Advertisement
  1. Design & Illustration
  2. Icon Design
Design

How to Create a Retro Science-Themed Icon Pack in Adobe Illustrator

by
Difficulty:IntermediateLength:LongLanguages:
This post is part of a series called Science Week.
How to Create an Abstract, Sci-Fi Portrait in Adobe Photoshop
How to Draw a Skeleton Step by Step
Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

Ever wondered what it must feel like to be a mad scientist creating all sort of mysterious inventions?  If that’s the case, wonder no more, since in today’s tutorial we’re going to get our geek on and create a little retro science-themed icon pack using some of the most basic shapes and tools that Illustrator has to offer.

Also, don't forget you can always expand the project by checking out GraphicRiver where you'll find literally pages upon pages of science-themed icon packs.

1. How to Set Up a New Document

Since I’m hoping that you already have Illustrator up and running in the background, bring it up and let’s set up a New Document (File > New or Control-N) using the following settings:

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

And from the Advanced tab:

  • Color Mode: RGB
  • Raster Effects: Screen (72ppi)
  • Preview Mode: Default
setting up a new document

2. How to Set Up a Custom Grid

Since we’re going to be creating the icons using a pixel-perfect workflow, we’ll want to set up a nice little Grid so that we can have full control over our shapes.

Step 1

Go to the Edit > Preferences > Guides & Grid submenu, and adjust the following settings:

  • Gridline every: 1 px
  • Subdivisions: 1
setting up a custom grid

Quick tip: you can learn more about grids by reading this in-depth piece on how Illustrator’s Grid System works.

Step 2

Once we’ve set up our custom grid, all we need to do in order to make sure our shapes look crisp is enable the Snap to Grid option found under the View menu, which will transform into Snap to Pixel each time you enter Pixel Preview mode.

Now, if you’re new to the whole “pixel-perfect workflow”, I strongly recommend you go through my how to create pixel-perfect artwork tutorial, which will help you widen your technical skills in no time.

3. How to Set Up the Layers

With the New Document created, it would be a good idea to structure our project using a couple of layers, since this way we can maintain a steady workflow by focusing on one icon at a time.

That being said, bring up the Layers panel, and create a total of four layers, which we will rename as follows:

  • layer 1: reference grids
  • layer 2: glassware
  • layer 3: microscope
  • layer 4: lamp checker
setting up the layers

4. How to Create the Reference Grids

The reference grids (or base grids) are a set of precisely delimited reference surfaces, which allow us to build our icons by focusing on size and consistency.

Usually, the size of the grids determines the size of the actual icons, and they should always be the first decision you make on you start a new project, since you’ll always want to start from the smallest possible size and build on that.

Now, in our case, we’re going to be creating the icon pack using just one size, more exactly 128 x 128 px, which is a fairly large one.

Step 1

Start by locking all but the “reference grids” layer, and then grab the Rectangle Tool (M) and create a 128 x 128 px orange (#F15A24) square, which will help define the overall size of our icons.

creating and positioning the main shape for the reference grid

Step 2

Add another smaller 120 x 120 px one (#FFFFFF) which will act as our active drawing area, thus giving us an all-around 4 px padding.

creating and positioning the main shape for the active drawing area

Step 3

Group the two squares composing the reference grid using the Control-G keyboard shortcut, and then create three copies at a distance of 40 px from one another, making sure to align them to the center of the Artboard.

Once you’re done, lock the current layer and move on to the next one where we’ll start working on our first icon.

creating and positioning the remaining reference grids

5. How to Create the Glassware Icon

Assuming you’ve already moved on to the next layer (that would be the second one) after creating the reference grids, let’s kick off the project by zooming in on our first reference grid, where we will start working on the little stand of glass test tubes.

Step 1

Start working on the first tube by creating a 12 x 88 px rectangle, which we will color using #56C1AD and then position at a distance of 2 px from the active drawing area’s top edge and 30 px from its left one.

creating and positioning the main shape for the glassware icons first tube

Step 2

Adjust the shape that we’ve just created by setting the Radius of its bottom corners to 6 px from within the Transform panel’s Rectangle Properties.

adjusting the shape of the glassware icons first tube

Step 3

Give the resulting shape an outline using the Stroke method, by creating a copy of it (Control-C) which we will paste in front (Control-F) and then adjust by first changing its color to #5B4032 and then flipping its Fill with its Stroke (Shift-X), making sure to set its Weight to 4 px.

