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Design

How to Create a Cool Icon Pack for Team Awesome in Adobe Illustrator

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Difficulty:IntermediateLength:LongLanguages:
This post is part of a series called Branding Team Awesome.
How to Create a Brand Guidelines Document in Adobe InDesign
Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

Today’s tutorial is a little bit special since I’ll be showing you the process behind the icon pack that I had the honor to create for our awesome little team here at Envato Tuts+. So if you’re into icon design, or you just want to add to your bag of vector tricks and tips, then grab yourself a cup of coffee and buckle in, since this tutorial will show you all the steps that you need to consider when creating a new icon pack.

If you like these sorts of icons, you should check out Envato Market for icon design inspiration.

1. Set Up the Document

As always, the first thing you should do when creating anything, be it an icon pack or an illustration, is to make sure that your document is properly set up. So, assuming you already have Illustrator up and running, let’s do just that by going to File > New or by pressing the Control-N keyboard shortcut.

As you can see, you are greeted by a little popup windows that has a bunch of options, but we’re only interested in a few of them:

  • Number of Artboards: 1
  • Width: 800 px
  • Height: 600 px
  • Units: Pixels

And from the Advanced tab:

  • Color Mode: RGB
  • Raster Effects: High (300 ppi)
  • Align New Objects to Pixel Grid: checked
setting up a new document

Quick tip: you can leave the Raster Effects settings to Screen (72 ppi) since this won’t affect the look and overall quality of your design, as long as you’re not going to print it out. If you do need to get it inked on paper, you might want to use a higher value, but only if your design uses Stylize Effects such as Drop Shadows, Inner/Outer Glow, etc., since these tend to look pixelated when printed using a lower ppi value.

For those who are wondering why I set mine to 300, well let’s just say that for me it has become a reflex.

2. Set Up the Layers

Once I have my document properly set up, the next step I usually take involves the careful process of creating and labelling my layers so that I can have everything neatly organized and at hand.

So, let’s do just that by opening up the Layers panel, and creating five layers which we will name as follows:

  1. base grids
  2. medal
  3. notebook
  4. graduation
  5. imac
setting up the layers

3. Adjust the Grid

Since Illustrator allows the use of Grids, you should know that it gives you the option to snap your design to its Pixel Grid. That means that your shapes will look super crisp as long as you use the Snap to Grid / Pixel Grid options, since each anchor point will be positioned at the middle intersection of four pixels, thus snapping to it.

Because there are different situations that require different grid settings, sometimes you might find yourself in the position to adjust the ones running on your version of Adobe Illustrator.

I personally have gone for the lowest and at the same time the most accurate settings, because I feel I have more control over my designs.

To change these settings, you must go to Edit > Preferences > Guides & Grid. From there, a little popup will appear, where we need to adjust the following:

  • Gridline every: 1 px
  • Subdivisions: 1
adjusting the grid settings

Once you’ve adjusted these settings, all you need to do in order to make everything pixel crisp is enable the Snap to Grid option located under the View menu.

Quick tip: you should know that the Snap to Grid option will transform into Snap to Pixel every time you enter Pixel Preview Mode, but that’s totally fine, as most of the time you will be going back and forward with this display mode.

If you’re used to moving things around with the help of the keyboard’s directional arrow keys, you might want to change the Keyboard Increment to 1 px to get it as precise as possible. You can do this by going to Edit > Preferences > General > Keyboard Increment.

adjusting the keyboard increment

If your version of AI has the value set to pt, just go to Units and change the General and Stroke units to Pixels and you’re good to go.

You can read more about the Grid and how to create pixel-perfect artwork here:

4. Add the Base Grids

When creating any icon, there are a couple of things that you should always take into consideration, since I’m pretty sure they’ll help make the creative process a lot easier.

4.1. Choosing a Size for Our Icons

Every time you start a new project, you should take a couple of minutes to focus on the size of your icons. This step is really important, since you will want to create and use a Base Grid by choosing one of the default icon sizes available today (16 x 16 px, 32 x 32 px, 48 x 48 px, 64 x 64 px, 72 x 72 px, 96 x 96 px, 128 x 128 px, 256 x 256 px, etc.) which will help you create a consistent and cohesive pack. Depending on your project’s needs, you might end up using larger sizes or smaller ones, or even a combination of the two.

