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Design

How to Create a Set of Science Icons in Affinity Designer

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Difficulty:BeginnerLength:LongLanguages:
This post is part of a series called Science Week.
How to Create a Space Travel Infographic in Adobe InDesign
How to Draw a T-Rex Dinosaur
Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

Welcome back to another Affinity tutorial, in which we’re going to take an in-depth look at the process of creating a set of science icons, using nothing more than some simple geometric shapes that we’re going to adjust here and there.

So, assuming you already have the software running in the background, bring it up and let’s get started!

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

1. How to Set Up a New Project File

As always, we’re going to start by setting up a New Document by heading over to File > New (or by using the Control-N keyboard shortcut) which we will adjust as follows:

  • Type: Web
  • Document Units: Pixels
  • Create artboard: checked
  • Page Width: 128 px
  • Page Height: 128 px
  • DPI: 72
setting up a new document

2. How to Set Up the Artboards

Once we’ve created the document, we need to structure our project using a few Artboards, one for each icon, in order to maintain a clear and steady workflow.

Step 1

To do this, simply select the default Artboard from within the Layers panel, and then create three copies by either right clicking > Duplicate or by using the Control-J keyboard shortcut three times, which we will rename as follows:

  • first artboard: test tube
  • second artboard: conical flask
  • third artboard: dropper
  • fourth artboard: beaker
setting up the artboards

Step 2

Since we don’t want the Artboards to overlap each other, we’ll want to select all four of them from within the Layers panel (making sure to start with the bottom one) and then open up the Arrange panel. Here we’re going to use the Align Horizontally > Space Horizontally option, making sure to uncheck Auto Distribute and enter a custom value of 48 px.

distancing the artboards

Step 3

With the Artboards now in place, quickly lock each one of them using the little lock button, so that you won’t move them around by accident.

example of locking the artboards

3. 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 once 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 to work with.

Step 1

Position yourself onto the first Artboard, and using the Rectangle Tool (M) create a 128 x 128 px square, which we will color using #F15A24 and then center align as seen in the reference image.

creating the main shape for the reference grid

Step 2

Add a smaller 112 x 112 px square, which we will color using white (#FFFFFF) and then position in the center of the Artboard since it will act as our active drawing area, giving us an all-around 8 px protective padding.

creating the main shape for the active drawing area

Step 3

Select and group the two squares together using the Control-G keyboard shortcut, making sure to name them using the “reference grid” label, and then populate the remaining Artboards using three copies (Control-C > Control-V) of them. Take your time, and once you’re done, move on to the next step.

adding the reference grids to the remaining artboards

Quick tip: as you can see, I’ve renamed each and every group using basic descriptive labels so that I can easily target the desired shapes when I need to, which is something that I strongly recommend you try.

4. How to Create the Test Tube Icon

Now that we’ve finished setting up our project file, we can position ourselves onto the first Artboard, and then zoom in on it so that we can have a better view of the shapes.

Step 1

Start by creating the main shape for the background using a 112 x 112 px ellipse which we will color using #9FE8F4 and then center align to the underlying Artboard.

creating the background for the test tube icon

Step 2

Add the smaller shadow using a 24 x 8 px ellipse which we will color using #4ABAC6 and then position at a distance of 12 px from the center of the active drawing area’s bottom edge.

creating the shadow for the test tube icon

Step 3

Create the main shape for the tube’s body using a 20 x 48 px rectangle which we will color using #E6FFFA and then center align to the Artboard, positioning it at a distance of 2 px from the previous shape’s top edge.

creating the main shape for the body of the test tube

Step 4

Adjust the shape of the rectangle by unchecking the Single radius option found within the context toolbar, and then setting both its bottom left (BL) and bottom right (BR) corners to Rounded, making sure to give them an absolute value of 10 px.

adjusting the shape of the test tube

Step 5

Start working on the inner liquid by creating a 20 x 24 px rectangle, which we will color using #E57A45 and then center align to the resulting shape’s bottom edge.

creating the darker liquid section for the test tube icon

Step 6

Adjust the shape that we’ve just created by first converting it to curves, and then selecting its top-left node using the Node Tool (A) and pushing it to the bottom by 8 px using the directional arrow keys.