adding the outline to the glassware icons first tube

Step 4

Add the tube’s lip using a 20 x 4 px rectangle (#5B4032), which we will position onto the upper section of its outline, center aligning it to the previously created shapes.

adding the lip to the glassware icons first tube

Step 5

Give the tube a hard shadow using a 12 x 6 px rectangle (#5B4032) which we will center align to the larger fill shape’s top edge. Once you’re done, select and group all four shapes together using the Control-G keyboard shortcut.

adding the hard shadow to the upper section of the glassware icons first tube

Step 6

Create two copies of the tube that we’ve just finished working on (Control-C > Control-F twice), and then distribute them on its right side, positioning them at a distance of 4 px from one another. Once you’re done, select and group all of them together using the Control-G keyboard shortcut.

creating and positioning the remaining glassware icons tubes

Step 7

Start working on the wooden rack by creating its base using a 104 x 16 px rectangle (#C48755) with a 4 px thick outline (#5B4032), which we will center align to the active drawing area’s bottom edge.

creating and positioning the main shapes for the bottom section of the glassware icons wooden rack

Step 8

Add the little label using a 20 x 8 px rectangle (#5B4032) to the sides of which we will add two smaller 8 x 4 px ones (#5B4032). Select and group (Control-G) all three shapes together, center aligning them to the larger wooden section, making sure to create another group afterwards.

adding the label to the bottom section of the glassware icons wooden rack

Step 9

Create the rack’s side sections using two 10 x 64 px rectangles (#AF7245) with a 4 px thick outline (#5B4032), which we will individually group (Control-G) and then position on top of the previous section, aligning them to its outer edges.

creating and positioning the side sections for the glassware icons wooden rack

Step 10

Add the rack’s upper section using a 104 x 12 px rectangle (#C48755) with a 4 px thick outline (#5B4032), which we will group (Control-G) and then position on top of the previously created shapes.

creating and positioning the main shapes for the upper section of the glassware icons wooden rack

Step 11

Add the little screws using two 4 x 4 px circles (#5B4032) which we will position on top so that they align with the rack’s side sections. Once you have them in place, select and group (Control-G) them to the underlying section.

adding the little screws to the upper section of the glassware icons wooden rack

Step 12

Next, take a couple of moments and add in the hard shadows using two 10 x 6 px rectangles (#5B4032) for the wooden rack’s side sections, followed by three 12 x 6 px ones (#5B4032) for the suspended glass tubes.

adding the hard shadows to the glassware icons wooden rack

Step 13

Create the horizontal section holding the tubes using a 108 px wide 4 px thick Stroke line (#5B4032), which we will center align to the rack, positioning it at a distance of 20 px from its upper section, making sure to send it to the back afterwards (right click > Arrange > Send to Back).

adding the horizontal tube holding section to the glassware icons wooden rack

Step 14

Finish off the rack, and with it the icon itself, by drawing in the little diagonal structural arms using a 4 px thick Stroke with the color set to #5B4032. Once you’re done, select and group (Control-G) all of its composing sections together, doing the same for the entire icon afterwards.

finishing off the glassware icon

6. How to Create the Microscope Icon

Assuming you’ve finished working on the first icon, lock its layer and then move on up to the next one (that would be the third one) where we will start working on the little microscope.

Step 1

Create the lower section of the base using an 80 x 12 px rectangle (#6B5B51) with a 4 px thick outline (#5B4032), which we will group (Control-G) and then center align to the underlying active drawing area’s bottom edge.

creating and positioning the main shapes for the bottom section of the microscopes base

Step 2

Add the base’s upper section using a 96 x 12 px rectangle (#C48755) with a 4 px thick outline (#5B4032), which we will group (Control-G) and then position on top of the previously created shapes.

creating and positioning the main shapes for the upper section of the microscopes base

Step 3

Create two 108 px wide 4 px thick Stroke lines (#5B4032) which we will position over the top and bottom edges of the outline, adding one more to the center of the fill shape afterwards. Once you’re done, select and group all of the upper section’s shapes together using the Control-G keyboard shortcut.

adding the horizontal detail lines to the upper section of the microscopes base

Step 4

Cast a hard shadow over the bottom section of the base, using an 80 x 6 px rectangle (#5B4032), which we will center align to its upper edge. Once you’re done, group (Control-G) the shadow to its section, doing the same for the entire base afterwards.

adding the hard shadow to the bottom section of the microscopes base

Step 5

Start working on the arm by creating a 12 x 72 px rectangle, which we will color using #82756C and then position over the base at a distance of 30 px from its left edge.

