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  1. Design & Illustration
  2. Affinity Designer
Design

How to Create a Back to School Icon in Affinity Designer

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Difficulty:BeginnerLength:LongLanguages:
Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

Welcome back to another Affinity Designer tutorial, in which we’re going to take a close look at the process of creating an icon, using a step-by-step approach.

Also, don't forget you can always expand your library by heading over to GraphicRiver where you'll find a great selection of vector icons.

That being said, bring up the software and let’s get started!

1. How to Set Up a New Project File

The first thing that we need to do when starting any new icon project is to set up a proper New Document, by heading over to File > New (or by using the Control-N keyboard shortcut) and then adjusting it as follows:

  • Type: Web
  • Document Units: Pixels
  • Create artboard: checked
  • Page Width: 128 px
  • Page Height: 128 px
  • DPI: 72

Before we move on, remember that the Width and Height of your document will almost always be based on the icon’s base size, which is the smallest surface value that your asset will end up being used in.

2. How to Set Up the Layers

Once we’ve finished setting up the document, we need to structure our project using a couple of layers, so that we can separate our reference grid from the actual icon.

To do this, simply open up the Layers panel, and then create two layers using the Add Layer button, naming them as follows:

  • first layer: reference grid
  • second layer: icon
setting up the layers

Quick tip: as you can see, I’ve made sure to lock the Artboard itself, so that I won’t end up moving it by accident.

3. How to Create the Reference Grid

Now that we’ve layered our document, we can build a reference grid, which will help us determine the actual size of the final icon, allowing us to add a small protective padding that will prevent it from being clipped.

Step 1

Position yourself onto the Artboard, and with the Rectangle Tool (M) selected, create the main reference surface (the base size) using a 128 x 128 px square which we will color using #F15A24 and then position in the center using the Align panel’s Align Center and Align Middle options.

creating the main reference surface

Quick tip: since Affinity doesn’t currently allow us to create predefined shapes, I’m going to be using the Transform panel to get the exact Width and Height values for all of my shapes.

Step 2

Add the active drawing area using a 112 x 112 px square (#FFFFFF), which we will position in the center of the Artboard, thus creating us an all-around 8 px protective padding.

adding the active drawing area

Step 3

Select and group the two squares together using the Control-G keyboard shortcut, making sure to name both the group and the layer using the “reference grid” label. Take your time, and once you’re done, make sure to lock the current layer before moving on to the next step.

locking the reference grid layer

4. How to Create the Circular Background

Now that we’ve finished setting up our project file, we can shift our focus back to the actual icon, which we will gradually build one section at a time, starting with the background.

Step 1

Start by selecting the second layer (that would be the one labeled “icon”), and then create the background using a 112 x 112 px circle, which we will color using #D4E5FF and then center align to the underlying Artboard by making sure to set the alignment to Margin.

creating the background

Step 2

Open up the Layers panel and quickly give the current shape a descriptive label by simply double clicking on it, so that you can easily target it later on if you need to. While this step isn’t absolutely necessary, I found it helpful when it comes to maintaining a steady workflow, which is why I recommend you give it a try.

setting up the layers

5. How to Create the Ruler 

Once we have the background in place, we can move on to the next section of our cute little icon, which is the ruler.

Step 1

Start by creating the measuring instrument’s side section using a 6 x 56 px rectangle, which we will color using #FF9644 and then center align to the Artboard, positioning it at a distance of 24 px from the active drawing area’s left edge.

creating the side section for the ruler

Quick tip: since you can’t position the shape in relation to the edge of the active drawing area or the background, you’ll have to use the directional arrow keys, which once pressed will indicate the number of pixels that the rectangle has traveled from its point of origin.

example of positioning the shapes based on the indicated spacing values

Step 2

Adjust the shape that we’ve just created, by first unchecking the Single radius option found within the top context toolbar, and then setting both of its left corners (TL & BL) type to Rounded and their Radius to an absolute value of 2 px.

adjusting the shape of the side section of the ruler

Step 3

Add the front section using a 16 x 56 px rounded rectangle with a 2 px corner radius, which we will color using #FFCF72 and then position on top of the previous shape, making sure to maintain a 4 px gap between their left edges, as seen in the reference image.

adding the front section of the ruler

Step 4

Zoom in a little by holding down the Control key and then rotating the mouse’s scroll wheel, and then create the main shape for the interval indicator section using an 8 x 48 px rectangle (#FFFFFF), which we will center align to the front section’s right edge.

creating the indicator section for the ruler

Step 5

Quickly adjust the shape that we’ve just created by setting the radius of its left corners (TL & BL) to 2 px from within the context toolbar, moving on to the next step once you’re done.

adjusting the shape of the indicator section

Step 6

Add the interval indicator lines using eight 4 x 2 px rectangles (#FF9644), which we will vertically stack 4 px from one another, positioning them on the right edge of the current section.

adding the interval lines to the ruler

Step 7

Adjust the length of every other line from 4 px to 6 px, by simply selecting them from within the Layers panel and then dragging them to the left by 2 px.

adjusting the length of the indicator lines

Step 8

Set the left corner radius of all eight indicator lines to 2 px, making sure to select and group all of them together afterwards using the Control-G keyboard shortcut.

adjusting the shape of the indicator lines

Step 9

Finish off the ruler by adding the little insertion point using a 4 x 4 px circle (#FF9644), which we will position at a distance of 2 px from the front section’s bottom-left corner.

finishing off the ruler

Step 10

Once you’re done, don’t forget to select and group (Control-G) all of the instrument’s composing shapes together, giving it a descriptive label, before moving on to the next one.

grouping the composing shapes of the ruler

6. How to Create the Calculator

Now that we’ve finished working on the ruler, we can move a few pixels towards the right side of the Artboard, where we will start assembling the little calculator.

