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  1. Design & Illustration
  2. Winter
Design

How to Create a Set of Snowflake Icons in Adobe Illustrator

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Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

Since winter is just around the corner, I thought it would be nice to welcome it by creating a small set of snowflake icons, using some of Illustrator’s most basic geometric shapes and tools.

Now, you can always expand the pack by heading over to GraphicRiver, where you’ll find a great selection of winter-themed icons just waiting to be picked.

That being said, make sure you grab a hot cup of that almond choco-latte, and let’s jump straight into it.

1. How to Set Up a New Project File

Assuming 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 and Snap to Pixel options found under the View menu, which will transform into Snap to Pixel each time you enter Pixel Preview mode (if you’re using an older version of the software).

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

Once we’ve set up our document, it would be a good idea to structure our project using several 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 five layers, which we will rename as follows:

  • layer 1: reference grids
  • layer 2: first snowflake
  • layer 3: second snowflake
  • layer 4: third snowflake
  • layer 5: fourth snowflake
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 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 64 x 64 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 64 x 64 px orange (#F15A24) square, which will help define the overall size of our icons.

creating the shape for the reference grid

Step 2

Add a smaller 56 x 56 px one (#FFFFFF) which we will position on top of the previous shape, since it will act as our active drawing area, thus giving us an all-around 4 px padding to work with.

creating the shape for the active drawing area

Step 3

Select and group the two squares together using the Control-G keyboard shortcut, and then create the remaining grids using three copies (Control-C > Control-F three times) spaced 28 px horizontally from the original. Once you have all the reference grids, group (Control-G) and then center align them to the underlying Artboard, making sure to lock the current layer before moving on to the next one.

adding the remaining reference grids

5. How to Create the First Snowflake Icon

Assuming you’ve successfully managed to create the little reference grids, move on to the next layer (that would be the second one), and let’s kick off the project by creating the first flake.

Step 1

Create the vertical section of the snowflake using a 52 px tall 4 px thick Stroke line with a Round Cap, which we will color using #7FD7E5 and then center align to the empty active drawing area.

creating the shape for the vertical section for the first snowflake

Step 2

Switch over to Pixel Preview mode (Alt-Control-Y), and then draw the v-shaped crystal formation using a 4 px thick Stroke (#7FD7E5) with a Round Cap, which we will position as seen in the reference image.

adding the upper segment to the first snowflake

Step 3

Create the bottom detail using a copy (Control-C > Control-F) of the one that we’ve just finished working on, which we will horizontally reflect (right click > Transform > Reflect > Horizontal) and then position on the opposite side of the active drawing area. Once you’re done, select and group all three shapes together using the Control-G keyboard shortcut.

adding the bottom segment to the first snowflake

Step 4

Create the flake’s vertical section using a copy (Control-C > Control-F) of the one that we’ve just grouped, which we will rotate at a 90º angle using the Rotate tool (right click > Transform > Rotate > 90º).

adding the horizontal section to the first snowflake

Step 5

Add the left diagonal section using another copy (Control-C > Control-F) of the vertical one, which we will rotate at a 45º angle (right click > Transform > Rotate > 45º), as seen in the reference image.

adding the left diagonal section to the first snowflake

Step 6

Make sure that the rotated shapes are perfectly snapped to the Pixel Grid by switching over to Pixel Preview mode (Alt-Control-Y) and then individually selecting and positioning them back onto the grid with the help of the Direct Selection Tool (A).

snapping the anchor points back to the pixel grid

Step 7

Finish off the current snowflake by creating the right diagonal section using a copy (Control-C > Control-F) of the one that we’ve just finished working on, which we will vertically reflect (right click > Transform > Reflect > Vertical). Once you’re done, select and group (Control-G) all of the strokes together before moving on to the next one.

finishing off the first snowflake

6. How to Create the Second Snowflake Icon

Assuming you’ve finished working on the first icon, move on to the next layer (that would be the third one), and let’s start working on our second snowflake.