creating and positioning the main shape for the vertical section of the microscopes arm

Step 6

Create a smaller 12 x 14 px rectangle (#82756C) and position it onto the left side of the taller one from the previous step, uniting the two into a single larger shape using Pathfinder’s Unite Shape Mode.

uniting the main shapes of the microscopes arm into a single larger shape

Step 7

Select the lower section’s top-left anchor point using the Direct Selection Tool (A) and then push it to the bottom by a distance of 6 px using the Move tool (right click > Transform > Move > Vertical > 6 px).

adjusting the lower section of the microscopes arm

Step 8

Give the resulting shape a 4 px thick outline using the Stroke method, making sure to set its color to #5B4032.

adding the outline to the microscopes arm

Step 9

Add the little screw using a 4 x 4 px circle (#5B4032), which we will position at the bottom of the arm, leaving a 4 px gap around it. Once you’re done, select all three shapes and group them together using the Control-G keyboard shortcut.

adding the little screw to the base of the microscopes arm

Step 10

Start working on the upper tightening screw by creating an 8 x 8 px rectangle (#5B4032), which we will position on top of the microscope’s arm.

creating and positioning the bottom section of the microscopes tightening screw

Step 11

Create the screw’s thinner section using a 4 x 2 px rectangle (#5B4032) (2), on top of which we will add a 16 x 4 px rectangle (#5B4032) (3) followed by a slightly narrower 12 x 4 px one (#5B4032) (4). Position all three shapes on top of the rectangle from the previous step, selecting and grouping (Control-G) them together afterwards.

adding details to the microscopes tightening screw

Step 12

Create a 16 x 8 px rectangle (#5B4032), which we will position onto the left side of the microscope’s arm, at a distance of 12 px from its upper edge.

adding the horizontal connector segment to the microscopes arm

Step 13

Add the support rod using a 4 x 68 px rectangle (#5B4032), which we will also position onto the left side of the arm, making sure to send it to the back of all the other shapes afterwards (right click > Arrange > Send to Back).

adding the support rod to the microscopes arm

Step 14

Add the little adjustment wheel using a 16 x 16 px circle (#C48755) with a 4 px thick outline (#5B4032), on top of which we will add a smaller 4 x 4 px circle (#5B4032). Group (Control-G) all three shapes together and then position them in the center of the microscope’s arm, at a distance of 22 px from the larger base.

adding the adjustment wheel to the microscopes arm

Step 15

Give the wheel a hard shadow by creating a 14 x 14 px square (#5B4032) which we will adjust by setting the Radius of its bottom-right corner to 14 px from within the Transform panel’s Rectangle Properties. Position the resulting shape over the wheel’s lower half, making sure to align it to its right side.

adding the hard shadow to the microscopes adjustment wheel

Step 16

Mask the shadow using a copy (Control-C) of the arm’s fill shape as a Clipping Mask, which we will paste in front (Control-F) and then right click > Make Clipping Mask. Once you’re done, send the shadow to the back of the wheel using the Arrange > Send Backward, selecting and grouping (Control-G) all of the arm’s composing sections together.

adding the hard shadow to the back of the microscopes adjustment wheel

Step 17

Start working on the microscope’s main body, by creating an 18 x 40 px rectangle (#6B5B51) with a 4 px thick outline (#5B4032), which we will group (Control-G) and then position at a distance of 16 px from the arm and 36 px from the larger base.

creating and positioning the main shapes for the microscopes main body

Step 18

Create the observation tube using a 10 x 10 px square (#5B4032) on top of which we will add a smaller 6 x 4 px rectangle (#5B4032) followed by a slightly wider 14 x 4 px rectangle (#5B4032). Group (Control-G) all three shapes together, positioning them on top of the tube’s larger body.

adding the observation tube to the microscopes main body

Step 19

Give the larger body a small insertion by creating a 6 x 6 px square (#5B4032) which we will center align to its bottom edge.

adding the rectangular insertion to the bottom of the microscopes main body

Step 20

Create the upper section of the objective using a 10 x 10 px square (#D8A466) with a 4 px thick outline (#5B4032) to the bottom of which we will add a slightly wider 18 x 4 px rectangle (#5B4032) followed by a 10 x 6 px hard shadow on the top (#5B4032). Group (Control-G) all four shapes together, and then position them at the bottom of the microscope’s larger body.

creating and positioning the main shapes for the upper section of the microscopes objective