Now, for our present example, I’ve decided to go with a fairly large size of 96 x 96 px, since this type of icon would be something that you would probably see on an online learning website, such as Envato Tuts+.

4.2. Creating the Base Grids

By definition, a Base Grid is a precisely delimited reference surface that is constructed and used in order to guide the designer through the process of creating the icon pack’s assets. Usually the shape of the Base Grid is a perfect square, since it allows for a better planning and structuring of the shapes and lines onto the surface, compared to a circle giving us full control over the pixel count.

On the other hand, the circle as a shape is more useful when used as a Reference Grid since it allows the creation of detailed and intricate grids and reference lines that you can take advantage of to create compositions that have a more “perfect-geometry” feel to them.

I personally prefer to limit my Grid shapes, and use only square shapes, since I can usually build compositions that have a more organic feel to them, but that’s just me. I’ve seen a lot of people that create incredible stuff using highly detailed Guides.

For our example, we’re going to keep things simple, and build four base grids, one for each icon.

First, make sure that you position yourself onto the base grids layer, and then using the Rectangle Tool (M) let’s create a 96 x 96 px square, which we will color using a relatively light shade of grey (#E6E6E6).

Now since I usually like to give my icons a little padding, we will create a smaller 92 x 92 px square, which we will color using #F2F2F2 and position over the previous one, making sure to align it to its center.

Once you have both the base grid and padding, group the two shapes using Control-G and create three more copies, which we will position to their right side at a distance of 60 px.

creating the base grids

As soon as you have all the base grids in place, you can lock the layer so that you won’t accidentally move them, and then we can start working on the first icon.

5. Create the Medal Icon

First, make sure you’re on the right layer, and then zoom in so that you have a nice clear view of the first base grid.

Step 1

We will start by creating the round bottom section, which houses the little vector-powered symbol.

First, grab the Ellipse Tool (L) and draw a 60 x 60 px shape, which we will color using a dark orange tint #D8532A, and then position towards the bottom-centered side of the smaller 92 x 92 px square, leaving a gap of 4 px between the two.

creating the medal icons base orange shape

Since we want everything to be as precise and sharp as possible, I would recommend that you use the Pixel Preview mode (View > Pixel Preview or Alt-Control-Y), since it will allow you to see the underlying pixel grid, giving you full control over the positioning of your shapes.

example of using the Pixel Preview mode to align the shapes to the grid

Step 2

As soon as you have the shape in place, give it an outline using the Offset Path tool. First select the shape and then go to Object > Path > Offset Path.

creating the medal icons main shape outline using the offset path tool

Give it an offset of 4 px.

applying a 4 px outline to the medals coin

This will create a new, larger shape that will be positioned underneath the one that we’ve used to create it.

Step 3

Now, as you can see, the circle maintains the same color, which is something that we’re going to want to change since the outline needs to be clearly visible.

So, let’s select the shape and change its color to something darker (#232323).

changing the medal coins outline color to something darker

Step 4

As soon as we have the outline, we can start adding details to the medal’s coin, and we will do so by first creating the ring highlight.

First, create a copy of the orange circle (Control-C > Control-F) and then using the Ellipse Tool (L) draw a 56 x 56 px shape (in my example colored using a darker orange) which we will position over the larger one.

adding a smaller circle to create the ring like highlight

Step 5

Now, with both shapes selected, use Pathfinder’s Minus Front option in order to create the cutout.

creating the medals ring like highlight using the minus front option from pathfinder

Step 6

Select the resulting shape, and adjust it by changing its color to white (#ffffff) and setting its Blending Mode to Overlay while lowering the Opacity to just 30%.

adjusting the blending mode for the medal ring like highlight

Step 7

Add two diagonal highlights, by creating one wider and one narrower rectangle, which we will then rotate at a 45° angle and adjust using the same settings that we used for the ring-like highlight that we just created.

adding the first set of diagonal highlights to the medals coin base

Step 8

As you can clearly see, the diagonal highlights go outside the surface of the coin, which is something that we need to change.

We will do that by creating a 56 x 56 px circle, which we will carefully align to the larger medal base, and then with both the circle and the highlights selected we will right click > Make Clipping Mask.

