Easy Way To Colour Outline Icons

Easy Way To Colour Outline Icons

I lost count of people that ask me how I colour outline icons, and what’s the best and easiest technique. Truth is, there are tons of ways to do this, but today I’m going to reveal my icon colouring routine. Running ahead of the story, here is more or less what you should get in the end:

colouring outline icons easy way

Let’s take a minute to imagine that you’ve already made a great looking outline icon. However, you can’t get this thought that it will look way better in colour out of your head. But you are stuck with doubt and fear: where should you start.

Well, first of all why not read one of my articles on how to choose colours for your icon setIt covers important topics, like where to find and how to choose the colour palette for your icons.

outline paintbrush icon

Have you made up your mind with your perfect colour scheme? Great! Now you’re ready to colour outline icons. Let’s make to work! 


Have you ever tried Live Paint Bucket?

If you haven’t, do it now! It’s amazing for colouring icons! Especially, outline ones.

live paint bucket

You can find this tool by clicking keyboard shortcut (K). But before the actual colouring, convert your icon into the Live Painting Group. Select the whole icon with the selection tool (V), then choose Live Paint Bucket (K) and click on the selected icon. It may look as if nothing’s changed, but now you have the full power of colouring this icon!

convert to live paint group

Choose any colour you want to use whilst keeping Live Paint Bucked (K) mode on, and click on any part of your icon. Bam! It is filled with the desired colour. No complex masking, no custom colour shape drawing. Easy! Continue doing this until you are satisfied with the result.

colour your icons

Once you are done, you might want to expand it, since it’s quite difficult to edit an icon in Live Painting Group. Expand button at the top bar will do the job, but make sure you have selected your icon with the selection tool. This manipulation will expand and group your icon. Now it’s time to ungroup the shapes. Click Cmd + Shift + G a few times. (Clicking once will only separate the outlines from the colours. Double click will separate all the objects.)

expanding live paint group

How about some shadows?

Let’s bring some more life into your icons with some cool shadows and highlights! This simple and easy step will turn your nice looking icons into rockstars!

After you’ve ungrouped all the objects of you icon, double click on the colour you want to add a shadow to. This will isolate it. Now you can edit only that colour. Select and copy it to the clipboard (Cmd + C). What you need to do next is paste two copies of this colour into the same place. Click Cmd + Shift + V, but remember to do it twice.

At this point you should have three same shapes stacked on each other. To create a shadow, take the top shape and move it to the left to approximately 10 pixels. Now select both the shape you have just moved and then the shape beyond it. Click “Minus Front” on your Pathfinder panel. (If you can’t see the Pathfinder in your Adobe workspace, go to  Window > Pathfinder to bring it up.)

using pathfinder

You’ve just cut out the front shape from the bottom one, and as the front shape has been moved a little you now have a little shape left. Select it and change its colour to a darker tone. Voila – you’ve just made a shadow!

Go back from the isolation mode and check what your icon looks like. Repeat all the steps until all shadows are where you want them to be. The highlights work the same way – you just move the top shape to the other side.

adding shadows to the icons

These are the basics of this technique. The most exciting part, however, is of course your own touch to it! Experiment, come up with different variations, and find what’s best for you. Here’s a little hint: you can cut out any shape you want from the top object, or even draw custom shape on top of it. The opportunities are endless!

So, the finished icon looks like this:

colouring outline icons

How did you like it, guys? Maybe you have something you’d like to add? Or have you been nailing some other technique and you are now dying to share it with the world? You know what this Contact Form is here for, don’t you?

Also, I would be happy to see your coloured icons! Amaze me! 🙂
Rebound my shot or simply tag me in the comment to your icons. (If you tag me in a comment, feel free to drop me a quick note, because I can miss a notification).

Have a colourful day, and make some kick ass icons!
Stay Awesome!


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