Step 21

Add the objective’s bottom section using a 10 x 2 px rectangle (#5B4032), underneath which we will add a wider 22 x 4 px one (#5B4032). Group (Control-G) both shapes together and then position them below the previous section.

adding the bottom section to the microscopes objective

Step 22

Create the actual lens using a 10 x 8 px ellipse (#56C1AD) with a 4 px thick outline (#5B4032), which we will group (Control-G) and then position onto the previous section, so that its upper half ends up overlapping it. Once you have it in place, make sure to send it behind the wider section by right clicking > Arrange > Send to Back, selecting and grouping (Control-G) all of the microscope’s lower sections together.

adding the lens section to the microscopes objective

Step 23

Add the little adjustment wheel using a 4 x 4 px square (#5B4032), to the side of which we will add a 4 x 8 px rectangle (#5B4032). Group (Control-G) and position the two shapes onto the lower right side of the microscope’s larger body, selecting and grouping (Control-G) all of its composing sections afterwards.

adding the side adjustment wheel to the microscopes main body

Step 24

Start working on the right section of the arm by creating a 32 x 12 px rectangle (#C48755), which we will adjust by setting the Radius of its right corners to 6 px from within the Transform panel’s Rectangle Properties. Once you’re done, position the resulting shape at a distance of 52 px from the microscope’s base.

creating and positioning the main shape for the upper section of the microscopes right extending arm

Step 25

Create a smaller 14 x 12 px rectangle (#C48755) and position it underneath the previously created section, uniting the two into a single larger shape using Pathfinder’s Unite Shape Mode.

creating and positioning the bottom section of the microscopes right extending arm

Step 26

Adjust the resulting shape by first selecting its bottom-right corner using the Direct Selection Tool (A) and then removing it by pressing Delete. Press Control-J to close up the resulting path, and then give it a 4 px thick outline (#5B4032), making sure to select and group (Control-G) the two together afterwards.

adding the outline to the microscopes right extending arm

Step 27

Finish off the extending arm by adding the little screw using a 4 x 4 px circle (#5B4032), followed by an 8 x 4 px rectangular insertion (#5B4032) afterwards. Once you’re done, select and group (Control-G) all its composing shapes together.

adding details to the microscopes right extending arm

Step 28

Cast the hard shadow onto the microscope using a 14 x 12 px rectangle (#5B4032) which we will adjust by setting the Radius of its bottom-right corner to 12 px from within the Transform panel’s Rectangle Properties. Position the resulting shape onto the bottom half of the extending arm, making sure to send it to the back by selecting both it and the larger microscope and then right click > Arrange > Send to Back.

adding the hard shadow to the microscopes right extending arm

Step 29

Finish off the microscope, and with it the icon itself, by adding the stage using a 48 x 4 px rectangle (#5B4032) which we will position onto the right side of the microscope’s arm, at a distance of 4 px from its larger base. Once you’re done, select and group (Control-G) all of the icon’s composing sections before moving on to the next step.

finishing off the microscope icon

7. How to Create the Lamp Checker Icon

We are now down to our third and last icon, so assuming you’ve moved on to the next layer, zoom in on its reference grid and let’s wrap things up!

Step 1

Create the lower section of the device’s base using an 88 x 12 px rectangle (#AF7245) with a 4 px thick outline (#5B4032), which we will center align to the active drawing area’s bottom edge.

creating and positioning the main shapes for the bottom section of the lamp checkers base

Step 2

Add the little side segments using two 6 x 4 px rectangles (#5B4032), which we will bottom align to the visual section of the fill shape. Once you’re done, select and group all four shapes together using the Control-G keyboard shortcut.

adding the little side segments to the lamp checkers base

Step 3

Create the base’s upper section using a 104 x 28 px rectangle (#C48755) with a 4 px thick outline (#5B4032), which we will group (Control-G) and then position on top of the previous shapes.

creating and positioning the main shapes for the upper section of the lamp checkers base

Step 4

Add the little screws using four 4 x 4 px circles (#5B4032), which we will position at a distance of 4 px from each of the larger section’s corners.

adding the little screws to the upper section of the lamp checkers base

Step 5

Add the label using 28 x 16 px rectangle (#5B4032), to the sides of which we will add two smaller 8 x 8 px squares (#5B4032). Group (Control-G) all three shapes together and then center align them to the larger section, selecting and grouping (Control-G) all its composing shapes as well.

