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.
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
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.
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
#F15A24 and then position in the center using the Align panel’s Align Center and Align Middle
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
As we did with the
previous instrument, start by creating its side section using a 6 x 56 px rectangle, which we will color
#D94D7E and then position on the right side of the ruler, at a
distance of just 4 px.
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.
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.
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.
Add the smaller
buttons using seven 8 x 8 px rounded
#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.
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.
Finish off the
calculator, and with it the icon itself, by adding the little insertion point
using a 4 x 4 px circle (
which we will position at a distance of 2
px from the front section’s bottom-left corner.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Create a copy (Control-C) of the icon that we’ve just masked, and then paste (Control-V) it within the larger document.
Position the icon in the center of the Artboard using the Align panel’s Align Center and Align Middle options.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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