Adobe Illustrator Workspace for icon design

Adobe Illustrator Workspace for icon design

Today I would like to present you my Adobe Illustrator Workspace for icon design. These are the main and most essential tools I’m using when working on my icon design. To be honest, a month ago I didn’t care much about the way my Illustrator is set up. I had dozens of unnecessary tabs and panels opened that only distracted me making it more difficult to find the tools I needed.

One day I got an email with a question about my Illustrator workspace. I took it as a sign and decided to clean everything up and build my workspace from scratch. I carefully examined my working process and, I believe, managed to create a perfect example of the Adobe Illustrator workspace for an icon designer. At least, it is the best for me.

What I didn’t understand before is how much time I was actually wasting making my way through the piles of useless panels. It might look like just a half a second, but trust me – it matters! The time adds up, and you can save quite some time and nerves at the end of the day if you have your workspace adjusted to the specific thing you’re working on.

You are welcome to take a look at my set-up below and feel free to implement it into your own icon designing process.

Quick tip:
I’m not sure how many of you know that you can create a bunch of different Illustrator workspaces and then simply switch between them while working on your project. In Illustrator CC it should be located in the top right corner. You can also go to Window > Workspaces. That being said, you can simply have different workspaces for different techniques you’re using and turn on a specific workspace only when you need it.

And now – my essential tools for icon design!

Transform Box

(Window>Transform, or shortcut Shift + F8)

This is a magic tool. Every icon designer knows – when you’re creating icons for web, it’s all about the numbers and counting pixels. I already talked about the importance of the transform box in my article about pixel-perfect icons. To put it shortly, this is the best tool to take control of the shapes – making sure they are sharp, placed correctly on the pixel grid and don’t contain any half pixels.

Align Box

(Window>Align; Shift + F7)

Another Illustration essential. It lets you align all objects to selection or to the art board. If you want to quickly place some shape in the center of your art board, you use this tool.


(Window>Pathfinder, or shortcut Shift + Cmd + F8)

And here we have yet another tool without which, none of us would know how to work with the vector software. Turn to it to combine, subtract, intersect and do much more with overlapping shapes.


(Window > Stroke, or shortcut Cmd + F10)

As I’m mainly working on the outline icons, I can’t imagine my workflow without this toolbox. It gives you full control over the stroke options. I mentioned it before in my article about the proper way of creating outline icons. Check it out if you’re interested in creating neatly looking outline icons.


(Window > Swatches)

Colours, oh colours! They can make your icon set so much better in a split second! It’s a must for every Illustrator set-up. What I like to do is put all project related colours and shades in the swatches panel, so that I am able to use them immediately while crafting the icons.

I also completed a couple of articles on the importance of colouring. You can access them to refresh in your memory here:


(Window > Layers, or shortcut F7)

Usually I keep layers and art board tabs closed until the very end. I’m always delivering my Ai files neatly organized, with the icons in separate layers, named and grouped accordingly. And you should, too! This panel is really helpful when the time to name the icons comes.


(Window > Appearance, or shortcut Shift + F6)

Even though this panel is probably my less used, it is still pretty useful, and I like keeping it in my workspace in case I need to add some Illustrator effects to my icons.

This is it, this is the way I organize my workspace. Nothing too complicated, but it works best for me and my icon style. Are you creating icons with vivid gradients? Then you will need to add the gradient tab. For flat icons – remove the stroke panel, because it will be completely useless for you. Find what goes perfect with your style and working habits. One thing I know for sure – you should optimize your workspace. Get rid of all the unnecessary tabs and panels right now. Small steps like these lead to big results eventually. Once I’d organized my workspace, I felt how my work speed and productivity increased.

You can set up the workspace using the shortcuts I gave in the titles. Feel free to adapt them according with your needs and your personal designing style, or use my example as it is. Do you know any other tools or panels that might be useful for icon designers? Use the contact form to share your experience with me.


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