Even Spacing and Aligning in The Icon Design

Even Spacing and Aligning in The Icon Design

Hey! How are you doing, guys? Hope you started your week in a great mood ready to rock it, because it’s high time to learn something new and useful about icon design! In this week’s article we’ll be talking about the importance of spacing and proper aligning in icon design.

One of the things that distinguishes great icons from poor ones is aligning and spacing between objects. Based upon the questions I get, it is also the most common problem people face. Correct alignment of the object and its precise spacing is what takes your icons to the whole other level. And I’m not even talking about using any fancy grids. It is as simple as maintaining the same size gaps around the objects throughout both the icon and the overall set.

I already mentioned quite a lot of times that you should use the same elements throughout the set to maintain consistency. But sticking to the same aligning and even spacing is just as important because:

  • It ensures consistency of the set;
  • Your icons look more professional;
  • Balanced icons are visually appealing.

When using one spacing system you create visual connection between related elements and the other way around — separate elements that don’t go together. It helps isolate main elements from the secondary ones, too.

Let’s take a look at this credit card icon:


This icon is created on 64px grid, and I’m using 4px stroke weight. I decided that this would also be the size of the smallest object used in my icon. (This size is marked as 1X)

Next, to separate the magnetic line from the top of the icon I’m using spacing twice as large as the stroke weight. (2X – 8px). Please note that it’s not some random number, but the doubled smallest spacing measurement. Yes, technically you can pick any size, however, I’ve figured out that the increments of the smallest gap size work best.

Moving on to the magnetic line we see that it is three times bigger (3X – 12px). Since It’s the main object of the credit card icon, it must be emphasized.

To separate the magnetic line and user information from the Mastercard logo on the bottom of the card, I once again double the smallest measurement (2X). Lines that represent personal information and the gap between them are of the smallest possible size (1X – 4px). Such thick compact spacing unites this block together while 2X gap makes it stand out from the magnetic line. As you can see, I’m also using the smallest 1X size to separate inner elements from the outline of the card.

If possible, always try to choose the size of the objects that you are going to use in your icon based on the smallest measurement you’re using for spacing. For example, the magnetic line on my icon is three times the smallest size, so is the length of the upper line of the information block (3X). Whereas Mastercard logo and the bottom line are five times bigger.

While working on your first icon of the set, start preparing guidelines for the rest of the icons. For example, decide upon the 4px gaps between inner elements and 8px gaps to separate different element groups. Once again, these are not some strict standards written somewhere. It’s up to you, but you need to have it in your mind.

Useful Tip: Most likely, you wont be able to set the exact spacing guidelines while creating the very first icon in the set. You can have a couple of raw ideas from your sketches in your mind, but they probably won’t be accurate anyway. Usually you should start noticing the repeating spacing patterns after the third or so icon. Sometimes I fix the spacings only after the whole set is finished.

So, our rough guidelines for the rest of the set are:

Spaces Between Objects:

  • 1X – 4px;
  • 2X – 8px;

Object Sizes:

  • 1X – 4px;
  • 3X – 12px;
  • 5X – 20px;

Chances are you will have to use more different-sized objects throughout the set, so make sure you stick to the increments of the smallest size.

Another thing to keep in mind is that you shouldn’t use too many different spacing sizes, in most cases 2-3 different sizes is enough, don’t overuse them. If you create too many variations, they will ruin the overall sizing system and simply create chaos.

And as always, don’t sacrifice the clarity of the icon just to make it look nice and cohesive with the rest of your set. All these rules I talked about before are pointless if the most important aspect of the icon — which is being easy identifiable — is missing.

That is all for today, folks! I hope this week’s tutorial was helpful! Feel free to contact me if you have any questions and of course stay awesome!


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