Step 1

As we did with the previous instrument, start by creating its side section using a 6 x 56 px rectangle, which we will color using #D94D7E and then position on the right side of the ruler, at a distance of just 4 px.

creating the side section for the calculator

Step 2

Adjust the shape that we’ve just created by setting the radius of both of its left corners (TL & BL) to an absolute value of 2 px.

adjusting the side section of the calculator

Step 3

Add the front section using a 36 x 56 px rounded rectangle with a 2 px corner radius, which we will color using #FF6299 and then position on top of the previous shape, as seen in the reference image.

adding the front section to the calculator

Step 4

Zoom in on the calculator’s two composing shapes, and then create the display using a 28 x 8 px rounded rectangle (#675D9E) with a 2 px corner radius, which we will center align to the front section, making sure to position it at a distance of 4 px from its top edge.

adding the display to the calculator

Step 5

Add the smaller buttons using seven 8 x 8 px rounded rectangles (#FFFFFF) with a 2 px corner radius, which we will stack as seen in the reference image, making sure to maintain a 2 px gap both horizontally and vertically.

creating the smaller calculator buttons

Step 6

Create the larger button using an 8 x 18 px rounded rectangle (#FFFFFF) with a 2 px corner radius, making sure to select and group all eight of them together afterwards using the Control-G keyboard shortcut.

adding the larger calculator button

Step 7

Finish off the calculator, and with it the icon itself, by adding the little insertion point using a 4 x 4 px circle (#D94D7E), which we will position at a distance of 2 px from the front section’s bottom-left corner.

finishing off the icon

Step 8

Once you’re done, don’t forget to select and group (Control-G) all of the calculator’s composing shapes, doing the same for the entire icon afterwards.

grouping the composing shapes of the calculator

7. How to Maintain the Icon’s Protective Padding

So we’ve just finished working on the icon, but how do we ensure that it won’t end up being clipped by accident when put to use?

Well, the first step is to create the asset based on a smaller reference surface (the active drawing area), which will give us a small protective padding that should help prevent it from doing so.

The problem with this is that, in some cases, the product ends up getting resized until it fills the placeholder, which in turn removes the padding.

A simple fix to this problem is to mask the entire icon, using a rectangle that has the same surface area as the established base size, as we will see in the following moments.

Step 1

Start by creating a 128 x 128 px square (highlighted with green), which we will stack on top of the Layers panel, making sure to center align it to the underlying Artboard.

creating the main shape for the clipping mask

Step 2

Mask the entire icon by simply dragging its layer on top of the green rectangle as seen in the reference image, which will make it act as a clipping mask.

masking the icon

Step 3

Since we want the mask to remain fully see-through, we’ll have to open up the Color panel and remove its green fill, which should give us a nice, clear result.

removing the color from the clipping mask

8. How to Create Size Variations

When creating icons, most of the time you’ll have to deliver them using multiple size variations, which are usually created by doubling the Width and Height values of the base size.

Unlike other vector software, Affinity doesn’t come with a dedicated scaling/resizing tool, but that doesn’t mean that the process can’t be easily replicated, as we will get to see in the following moments.

Step 1

We'll start by creating a New Document (File > New or Control-N), which we will adjust by setting both its Width and Height values to 256 px, so double the size of our original icon.

setting up the larger document

Step 2

Create a copy (Control-C) of the icon that we’ve just masked, and then paste (Control-V) it within the larger document.

pasting the masked icon onto the larger artboard

Step 3

Position the icon in the center of the Artboard using the Align panel’s Align Center and Align Middle options.

center aligning the masked icon

Step 4

All we have to do now is open up the Transform panel and, with the icon selected, adjust its W and H values by simply entering the desired values (256 x 256 px) or by using a 200% increment, which should give us the same result.

resizing the masked icon

9. How to Export the Icon

So, at this point we’ve learned how to create our icon, and we saw how easy it is to add size variations, which means that all that’s left to do now is export it.

Step 1

We’ll start by opening up the Layers panel, and then hiding the smaller icon’s reference grid by simply unchecking the little blue box found on its right side.

example of hiding the reference grid

Step 2

Once we’ve hidden the reference grid, all we have to do is go to File > Export or use the Control-Alt-Shift-S keyboard shortcut, which will bring up the following window prompt. Here, you’ll want to make sure that the file format is set to PNG and the exporting Area to Artboard 1 (which is the default label used for our current Artboard). Then I want you to press Export and see what happens.

example of exporting the icon

Step 3

At this point, you might have noticed that while the software did its job and exported the icon, it did so by adding a white background to the final image. This happened due to the fact that you need to explicitly instruct it to use a transparent background when you set up a new document. While I could have told you to do so from the start, I wanted to show you how you can easily fix this type of situation if you happen to stumble upon it.

That being said, bring the software back up, and then go to Document Setup and check the Transparent Background box. Then, all you need to do is go through the same process, which should now export the desired image.

how to enable background transparency

Great Job!

As always, I really hope you had fun working on the project, and most importantly managed to learn some new tricks along the way.

That being said, if you have any questions, feel free to post them within the comments section and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can!

finished project preview

Expand Your Icon Skills!

Want to become better at creating icons, but don't know exactly where to start? If that's the case, you're in luck, since we took the time to put together a list of in-depth tutorials that will help you expand your craft in no time!

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