If you're wondering why I used a smaller clipping mask, the answer is because I didn’t want the diagonal highlights to overlap the ring one, which as you can see from the above image wouldn’t have looked all that nice.

creating a clipping mask to hide the outfacing sections of the diagonal highlights

As you can see, this will automatically hide the sections of the highlights that were going outside of the medal’s coin base, which is exactly what we wanted.

medal coin with first pair of diagonal highlights added

Step 9

Next, we will be adding some depth to the medal by creating a series of smaller circles to which we will add a bunch of ring highlights and shadows.

First, let’s create a 52 x 52 px shape (#AD4222) to which we will add a ring-like shadow following the same process as before, only this time we will use Darken as a Blending Mode and keep the Opacity level all the way down to 10%.

adding the first set of details to the medal icon

Step 10

Continue adding details by creating a 44 x 44 px circle (#D8532A) to which we will be adding a ring-like highlight as we did with the larger section of the medal’s coin.

adding the second ring like highlight to the medal coin

Step 11

Add two diagonal highlights, making sure to mask them so that they won’t overlap the circular one that we created in the previous step.

adding the second pair of diagonal highlights to the medal coin

Step 12

Create a 28 x 28 px circle (#D8532A) and position it over the second pair of diagonal highlights, making sure to center it to the rest of the coin’s shapes. Then add another ring-like highlight and a pair of diagonal ones for some more depth.

As you can see, I’ve positioned each of the diagonal highlight pairs differently so that they give the viewer the illusion of light bouncing off the coin’s surface.

adding the second set of details to the medal coin

Step 13

Start working on the inner vector symbol, by creating a 32 x 32 px circle (#AD4222) which we will transform by flipping its fill with its stroke (Shift-X), and applying a 2 px Stroke Weight which we will align towards the outside. Once you’ve adjusted the shape, expand it by going to Object > Expand > Fill & Stroke.

Then start adding the remaining details such as the anchor points and bottom handles, using the Rounded Rectangle Tool in combination with the Rectangle and Ellipse Tool.

Take your time, and once you’re done move on to the next step.

adding the vector symbol to the medal icon

Step 14

Finish off the medal’s inner illustration, by adding the lightning strike. To do that, create two 8 x 12 px rectangles and adjust them by removing the first one’s top left anchor point and the second one’s bottom right one by selecting them using the Direct Selection Tool and then pressing Delete.

Position the two resulting shapes so that they overlap towards the center, forming a 4 px square where they intersect.

adding the lightning strike to the medal icon

Step 15

Finish off this section of the icon by creating two star-shaped highlights, which we will position towards the top right corner of the medal’s coin. We will use slightly different settings compared to the previous highlights, since we will go with Hard Light as a Blending Mode while keeping the Opacity level to a higher value of 50%.

adding the star shaped highlights to the medal icon

Step 16

Once you’ve finished creating the bottom section of the medal, we can move on to building the ribbon that normally keeps it in place.

Start by creating a 38 x 47 px rounded rectangle (#364A5B) with a 19 px Corner Radius, which we will adjust by selecting and removing its top centered anchor using the Direct Selection Tool (A).

Once we’ve adjusted the shape, we need to make sure that its path is closed by pressing Control-J (unite), and then we can add a 4 px outline (#232323) and position it towards the top side of the medal’s coin so that its bottom section goes underneath it (right click > Arrange > Send to Back).

adding the ribbons base shapes to the medal icon

Step 17

Start adding details to the ribbon band by creating a couple of vertical and horizontal lines (#232323).

adding detail lines to the medal icon

Step 18

Once you’ve added the decorative lines, start adding some highlights and a shadow and you should be all done with this icon. That means you can group all its composing shapes together using the Control-G keyboard shortcut, and then we can move on to the next one.

medal icon finished

6. Create the Notebook Icon

Once you’ve finished creating the first icon, we can start working on the second one by positioning ourselves onto the appropriate layer.

Step 1

Start by creating the notebook itself, using a 68 x 76 px rounded rectangle with a 4 px Corner Radius. Color it using #364A5B, and then select its right anchor points with the Direct Selection Tool (A) and increase the roundness from 4 px to 8 px. Then add a 4 px outline (#232323) and make sure to position the two shapes towards the top left corner of the grid.

creating and positioning the base shapes for the notebook icon

Step 2

Add an all-around highlight to the inner section of the notebook, using Overlay as the Blending Mode and keeping the Opacity level to 40%.

adding the all-around highlight to the notebook icon

Step 3

Continue adding details by creating two vertical highlights and positioning them towards the right side of the notebook.

