + Left Bracket key).

Select Object > Path > Outline Stroke to trace out the path into a shape.

And fill it with a black to white gradient (top to bottom).


Step 17

We'll repeat the same process one last time to create the bevel around the outer edge. Draw the slightly smaller rectangle and change it to a thick stroke.

But this time before we outline it, we'll round the corners to match the box.

Now outline the stroke and send it to the back.

And finally, fill it with a gray to white gradient (bottom to top this time).


Step 18

Now we need to add the perforated metal backing to the box. Start by drawing a rectangle slightly larger than the window opening, and fill it with a dark gray.

To add the perforated holes, draw two small circles, one smaller than the other, and place them in the top-left corner of the rectangle. Fill the smaller one in front with black and the larger one behind with a dark gray to white gradient (top to bottom).

Group the two circles together and select Object > Transform > Move... Enter 40px for horizontal and 0px for vertical, and click Copy.

Now with the second hole still selected, press Command + D to repeat the transformation. Keep repeating until you have a row about the same width as the rectangle. Then, group the row of holes together.


Step 19

Select the row and go to Object > Transform > Move... again. This time, enter 0px for horizontal and -40px for vertical and click Copy.

Now press Command + D again to repeat the transformation. Once you've filled the rectangle, select all of the rows, and group them into a single object.


Step 20

Select the grouped holes and again, and select Object > Transform > Move... and this time enter 20px for horizontal and -20px for vertical.

Click Copy, and then select all of the holes and group them one more time.

And finally, select the grouped holes and the rectangle and center them relative to each other.


Step 21

To complete the box, group the holes and rectangle and move them behind the frame we created earlier.

Select the inner bevel shape of the frame, and add a drop shadow to it.

Then, add a drop shadow to the outer bevel shape as well.


Step 22

Now that we've got the main components done, all that's left to do is assemble them!

Start by making two copies of the gear (make sure to group all of the shapes first) and place them in the bottom corners of the main one.

Add a drop shadow to each of the gears, and then group all three. You can also rearrange them however you'd like (I move the two front gears a bit farther up, so they'll be more visible through the window).

Now, draw a rectangle the same size as the window opening (or it can be a bit larger, just not smaller), and place it over the gears. You can position it however you'd like, as whatever is covered by the rectangle is all that will show through in the final image.

Once you've positioned it how you want, select both the gear group and the rectangle, and then select Object > Clipping Mask > Make.


Step 23

Drag the gears into the box and center the box and gears with each other. Then, send the gears to the back and bring them forward until they're directly above the perforated backing, but behind the frame.

And finally, the last step is to add the reflection to simulate a glass window over the opening. Create a rectangle the width of the opening and about 1/2 the height.

Then draw a large ellipse above the rectangle. We're only really interested in the arc it creates over the bottom of the rectangle, so make sure it completely covers the rest.

Select both the ellipse and the rectangle, and then select Intersect in the Pathfinder palette. Then delete the excess shapes.


Step 24

Now, add a transparent gradient to the shape (from top to bottom, with the top being more opaque and the bottom being more transparent). This can be done in Illustrator CS4 with the transparent gradients, or in earlier versions with an opacity mask.

For Illustrator CS4

In the gradient palette, add two white color stops, one at each end. Set mode to Linear and the angle to -90 degrees. Then, set the transparency of the left stop to 100% and the right stop to 50%.

Then, set the overall transparency of the shape to 50% (in the Transparency palette). In addition, send the shape backwards until it is above the gears and backing, but behind the outer frame (so that the shadow is visible over it).

For Illustrator CS3 and Earlier

Fill the object with solid white, and then copy it (Command +C) and paste the copy in front (Command + F).

Add a linear gradient to it, with a -90 degree angle. Drag a color stop to each end, and make the left one white and the right one 50% gray.

Then, select both reflection shapes and click the small menu icon in the top right corner of the Transparency palette. In the menu that pops up, select Make Opacity Mask.

And finally, lower the overall transparency of the shape to 60%. In addition, send the shape backwards until it is above the gears and backing, but behind the outer frame (so that the shadow is visible over it).


Conclusion

We're finished! Hopefully this tutorial has demonstrated some of the power of simple shapes, transformations, and tools like the Pathfinder, and how they can be used to produce quality illustrations and graphics. Good luck with your own work!

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