adjusting the darker liquid section for the test tube icon

Step 7

Select the resulting shape’s top nodes using the Node Tool (A), and then convert them to smooth using the Convert to Smooth tool, adjusting the curvature between them as seen in the reference image.

adjusting the curvature of the darker liquid section for the test tube

Step 8

Create the lighter section of the liquid using a copy (Control-C) of the shape that we’ve just adjusted, which we will paste in front (Control-V) and then adjust by horizontally reflecting it (right click > Transform > Flip Horizontal).

adding the lighter liquid section to the test tube icon

Step 9

Add a copy of the tube’s main body to the clipboard (Control-C) and then select and group the liquid’s two composing shapes using the Control-G keyboard shortcut, masking them afterwards by heading over to the Layers panel, and then dragging the resulting group onto the shape that we want to use as the clipping mask (in this case the tube’s main body).

masking the liquid of the test tube

Step 10

Paste the copy from the clipboard in place using the Control-V keyboard shortcut, and then quickly turn it into an outline by flipping its Fill with its Stroke (Shift-X) making sure to set its Width to 4 px. Once you’re done, make sure you select and group all of the current section’s composing shapes together using the Control-G keyboard shortcut.

adding the outline to the body of the test tube

Step 11

Create the tube’s upper lip using a 32 x 8 px rounded rectangle (#E6FFFA) with a 4 px corner radius and a 4 pt thick outline (#E6FFFA), which we will group (Control-G) and then position onto the upper edge of the main body, so that the paths end up overlapping.

adding the lip to the upper section of the test tube

Step 12

Grab the Pen Tool (P) and quickly draw the horizontal gradation indicators using four 4 px wide 4 pt thick stroke lines (#9E6561), which we will vertically stack 4 px from one another, grouping (Control-G) and then positioning them onto the left side of the tube as seen in the reference image.

adding the gradation lines to the test tube

Step 13

Create the main shape for the cork using a 16 x 28 px rectangle (#F29870), which we will adjust by individually selecting and pushing its bottom nodes to the inside by 4 px. Give the resulting shape a 4 pt thick outline (#F29870), followed by a couple of #CE7657 colored circles, grouping (Control-G) and then positioning them at a distance of 20 px from the center of the active drawing area’s top edge.

adding the cork to the upper section of the test tube

Step 14

Position the cork underneath the tube using the Arrange > Back One function, and then add a copy (Control-C) of its fill shape and outline within the liquid’s clipping mask, making sure to change their color to #DB835D.

adding the darker cork segment to the test tube

Step 15

Finish off the icon by adding the highlights using two 4 pt thick stroke lines (#FFFFFF), making sure to select and group (Control-G) all of its composing shapes together afterwards.

finishing off the test tube icon

5. How to Create the Conical Flask Icon

Assuming you’ve already positioned yourself onto the next Artboard, zoom in on it and let’s start working on our second icon.

Step 1

As we did with the first icon, start by creating the main shape for the background using a 112 x 112 px circle which we will color using #9FE8F4 and then center align to the underlying Artboard.

creating the background for the conical flask icon

Step 2

Add the shadow using a 48 x 8px ellipse which we will color using #4ABAC6 and then position at a distance of 12 px from the center of the active drawing area’s bottom edge.

adding the shadow to the conical flask icon

Step 3

Start working on the flask’s main body by creating a 64 x 8 px rectangle which we will color using #E6FFFA and then position at a distance of 2 px from the shadow’s top node.

creating the main shape for the lower section of the flask

Step 4

Adjust the shape that we’ve created by setting the radius of its bottom corners (BL and BR) to 8 px.

adjusting the lower section of the flask

Step 5

Create the main shape for the neck using a 16 x 28 px rectangle (#E6FFFA), which we will center align to the Artboard, positioning it at a distance of 24 px from the flask’s lower body.

creating the main shape for the neck of the conical flask

Step 6

Open up the two shapes by first converting them to curves using the Convert to Curves tool, and then using the Break Curve Action selecting the connecting nodes using the Node Tool (A) and then immediately removing them by pressing Delete.

opening up the composing paths of the flask

Step 7

Unite the resulting paths using the Join and Close Curves Actions, making sure to adjust the final shape as seen in the reference image.

