In this tutorial we will take a look at the process of creating a realistic icon, which encompasses a variety of techniques such as 3D modeling, gradient fills and color work, different ways of creating shadows and highlights. Within this page, I’ll describe the basic principles of creating realistic vector objects, which will be useful to know for both novice and advanced users. The plugins developed by Astute Graphics were used in the process of creating an icon. They significantly speed up your work, making the process more comfortable.
Let’s begin our tutorial with 3D modeling of the shape of the folder. Take the Pen Tool (P) and create an object that consists of two straight-line segments. This object must have no fill; as the stroke color, I chose a neutral gray color.
Keep the object selected, go to Effect > 3D > Extrude & Bevel…
By controlling the effect parameters in the dialog window, watch the changes in the shape of a folder.
We are creating a realistic icon, so do not forget to play with the Perspective parameter. In further steps we will check whether this feature works right.
Now, let’s do some measurements. For these purposes I will be using the Dynamic Measure Tool (VectorScribe plugin). With the help of this tool, measure the length of the straight-line segments AB and BC.
These dimensions correspond to the height of the parts of the folder. Its width equals to 300pt and corresponds to the Extrude Depth, which we set in the first step.
Create a rectangle using the Rectangle Tool (M). The dimensions of this rectangle should correspond to the back part of the folder (210 x 300pt).
Using the Pen Tool (P), create two new points A and B on the left side of the rectangle. Select points B and C with the Direct Selection Tool (A), then move them to the right as it is shown in the picture below.
Create a new rectangle. In this case its dimensions should correspond to the front part of the folder, which means they should equal to 175 x 300pt.
Add two new points to the left side of this rectangle, and then change its shape, as it is shown in the picture below.
Drag the created shapes to the Symbols panel.
Now let’s go back to the initially created 3D object. Open the Appearance panel and click on the name of the effect in order to get access to its parameters.
Click on the More Options button in the 3D Extrude & Bevel Options dialog window, then select the visible sides of the folder and apply the previously created symbols to them.
Now tick Invisible Geometry in the Map Art dialog window.
Click OK button in all the open dialog windows.
Let’s create a shape of the magnifying glass. Take the Ellipse Tool (L) and create a circle with no fill. Select the stroke width by eye.
Using the Rectangle Tool (M) create a shape of the handle. Move the tips of the rectangle a few pixels towards the center, using the arrow keys in order to make it look trapezoid-like.
The lower part of the handle will have a spherical shape. We can easily create this shape with the help of Arc by three points tool (free Subscribe plugin). Take this tool and set the beginning and ending points of the arc which should coincide with the lower points of the handle.
Choose the required curvature of the arc and click in order to complete the process of creating shapes. Now connect the beginning and ending of the arc with the help of the Pen Tool (P).
Group up all the objects of the magnifying glass and turn the group, as shown in the picture below.
To create the shape of the shadow of the magnifying glass on the front of the folder, copy the shape of a magnifying glass and paste it back (Cmd / Ctrl + C; Cmd / Ctrl + B). Merely for clarity, the copy is colored red. Drag this shape to the Symbols panel and save as a new symbol.
Copy the folder, which is a 3D object, and paste it in front (Cmd / Ctrl + C; Cmd / Ctrl + F). Using the Appearance panel, open the 3D Extrude & Bevel Options dialog window, then go to the Map Art window and click on Clear All, in order to remove all the symbols.
Go to the surface of the front part of the folder and apply the symbol of the magnifying glass to it. Rotate the shape of the symbol, as it is shown in the picture below. Now tick Invisible Geometry in the Map Art dialog window.
Select the folder and shape of the shadow, then go to Object > Expand Appearance. This action converts 3D objects into regular vector objects.
Select the round part of the magnifying glass and again go to Object > Expand Appearance.
Create the shape of the drop shadow from the handle of the magnifying glass with the help of the Pen Tool (P) on the imaginary horizontal surface.
Check the correctness of our constructions with the help of the guides. Create three guides and rotate them with the Rotate Tool (R) so that they match with the horizontal edges of the folder.
If the constructions are correct, then all the guides must come together at one point called the vanishing point. And this is true, which verifies the performance of the 3D effect in Adobe Illustrator.
Using the Pen Tool (P), create the shape of two sheets of paper that are inside the folder and the shape of the shadow of the folder on a horizontal surface.
Now that basic objects are created, we can proceed to the creation of smaller elements and coloring the objects. But first we need to change the size of the icon, so that it corresponds to the final size. This allows us to avoid creating unnecessary objects and details. In addition, if you zoom in on the finished icon, the result may not look like we expected. Create a square that would limit the size of icons, and place it below all the created objects. In my case, its dimensions are 512 x 512px (this is one of the standard icon sizes).