adding the vertical highlights to the notebook icon

Step 4

Add a couple of line segments (#232323) towards the left side of the notebook, so that it will give the impression that it was stitched.

adding the vertical detail lines to the notebook icon

Step 5

Create a little bookmark towards the bottom left corner by drawing a 6 x 4 px rectangle (#D8532A) to which we will add a 4 px outline and a top shadow (Blending Mode set to Darken, 20% Opacity) and two vertical highlights.

creating the bookmark for the notebook icon

Step 6

Start working on the little cover illustration by creating the little hat and the green checkmark (#7AAC41).

adding the graduation hat onto the notebook icon

Step 7

Grab a copy (Control-C) of the two star-shaped highlights and paste (Control-F) them over the notebook’s right side.

adding the two star shaped highlights to the notebook icon

Step 8

Using the Rounded Rectangle Tool create a 4 x 16 px shape with a Corner Radius of 1 px, color it using the same color that we’ve used for the outline (#232323) and then position it to the right side of the notebook’s outline. Make sure to vertically align the two using the Align panel.

adding the pen holder to the notebook icon

Step 9

Finish off the icon by creating a neat-looking pen and positioning it to the right side of the icon. Then group all the elements using the Control-G shortcut so that things won’t end up being misplaced by accident.

notebook icon finished

7. Create the Graduation Icon

As always, before we begin, make sure that you’re on the correct layer, and then position yourself over the base grid.

Step 1

We will start by creating the hat’s top section, and we will do so by drawing a 78 x 42 px rectangle, which we will color using #364A5B and then position towards the top side of the base grid, leaving a gap of 5 px between the two.

creating the top hat section for the graduation icon

Step 2

Now, let’s adjust the shape by adding one anchor point to the middle of each side and then removing the corner anchor points by selecting them using the Direct Selection Tool (A) and then pressing Delete. Then, add a 4 px outline to the resulting shape using the Offset Path tool (Object > Path > Offset Path).

adjusting the top hat section of the graduation icon

Step 3

Create the bottom section of the hat and then start adding highlights and shadows using the same Blending Mode and Opacity values that we’ve used for the other icons.

creating and adding details to the graduation hat icon

Step 4

Once you have both the top and bottom sections of the hat, you can start working on the little string, and we will do so by creating a 12 x 6 px ellipse which we will position towards the center of the diamond-like top. 

Then, using the Pen Tool, draw a nice clean line using a 2 px Stroke Weight. Add a 6 x 6 px circle, which we will adjust by selecting its top anchor point and moving it towards the top by 2 px using the Direct Selection Tool (A).

adding the little string piece to the graduation icon

Step 5

Now, before we move on to the bottom section of the icon, we can quickly grab a copy (Control-C) of the star-shaped highlights and position them (Control-F) towards the bottom right corner of the hat.

adding the star shaped highlights to the graduation icon

Step 6

We can now start working on the little folded diploma, and we will do so by first creating a 48 x 8 px rounded rectangle with a 2 px Corner Radius. We will color the shape using #CCD5DD and then we will give it an outline of 4 px and position them towards the bottom of the hat, leaving a gap of 3 px between the two.

adding the top section of the folded diploma

Step 7

Next, create a slightly smaller 36 x 8 px segment with a 1 px Corner Radius that will go under the top section of the folded diploma, and color its fill using #6E7378. Add the usual 4 px outline (#232323) and send both shapes to the back using the Arrange > Send to Back option.

adding the lower segment to the folded diploma

Step 8

Start adding details to the upper segment of the diploma by creating a bunch of highlights and a subtle shadow.

adding details to the folded diploma

Step 9

Next, we have to create the little ribbon by drawing a 12 x 12 px circle (#D8532A), to which we will apply a 4 px outline, and then position the two onto the top segment of the folded diploma, making sure to center them. Then, using the Rectangle Tool (M), create a 4 x 4 px square (#AD4222) giving it an outline and then positioning it right under the round segment of the ribbon.

adding the round ribbon to the graduation icon

Step 10

Take your time and start adding details to the ribbon by creating a couple of highlights and shadows, and finally adding the little checkmark sign.

adding details to the graduation ribbon

Once you’re done, don’t forget to group all of the composing elements together (Control-G) and then we can move on to the final icon from this pack.

8. Create the iMac

So we are now down to our last icon, the iMac, which means that once again you need to make sure you’re on the last layer, and then zoom in on the grid so that you can start building with consistency in mind.