Step 1

Create the vertical section using a 36 px tall 4 px thick Stroke line with a Round Cap, which we will color using #7FD7E5 and then center align to the underlying active drawing area.

creating the vertical section of the second snowflake

Step 2

Add the top and bottom end sections using two 8 x 8 px circles with a 4 px thick Stroke (#7FD7E5), which we will position as seen in the reference image.

adding the circular segments to the second snowflake

Step 3

Draw the two detail segments using a 4 px thick Stroke (#7FD7E5) with a Round Cap, using the reference image as your main guide. Take your time, and once you’re done, select and group (Control-G) all of the current shapes before moving on to the next step.

adding the v-shaped segments to the second snowflake

Step 4

Create the flake’s horizontal section using a copy (Control-C > Control-F) of the shapes that we’ve just grouped, and then rotate them using a 90º angle (right click > Transform > Rotate > 90º).

adding the horizontal section to the second snowflake

Step 5

Finish off the current icon by adding its diagonal sections using a copy (Control-C) of the ones from the previous snowflake, which we will paste (Control-F) onto the current layer, making sure to align them as seen in the reference image. Once you’re done, select and group (Control-G) all of its composing shapes, before moving on to the next one.

finishing off the second snowflake

7. How to Create the Third Snowflake Icon

By now you know the drill, so make sure you’ve positioned yourself onto the next layer (that would be the fourth one), and let’s jump straight into it.

Step 1

Start by creating the center section of the snowflake using a 12 x 12 px circle with a 4 px thick Stroke (#7FD7E5), which we will position in the center of the third reference grid.

creating the center shape for third snowflake

Step 2

Start working on the vertical section, by creating a 16 px tall 4 px thick Stroke segment (#7FD7E5) with a Round Cap, which we will position onto the circle’s top anchor point as seen in the reference image.

adding the top segment to the third snowflake

Step 3

Turn on Pixel Preview mode (Alt-Control-Y), and then draw the top v-shaped segment, using a 4 px thick Stroke (#7FD7E5) with a Round Cap, making sure to start from the vertical segment’s top anchor point and go all the way up to the active drawing area’s top edge.

adding the v-shaped segment to the top of the third snowflake

Step 4

Take a couple of moments and draw the remaining segments, making sure to maintain a 4 px gap between their end anchor points, and 8 px between their center ones. Once you’re done, select and group (Control-G) all four shapes together using the Control-G keyboard shortcut.

adding the top segments to the third snowflake

Step 5

Create the vertical section’s bottom segment using a copy of the shapes that we’ve just grouped, which we will horizontally reflect (right click > Transform > Reflect > Horizontal) and then position on the opposite edge of the active drawing area.

adding the bottom segments to the third snowflake

Step 6

Finish off the snowflake by adding its horizontal section using a copy (Control-C > Control-F) of the vertical segments that we’ve just created, which we will rotate at a 90º angle (right click > Transform > Rotate > 90º).  Once you’re done, select and group (Control-G) all the shapes together, before moving on to the next icon.

finishing off the third snowflake

8. How to Create the Fourth Snowflake Icon

We are now down to our fourth and last icon, so make sure you position yourself onto the fifth layer, and let’s wrap things up!

Step 1

Start by making a copy (Control-C) of the snowflake that we’ve just finished working on, which we will paste onto the current layer and then ungroup (right click > Ungroup), removing some of its details as seen in the reference image.

creating the upper segments for the fourth snowflake

Step 2

Adjust the length of the vertical segment by selecting its top anchor point with the help of the Direct Selection Tool (A) and then dragging it upwards until its top end touches the active drawing area’s outer edge.

adjusting the length of the upper segment

Step 3

Create a copy (Control-C > Control-F) of the v-shaped segment, and position them 4 px from one another, at a distance of 4 px from the vertical segment’s top anchor point. Once you’re done, select and group (Control-G) all three shapes together, before moving on to the next step.

adding the second upper segment to the fourth snowflake

Step 4

Create the snowflake’s bottom segment using a copy of the one that we’ve just finished working on, which we will horizontally reflect (right click > Transform > Reflect > Horizontal) and then position on the opposite edge of the active drawing area.

adding the bottom segments to the fourth snowflake

Step 5

Add the horizontal section using a copy (Control-C > Control-F) of the two vertical segments, which we will rotate by 90º (right click > Transform > Rotate > 90º).

adding the horizontal section to the fourth snowflake

Step 6

Take a couple of moments, and draw the top-left diamond shape using a 4 px thick Stroke (#7FD7E5) with a Round Join, which we will position 10 px from the active drawing area’s top-left corner.

adding the diamond shape to the fourth snowflake

Step 7

Finish off the snowflake, and with it the project itself, by adding the remaining diamonds using three copies (Control-C > Control-F three times) which we will horizontally and/or vertically reflect (right click > Transform > Reflect > Vertical and/or Horizontal) and then position as seen in the reference image. 

Take your time, and once you’re done, select and group (Control-G) all of the icon’s composing shapes together before hitting the save button.

finishing off the fourth snowflake

Great Work!

There you have it, fellow snowflake lovers, a nice and easy tutorial on how to create your very own icon set, using nothing more than a few strokes and geometric shapes.

As always, I hope you had fun and managed to learn something new and useful during the process.

finished project preview
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