Group up all the elements of the icon and increase the group, holding down Shift.
A well-designed icon must fit into a square. In our case, the drop shadow of the folder goes beyond the contours of the square, so that is why its width should be reduced.
Fill the front part of the folder with a linear gradient, which consists of three shades of light brown.
I am frequently asked why the gradient is at a certain angle and why are you using these or the other colors? My answer is that working with color, it is always a process of trial and error, and sometimes you have to go a few steps back in order to achieve a good result. Your naturally trained brain should tell you if you made the right choice. However, there are some rules to follow.
- Before coloring always determine the position of the light source;
- Do not use multiple light sources. The human brain does not perceive the image as a photograph. In the case of a photograph, multiple light sources can add volume to the image, but the illustration is likely to look unrealistic.
- Do not forget about the reflections from the surrounding objects. That means you have to add a slider to the gradient, which will represent the reflection.
- For shades the base color, use the HSB Color mode. Controlling sliders S (Saturation) and B (Brightness) will allow you to quickly and easily adjust the color.
To round one of the corners of the shape, I used the Dynamic Corners Tool (VectorScribe Studio plugin). This tool allows you to round the corners with one click and adjusting the radius by moving a corner point or entering the desired value into the Dynamic Corners panel.
Copy the shape of the front of the folder and paste it back. Move the copy a little bit up and to the right, and then fill it with a linear gradient, which should represent the distribution of light at the end of this shape.
In some cases, we will not be able to reproduce the distribution of light on the object by means of linear or radial gradients only.
But we can use the Appearance panel, which will allow us to apply multiple gradients to one object. Add a new fill in the Appearance panel and apply a radial gradient to it, one of the sliders of which has 0% opacity.
To create local shadows, you can create new objects filled with a linear gradient from white to black. After that apply the Multiply Blending mode to these objects.
When using this Blending mode, white color becomes transparent. In the case of close proximity of objects relative to each other and a bright light source, shadows can feature a high contrast and have sharp edges.
Let’s take a look at the technique of creating soft shadows on the example of a drop shadow from the folder. Round the corners of the shape of the shadow, that was created in step 11 with the help of the Dynamic Corners Tool.
To create a shadow, use the Blend Tool, and rounded corners will allow us to avoid artifacts in the future. Create another object of light brown color with the help of the Pen Tool (P).
I prefer to create colored shadows, and that is why I picked this color for the fill object.
Set 0% opacity for the outer shape of the shadow in the Transparency panel.
Select both shapes and go to Object > Blend > Make.
Control on the intensity and shape of the shadow is done by moving points of the upper shape of the blend object.
Soft edges of the shadow can be created using raster effects. That’s what I did with the drop shadow from the magnifying glass on the folder. Select the shape of the shadows and go to Effect > Blur > Gaussian Blur… and set the blurring radius in the dialog window.
I created the drop shadow from the handle of a magnifying glass using the Gradient Mesh Tool. We are able to change the transparency of nodes of the Gradient Mesh in Adobe Illustrator CS5 and above. I took the advantage of this wonderful opportunity.
Fill the objects that make up the magnifying glass with regular gradients. I hope you now understand the principles of working with these fills, with the pictures below showing the process.
Now let’s create glare. Create two ellipses. The lower larger ellipse has a white fill, and 0% opacity. The upper smaller ellipse has a light yellow fill and 100% opacity. Select both ellipses and go to Object > Blend > Make, set the Overlay blending mode for the blend object.
Drag the blend object to the Brushes panel and save the brush as a new Art Brush.
Create two curved segments with the help of the Pen Tool (P) and apply the created brush to them.
Create the shape of glare on the glass. Fill it with a radial gradient from white to black, and then apply the Screen blending mode to this shape.
Using this technique, create smaller glares on the glass.
Well, we created an icon 512 x 512 px in size. It will be wrong to think that smaller icons can be created by simple scaling of vector objects. Let’s test this assertion. Decrease the icon down to a few standard sizes.
Icons of 114 x 114px of greater seems to look more or less satisfactory, but smaller sizes will not satisfy a demanding customer. For these you need to remove small elements or even re-design it. This will be covered in the next icon design tutorial in the series!
Download the magnifier and folder icon artwork
Click here for Illustrator CS5 and above (also PDF compatible)…
About the author
My name is Iaroslav Lazunov, I am a graphic designer from Zhytomyr, Ukraine. I am glad that I finally found the job in my life that I can share my knowledge and experiments with you in my tutorials.