adjusting the shape of the conical flask

Step 8

Create the main shape for the liquid’s darker section using a 64 x 28 px rectangle (#E57A45), which we will adjust by selecting and pushing its top-left node to the bottom by 12 px, making sure to adjust the curvature of the resulting transition.

adding the darker liquid section to the conical flask

Step 9

Add the liquid’s lighter section using a copy (Control-C > Control-V) of the darker one, which we will color using #FF9255 and then horizontally reflect (right click > Transform > Flip Horizontal). Once you’re done, group (Control-G) and mask them using the flask’s main body, making sure to add a copy (Control-C) of the shape used as the clipping mask to the clipboard.

masking the liquid of the conical flask

Step 10

Give the flask an outline using the copy that we’ve added to the clipboard, which we will paste in place (Control-V) and then adjust by flipping its Fill with its Stroke, making sure to set its Width to 4 pt. Once you’re done, make sure you select and group (Control-G) all of the current section’s composing shapes before moving on to the next step.

adding the outline to the body of the flask

Step 11

Create the upper lip using a 24 x 8 px rounded rectangle (#E6FFFA) with a 4 px corner radius and a 4 pt thick outline (#E6FFFA), which we will group (Control-G) and then position on top of the larger body so that their paths end up overlapping.

adding the upper lip to the body of the flask

Step 12

Quickly draw the horizontal gradation indicators using four 4 px wide 4 pt thick strokes (#9E6561), which we will vertically stack 4 px from one another, grouping (Control-G) and then positioning them onto the left side of the flask’s neck as seen in the reference image.

adding the gradation lines to the conical flask

Step 13

Finish off the icon by adding the highlights using two 4 pt thick strokes colored using white (#FFFFFF). Take your time, and once you’re done, make sure you select and group (Control-G) all of the flask’s composing shapes, doing the same for the entire icon afterwards.

finishing off the conical flask icon

6. How to Create the Dropper Icon

Make sure you position yourself onto the third Artboard, and zoom in on it so that we can start working on our next icon.

Step 1

Start by creating the main shape for the background using a 112 x 112 px circle which we will color using #9FE8F4 and then center align to the underlying Artboard.

creating the background for the dropper icon

Step 2

Add the smaller shadow using a 24 x 8 px ellipse which we will color using #4ABAC6 and then position at a distance of 12 px from the center of the active drawing area’s bottom edge.

adding the shadow to the dropper icon

Step 3

Start working on the dropper’s body by creating its tip using an 8 x 8 px square (#E6FFFA) which we will adjust by setting the radius of its bottom corners (BL and BR) to 4 px, center aligning the resulting shape to the Artboard and positioning it 2 px from the shadow’s top node.

creating the main shape for the tip of the dropper

Step 4

Add the main shape for the upper body using a larger 16 x 24 px rectangle (#E6FFFA) which we will position above the tip at a distance of just 8 px, and then open up their paths, uniting them into a single larger shape afterwards.

creating the upper body of the dropper

Step 5

Smoothen out the sides of the shape by converting its inner facing nodes to smooth and then adjusting the position of their handles.

adjusting the shape of the dropper

Step 6

Create the main shape for the liquid’s darker section using a 16 x 28 px rectangle (#E57A45), which we will adjust by selecting and pushing its top-left node to the bottom by 8 px, making sure to adjust the curvature of the resulting transition.

creating the darker liquid section for the dropper

Step 7

Add the liquid’s lighter section using a copy (Control-C > Control-V) of the one that we’ve just created, which we will color using #FF9255 and then horizontally reflect (right click > Transform > Flip Horizontal). Once you’re done, group (Control-G) and then mask them using the dropper’s main body, making sure to add the larger body’s 4 pt thick outline (#E6FFFA) afterwards.

adding the outline to the body of the dropper

Step 8

Create the lower section of the rubber bulb using a 32 x 8 px rounded rectangle (#9E6561) with a 4 px corner radius and a 4 pt thick outline (#9E6561), which we will group (Control-G) and then position on top of the larger body so that their paths end up overlapping.

creating the main shapes for the lower section of the rubber bulb

Step 9

Add the upper section using a 16 x 20 px rectangle (#9E6561), which we will adjust by setting the radius of its top corners (TL and TR) to 8 px, giving the resulting shape a 4 pt thick outline (#9E6561). Once you’re done, group (Control-G) and then position the two on top of the previous shapes.

adding the upper section to the rubber bulb

Step 10

Take a couple of moments and add the vertical detail lines using two 8 px tall 4 pt thick strokes (#844846), spaced 4 px horizontally from one another, which we will group (Control-G) and then center align to the lower edge of the bulb’s upper body. 