adding the label to the upper section of the lamp checkers base

Step 6

Add the hard shadow to the bottom section of the base, using an 88 x 6 px rectangle (#5B4032) which we will center align to its top edge. Once you’re done, select and group all the shapes that we have so far using the Control-G keyboard shortcut.

adding the hard shadow to the bottom section of the lamp checkers base

Step 7

Start working on the device’s upper body by creating a 72 x 12 px rectangle (#82756C) with a 4 px thick outline (#5B4032), which we will group (Control-G) and then position on top of the larger base.

creating and positioning the main shapes for the upper section of the lamp checkers body

Step 8

Add the horizontal detail lines using two 84 px wide 4 px thick Stroke lines (#5B4032), which we will position onto the top and center section of the section’s outline. Once you have them in place, select and group (Control-G) them and the larger rectangles together before moving on to the next step.

adding the horizontal detail lines to the upper section of the lamp checkers body

Step 9

Create the little button using a 12 x 6 px rectangle (#C48755) with a 4 px thick outline (#5B4032), on top of which we will add another slightly narrower 8 x 6 px rectangle (#5B4032). Group (Control-G) all three shapes together and then position them on top of the previous section, at a distance of 12 px from its left edge.

creating and positioning the main shapes for the lamp checkers button

Step 10

Add the device’s socket using a 24 x 12 px rectangle (#6B5B51) with a 4 px thick outline (#5B4032), to the bottom of which we will add a smaller 8 x 6 px rectangle (#5B4032). Group (Control-G) all three shapes together, and then position them onto the right side of the button, at a distance of 12 px from it.

creating and positioning the main shapes for the lamp checkers bulb socket

Step 11

Create the light bulb’s base using a 16 x 12 px rectangle (#D8A466) with a 4 px thick outline (#5B4032) to the center of which we will add another 16 x 4 px rectangle (#5B4032). Group (Control-G) all three shapes together, and then position them over the previously created section.

creating and positioning the main shapes for the light bulbs base

Step 12

Start working on the bulb’s glass section by creating a 16 x 4 px rectangle (#56C1AD), which we will position on top of the base from the previous step.

creating and positioning the main shape for the bottom section of the light bulbs glass section

Step 13

Next, create a 32 x 32 px circle (#56C1AD) which we will position above the smaller rectangle, at a distance of 4 px from its top edge.

creating and positioning the main shape for the upper section of the light bulbs glass section

Step 14

Open up the circle’s path by selecting its bottom anchor point using the Direct Selection Tool (A) and then pressing Delete. Do the same for the rectangle by adding a new anchor point to the center of its top edge with the help of the Add Anchor Point Tool (+), and then removing it by pressing Delete.

opening up the paths of the light bulbs glass composing shapes

Step 15

Unite the two paths into a single larger shape by selecting them both and then pressing Control-J twice.

uniting the light bulbs glass paths into a single larger shape

Step 16

Smoothen up the resulting shape’s transitions by adjusting its curvatures with the help of its anchor’s handles while in Pixel Preview mode (Alt-Control-Y). Take your time, and once you’re done, move on to the next step.

adjusting the overall shape of the light bulbs glass section

Step 17

Give the resulting shape a 4 px thick outline (#5B4032) using the Stroke method, selecting and grouping (Control-G) both it and the underlying fill shape together afterwards.

adding the outline to the light bulbs glass section

Step 18

Start working on the filament by creating two 8 x 8 px circles with a 4 px thick Stroke (#5B4032) at a horizontal distance of 2 px from one another, which we will position in the center of the bulb, at a distance of 10 px from its upper edge.

creating and positioning the main shapes for the circular section of the light bulbs filament

Step 19

Open up the inner-bottom sections of each circle’s path by adding a new anchor point using the Add Anchor Point Tool (+), and then removing it by selecting and pressing Delete.

opening up the paths of the circular section of the light bulbs filament

Step 20

Finish off the filament, and with it the icon itself, by selecting and uniting the bottom anchor points using the Control-J keyboard shortcut, drawing the vertical sections using the Pen Tool (P). Once you’re done, select and group all of the bulb’s composing shapes, doing the same for the entire icon afterwards.

finishing off the lamp checker icon

It’s a Wrap!

Great job! I hope you’ve found the tutorial interesting enough to follow it until the end—since it was a long one—and most importantly learned something new and useful along the way.

finished project preview
Advertisement
Advertisement
Looking for something to help kick start your next project?
Envato Market has a range of items for sale to help get you started.