Step 1

Using the Rounded Rectangle Tool, create an 84 x 58 px shape with a 2 px Corner Radius, which we will color using #364A5B, and then give it an outline, making sure to position the two shapes towards the top side of the base grid.

creating the top section of the iMac

Step 2

Create a copy of the inner dark-blue shape (Control-C > Control-F) and then turn it into a screen by removing its bottom-center anchor points and shortening its height to just 48 px, and then finally coloring it using #232323.

Once you’ve done that, add a little 4 x 4 px circle to the center of the lower visible segment, where you would normally find Apple's famous logo.

Step 3

Move on towards the bottom and start working on the iMac’s leg by drawing a 20 x 8 px rectangle, which we will adjust by selecting and pushing its top anchor points towards the center by 1 px. Then create a copy of the shape and turn it into an outline by changing its width from 20 to 28 px

Once you’ve done that, make sure to position the two underneath the screen by selecting them and using the Arrange > Send to Back option, so that the tops of the shapes touch the bottom side of the iMac’s inner fill.

creating the iMacs center leg piece

Step 4

Finish off the iMac’s leg by adding a little 32 x 2 px base that has a flat bottom but a 2 px Corner Radius on its top anchor points. Color the shape using #364A5B and then don’t forget to give it a 4 px outline (#232323).

creating the base for the iMacs leg

Step 5

Now it’s time to start adding highlights and shadows to our little icon. As usual, take your time and make this little piece of hardware pop with some nice-looking details.

adding details to the iMac icon

Step 6

Start working on the little interface by creating a 52 x 32 px rounded rectangle with a Corner Radius of 1 px, color it using a green shade (#7AAC41) and then position the shape onto the iMac’s screen, leaving a gap of 8 px between it and the top side of the screen’s outline.

adding the interface base shape onto the iMac icon

Step 7

Create three 2 x 2 px circles (#232323) positioned 2 px from one another, and place them towards the top left corner of the green interface, leaving a gap of of 2 px from its right side and 1 px from its top. 

Then, add a 52 x 2 px line divider (#232323) to separate the top bar from the rest of the interface, and a small 22 x 2 px rounded rectangle with a 1 px Corner Radius towards the top section of the bar.

adding the top bar to the iMac interface

Step 8

Start adding details to the interface by adding two rows of button delimiter lines on each side, and a whitish (#CCD5DD) 38 x 18 px canvas towards the center of its lower section.

adding the buttons and canvas to the iMac icon

Step 9

Start adding details such as highlights and shadows to give the interface a more polished look.

adding details to the iMacs interface

Step 10

Using an artistic paintbrush, add a little diagonal line towards the center of the canvas to make it look as if somebody is drawing something.

adding the little paint brush mark to the iMac icon

Step 11

Using the Rounded Rectangle Tool, create four little 4 x 4 px shapes with a 1 px Corner Radius positioned 2 px from one another, and color them using orange (#D8532A) for the latent / inactive state and green (#7AAC41) for the active one. Then position all four of them to the center of the iMac, just underneath the interface, leaving a gap of 2 px between the two.

adding the four little buttons from underneath the iMacs interface

Step 12

Give the screen some pop by adding two diagonal highlights using Overlay as the Blending Mode and lowering the Opacity level to 40%. Once you have the highlights in place, mask them using a copy of the iMac’s screen, which you will need to adjust by shortening its width to about 44 px.

adding the diagonal highlights to the iMacs screen

Step 13

As we did with all the previous icons, we need to add the star-shaped highlights, by grabbing a copy and pasting it towards the top-right corner of the screen.

adding the star shaped highlights to the iMac icon

Step 14

Now it’s time to give you some creative freedom and let you come up with your own cool-looking peripherals. Whether you’re a mouse and keyboard person or a pen and tablet one, get a little crazy and create something that is representative for the way you work creatively.

As always, once you’ve finished creating the icon, don’t forget to select all of its components and group them together using the Control-G keyboard shortcut which will protect them from getting separated.

iMac icon finished

It’s a Wrap!

There you have it: a nice, in-depth tutorial explaining the process for creating these nice-looking icons that I had the opportunity to create for the awesome team here at Envato Tuts+. I hope you enjoyed the ride, and more importantly learned something new along the way.

all icons finished preview
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