1. Design & Illustration
  2. Icon Design

How to Create a Recycling, Paper Bag Icon

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Read Time: 5 mins

In this tutorial, we'll explain how to create an eco-friendly paper icon with simple shapes and gradients. This tutorial is great for beginners to get started with icon design, as this is a fairly simple icon to create. Let's dive in!

Final Image Preview

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Tutorial Details

  • Program: Adobe Illustrator CS4
  • Difficulty: Beginner
  • Estimated Completion Time: 1 hour

Step 1

Open up a new document and select the Rectangle Tool (M). Create a rectangle. We don't care yet about color and stroke.

Step 2

Select the Shear Tool. This tool can be found under the Transform Tool.

Step 3

Click on the bottom-right corner once with the Shear Tool and start moving the mouse cursor. You will see how the rectangle gets transformed. Try to achieve a similar shape as you see below.

Step 4

Create another rectangle and transform it as well with the Shear Tool, but this time in the other direction so it aligns perpendicular with the first shape.

Step 5

Select both shapes and fill them with a beige-brown and set the stroke to none.

Step 6

Select the Pen Tool (P) and add path points to the upper line of the rectangles. We'll manipulate them slightly as shown. This is to to create a worn look on the top of the paper bag. If you need some practice with then Pen Tool, then review the tutorial Illustrator's Pen Tool: The Comprehensive Guide, as we'll be using the Pen Tool throughout this tutorial.

To do this, select the points with the Direct Selection Tool (A) and move the added points around. Start giving the shapes a tailored look and fill them with a brown to beige gradient. Place the gradient highlight towards the top.

Step 7

Add more anchor points if necessary.

Step 8

With the Pen Tool, create another shape that is placed on top of the left shape. Try to follow the shape, but keep it half the size. Fill it with a darker gradient. This will simulate a glued paper bag side.

Step 9

Create another shape similar to the one in the image for the right side and place it behind the front shape. Fill it again with a gradient, but try to place the gradient highlight towards the back.

Step 10

Add a small triangle to the left side on the bottom of the bag. Fill it with a darker color or gradient.

Step 11

Create an outer shape with the Pen Tool (P) around the paper bag. The shape is totally up to you. Just make sure that the shape overlaps with the other shapes.

Step 12

Create a copy of all shapes, then select them all and go to the Pathfinder Palette. There, select the Unite shape mode.

Step 13

This is what you should have after uniting all shapes. Just make sure that you still have all the other shapes. If not, undo (Command + Z).

Step 14

Take the united shape and place it behind all the other shapes. Make sure you delete the extra outline shape, since we don't need it anymore.

Step 15

Create a black filled funky shape and place it under all shapes. This will be the shadow, which is falling towards the back, since we want to simulate that the light source comes form the front.

Step 16

Select the shadow shape. Then apply a Gaussian Blur effect of 10 pixels.

Step 17

Set the Transparency Opacity to 14%

Step 18

Let's make the recycle icon next. Create a Polygon with the Rectangle Tool (M). Click once on the Artboard, and in the pop-up window, set the radius to 50pt and the sides to 3 . Then click OK. Fill the triangle with a brown color.

Step 19

With the triangle selected, go to Effect > Stylize > Round Corners and apply them.

Step 20

With the triangle selected, expand the appearance (Object > Expand Appearance). Now go to Object > Path > Offset Path and apply a 10pt offset as shown.

Step 21

Select both shapes and click on the Exclude button in the Pathfinder Palette.

Step 22

Create more triangles just like we did in Step 18. Place them in the middle of each triangle side as shown.

Step 23

Click the Divide button in the Pathfinder palette, which will break these into individual shapes as shown.

Step 24

With the Direct Selection Tool (A), select the highlighted part in the image below and apply the Unite Pathfinder button. Repeat this as needed to make each arrow attach to a curve as shown..

Step 25

Ungroup the shapes if necessary and move them slightly apart from each other, which creates a gap between each arrow and curve.

Step 26

Skew the recycle icon using the Shear Tool as shown. Place the it on the front of the bag as shown.

Step 27

To make it a bit more interesting, create a copy of the side and fill it with undulated fine dots (a pattern you can find under Window > Swatches > Patterns). Set the Opacity to 27%.

Step 28

Repeat Step 27 for the front. Set the Opacity to 27%.

Step 29

Create a copy of the back shape behind itself (Command + C + B) and make it slightly bigger. Change the direction of the gradient so the top part is lighter.


Have a look, the eco-friendly paper bag icon is ready. I hope you enjoyed this entry level tutorial.

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