You like icon design, don’t you? Those cute little thingies. Once you notice them, you instantly know what it should mean and this brings a smile to your face. You browse through Dribbble and Behance every day, pinning and favoriting icons you’ve loved the most. But you’re not making our own icons yet. Wait, what? Why?
I’ve stopped counting how many times I’ve been asked about how to start and the tools one can use. All those questions and doubts instead of simply starting to actually work on icons! Let this be the wake-up call for you. This time rather than fantasizing about that awesome icon set you will make one day – create it this instant! (Right after you are done reading this article, of course.)
If you’re feeling stuck, the first thing I’d recommend doing is checking out my Free Icon Design Guide. There I’ve put everything you need to know about icon design to get started. May you still have questions, keeping reading! I’ve collected a few questions that people have been asking me throughout the years and tried to answer them shortly but comprehensively. Do you see the question that has been eating you away and stopping you from creating your own icon sets?
What Program Should I use?
Photoshop, Illustrator, Sketch – which one to choose? Which of them is better for icon design? Truth is, it doesn’t matter. Choose whichever you know best, and create killer icon sets in it. Personally, I’m using Adobe Illustrator, but if you know nothing about the Illustrator’s workflow, you won’t be able to create icons there, right? Don’t let this stop you! You can craft great looking vector icons in Photoshop and Sketch too! Don’t know how to use any of these programs? Not a problem! Grab your sketchbook, a sharp pen and start sketching your icons. Create your first icon set on paper. You can learn a lot from that process. Heck it, I’ve even seen people creating icons in Google Slides. Everything is possible if you simply want it badly enough.
But I don’t have any inquiries for the icon design work…
You don’t need to! In my opinion, the biggest mistake you could do is to make your first icon design project for a client. If you’re not confident with your icon design skills yet, you shouldn’t take on any clients because you’ll be feeling stressed out throughout the whole project. Yes, of course, after taking on a project you have nowhere to go but to finish the icon set, but I don’t think it’s a good idea. Believe me, it will be way easier and more fun to create something on the topic you really like and without strict guidelines.
I don’t know what theme my icon set should have.
Choose any theme that interests you. You must know a thing or two about it and you must like it, so it is nothing but a pleasure to work on this icon set. What fulfills you? Are you a sports fan? Create icons on that! Hiking – fine! Make it interesting for yourself.
How big should my set be?
I would say 4-6 icons for the first set is perfect. It’s more than enough to practice creating a cohesive set where icons look good put together. And it’s not too huge, so you shouldn’t burn out after working on it.
Which style should I use?
If it’s your first icon set, I would recommend going with outline icons. From my experience, technically it’s the easiest type to start with. But in general it doesn’t matter, just choose the one you like the most: glyphs, hand-drawn, flat icons.
What size should I make my icons?
Anything above 16px, if you ask me. My personal favorites are 64×64 and 96×96 grids. They are not too complicated and give you a lot of freedom. While working on anything above 128px, it’s getting difficult not to create an illustration instead of an icon. And 16px icons are the most difficult to make, so leave those for later. That being said, if you want to create really simple stuff, choose the 32 or 64 pixel grids, and for more detailed stuff try out 96 and 128 grids.
Still struggling with where to start out? Watch some tutorials.
Tutorials might be the smoothest way of “sliding” into creating icons. Because they guide you through the process step by step. You could try checking out one of these:
This is a really fun and entertaining class from the co-founder of the Noun Project – Edward Boatman. You will go through the process of creating an icon set that illustrates your daily routine. This class is perfect for anyone wanting to learn more about Adobe Illustrator, graphic design, iconography, illustration, and creative storytelling.
In this class you will learn:
- Brainstorming icon ideas and sketching them
- Refining sketches
- Creating actual vector icons in Adobe Illustrator
- Finalising your icon set.
It’s a good introduction to making icons for beginners just starting out and fans of the Noun Project. 😉
Great course from Edward, simple and informative.
This 45-minute class from Edward Boatman is a great way to get into icon design. It covers a lot of ground things, from concept and context to sketching and vectoring, to even some tips on how to build a physical version of your pictogram.
Take This Class
Very informative and interesting lesson. Thank you!
Easy to understand and visualize exercises
A great icon design course by the amazingly talented designer Adam Whitcroft. Check out his process behind creating beautiful outdoor themed icon sets. See how he creates an icon set starting from an idea to the final deliverables. Adam uses Illustrator and Photoshop in this class. If you decide to stick with it, you will create a set of 12-15 icons on whatever topic you like.
Take This Class
Very detailed …easy to follow and very informative. I would highly recommend this class.
This is a great class! However, it is mostly watching him create icons and not explaining theory or how he goes comes up with the icons. And I’m not sure why he recreates them in photoshop? But it’s great if you’re not a beginner!
If you’re feeling adventurous and want to create more illustrative iconography – this class is for you. Hosted by Join Dan Kuhlken and Nathan Goldman of DKNG Studios.
In this class you will learn:
- How to ensure consistency in your iconography
- Distill complex subject matter into basic shapes
- Create color palette that serves project well
Amazing class. DKNG team are incredibly talented and so generous sharing their knowledge in this, and their other classes. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND all their classes.
definitely on the top 10 of the best illustrator courses for me! Getting into illustrating icons is much easier now, Thank you so much!
Isometric iconography is becoming more and more popular these days. Although this class is not entirely focused on iconography, it will set you up for success if you want to try out this style.
In this class you will learn:
- Basics of working in isometric perspective
- Sketching isometric icons
- Setting up your document
- Converting shapes into perspective views
- Working with different strokes, changing colors and all sorts of Adobe Illustrator tricks.
Very interesting to see the whole process! I personally never used the actions panel but I might give it a try after watching this.
Good pace and everything is explained thoroughly.
And Finally: Deliver a habit of doing.
It’s oh so easy to think and dream about something, be it your first icon set or that awesome side project you’ve had in mind for months. Your thoughts are worthless, execution is everything. Deliver a habit of doing more. Why wait? Waiting for it to magically happen won’t help. And guess what, that icon set won’t create yourself! So why not start right now? Without all the ifs and buts.
Yeah, right now! Create some icons, upload them to Instagram and use hashtag #iconutopia. I’m waiting!
I’m looking forward to seeing your icons!