Once you have the shapes in place, position them underneath the current section’s lower body (right click > Arrange > Back One), making sure to select and group all of them together afterwards using the Control-G keyboard shortcut.

adding the vertical detail lines to the rubber bulb

Step 11

Finish off the current icon by adding the highlights using two 4 pt thick strokes (#FFFFFF), which we will position as seen in the reference image. Once you’re done, don’t forget to select and group (Control-G) all of the dropper’s composing shapes, doing the same for the entire icon before moving on to the next one.

finishing off the dropper icon

7. How to Create the Beaker Icon

We’re now down to our fourth and last icon, so assuming you’ve already positioned yourself on the remaining Artboard, let’s wrap things up!

Step 1

As we did with all the other icons, start by creating the main shape for the background using a 112 x 112 px circle, which we will color using #9FE8F4 and then center align to the underlying Artboard.

creating the background for the beaker icon

Step 2

Add the smaller shadow using a 24 x 8 px ellipse, which we will color using #4ABAC6 and then position 12 px from the center of the active drawing area’s bottom edge.

adding the shadow to the beaker icon

Step 3

Create the main shape for the beaker’s body using a 48 x 56 px rectangle (#E6FFFA), which we will adjust by setting the radius of its bottom corners (BL and BR) to 4 px, center aligning the resulting shape to the Artboard, positioning it 2 px from the shadow’s top node.

creating the main shape for the body of the beaker

Step 4

Add the main shape for the “beak” using a 12 x 8 px triangle (#E6FFFA), which we will rotate to the left side (right click > Transform > Rotate Left) and then adjust by selecting and pushing its tip to the top by 2 px. Once you’re done, position the resulting shape on the upper-left corner of the body, uniting the two into a single larger shape using the Add tool.

adding the beak to the body of the beaker

Step 5

Create the main shape for the liquid’s darker section using a 48 x 24 px rectangle (#E57A45), which we will adjust by selecting and pushing its top-left node to the bottom by 12 px, making sure to adjust the curvature of the resulting transition.

adding the darker liquid section to the beaker

Step 6

Add the liquid’s lighter section using a copy (Control-C > Control-V) of the one that we’ve just created, which we will color using #FF9255 and then horizontally reflect (right click > Transform > Flip Horizontal). Once you’re done, group (Control-G) and then mask them using the beaker’s main body, making sure to add the larger body’s 4 pt thick outline (#E6FFFA) afterwards.

adding the outline to the body of the beaker

Step 7

Take a couple of moments and quickly draw the horizontal gradation indicators using four 4 px wide 4 pt thick strokes (#9E6561), which we will vertically stack 4 px from one another, grouping (Control-G) and then positioning them on the left side of the beaker’s body as seen in the reference image.

adding the gradation lines to the beaker

Step 8

Create the stirring rod using a 24 px wide, 56 px tall stroke with a 4 pt width, which we will color using #9E6561 and then position onto the beaker’s main body.

adding the stirring rod to the beaker

Step 9

Once you have the rod in place, make sure you position it behind the beaker by right clicking > Arrange > Back One until you get it right.

positioning the rod behind the beaker

Step 10

Create a copy (Control-C) of the rod, and paste it (Control-V) within the clipping mask used for the liquid, making sure to position it between its two composing shapes as seen in the reference image.

adding a copy of the rod to the liquid of the beaker

Step 11

Finish off the icon, and with it the project itself, by adding the highlight using a 4 pt thick stroke (#FFFFFF), selecting and grouping (Control-G) all of the beaker’s composing shapes together, making sure to do the same for the entire icon afterwards.

finishing off the beaker icon

Great Job!

As always, I hope you had fun working on the project but most importantly managed to learn something new and useful along the way.

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 Skills!

Are you just starting out using Affinity Designer?! If so, we've carefully hand-picked a set of in-depth tutorials that will greatly help you expand your craft using this awesome piece of software:

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