Intuitive Tools for Digital Artists

How to Create a Mini Icon in Adobe Illustrator

How to Create Mini Icon in Adobe Illustrator

Continuing the series on icon design, in this tutorial we will learn about the basic principles of creating small icons. It turns out that Adobe Illustrator is suitable for creating pixel icons and it is not so difficult to make them. Let’s get started!

Step 1

Start with the creation of a base icon 128 x 128px in size. It will represent a three-dimensional image of a key. To learn how to create realistic three-dimensional icons refer to the previous article in this series How to Create Search Files Icon in Adobe Illustrator. The methods involved in creating a key icon is the same, so I will only mention here the main stages of its creation.

Create shapes that form the key with the help of the Pen Tool (P) and the Ellipse Tool (L).

How to Create Mini Icon in Adobe Illustrator

Apply to the resultant shape a 3D Extrude & Bevel effect (Object > 3D > Extrude & Bevel …).

How to Create Mini Icon in Adobe Illustrator

How to Create Mini Icon in Adobe Illustrator

Convert the 3D object into a group of regular vector objects (Object > Expand Appearance).

How to Create Mini Icon in Adobe Illustrator

Step 2

When we create icons, the size of vector objects has to be finite. This ensures we avoid creating unnecessary items which could result in a confusing icon, saving us a lot of time in the process. Usually I create a bounding square of the required size and draw an icon inside it. But for these purposes, we will be use the artboard, which will give us the advantages you’ll learn about later.

Create an artboard with the help of the Artboard Tool 128 x 128px in size that corresponds to the size of the icons being created.

How to Create Mini Icon in Adobe Illustrator

In this tutorial we will be creating icons of three different sizes, so we create three more artboards, which will be 64 x 64px, 32 x 32px and 16 x 16px in size.

How to Create Mini Icon in Adobe Illustrator

Step 3

Place the group created in the first step into the first artboard and change its size so that it is close to the size of the artboard.

How to Create Mini Icon in Adobe Illustrator

If we are using an artboard as a bounding rectangle, we can quickly view the created icon in its actual size (100% scale) using the shortcut Cmd / Ctrl + 1, and fit on screen using Cmd / Ctrl + 0.

How to Create Mini Icon in Adobe Illustrator

In addition, you can switch between artboards — ie. the icons of different sizes — using the Artboard Navigation on the Status bar:

How to Create Mini Icon in Adobe Illustrator

Step 4

For better surface identification, color them with different colors. Create additional elements, duplicating the existing elements, and using the tools of shape creation, such as the Pathfinder panel and Shape Builder Tool.

How to Create Mini Icon in Adobe Illustrator

Using simple linear gradients, fill the key shapes in order to add volume. In this work we always consider the position of the light source.

How to Create Mini Icon in Adobe Illustrator

Step 5

Create glares on the metal surfaces with the help of objects filled with black and white gradients, to which the Screen blending mode is used.

How to Create Mini Icon in Adobe Illustrator

How to Create Mini Icon in Adobe Illustrator

Use the Multiply blending mode for the shadows.

How to Create Mini Icon in Adobe Illustrator

Create the drop shadow from the key using a blend object (Object > Blend > Make), which consists of ellipses with gray shading. The larger lower ellipse should have 0% opacity.

How to Create Mini Icon in Adobe Illustrator

The key icon at 128 x 128px is ready.

How to Create Mini Icon in Adobe Illustrator

Step 6

Proceed to creation of icons of other sizes. First, simply reduce the created icon and take a look at the result in actual size.

How to Create Mini Icon in Adobe Illustrator

32 x 32px and 16 x 16px icons do not look clear enough meaning we need to redesign them. The 64 x 64px icon looks acceptable. Consider that we were lucky with this example, but usually this is not the case and we would need to implement a number of adjustments to improve the quality of the reduced version of the icon. Now I will list what steps you can take for these purposes:

  1. Remove the small elements. Such elements create “mess” and, therefore, can interfere with the perception of basic shapes. The fact is that the final product of any icon is a bitmap file. Small details just do not get into the pixel grid and create a blurred cloud of pixels, which I call “mess”.
  2. Simplify the complex shapes.
  3. In order for simple objects such as rectangles and circles get into the pixel grid, its sizes and coordinates must be in whole numbers. In Illustrator CS5, the Transform panel introduced the Align to Pixel Grid option which is very useful to ensure this.

Step 7

In order to create a clearer 32 x 32px icon, I decided to change its appearance. I think the best solution here will be placing the key into the frontal plane.

How to Create Mini Icon in Adobe Illustrator

To check how the objects are located relatively to the pixel grid, turn on the Pixel Preview mode (View > Pixel Preview).

How to Create Mini Icon in Adobe Illustrator

For better results, use the tips that I described in the previous step.

How to Create Mini Icon in Adobe Illustrator

Step 8

Now let’s create 16 x 16px icon. It would be better if you create an image that will consist of pixels only. When creating a pixel image in Adobe Illustrator, a pixel represents a 1 x 1px square. Let’s see how it can be done…

Take the Rectangular Grid Tool and click on blank area of the current artboard. In the open dialog window, set the values shown in the picture below and click on OK.

How to Create Mini Icon in Adobe Illustrator

How to Create Mini Icon in Adobe Illustrator

Make sure that the grid lines lie exactly on the lines of the pixel grid, and if not, change its position.

Step 9

Remove all the colors from the Swatches panel and add the colors that will match the shades of the key to it. The Eyedropper Tool (I) and previously-created icons can help you with that.

How to Create Mini Icon in Adobe Illustrator

Select the created grid, and then take the Live Paint Bucket (K) and click on one of the grid cells. This action leads to the creation of the Live Paint Group. Now you can fill the cells with the selected colors.

How to Create Mini Icon in Adobe Illustrator

To change the colors, use the arrow keys. You can quickly find the color you want, since we’ve removed all the unnecessary colors from the Swatches panel.

Step 10

Choose a color and create the key outline.

How to Create Mini Icon in Adobe Illustrator

If you make a mistake, choose None swatches and remove the color from the cell.

How to Create Mini Icon in Adobe Illustrator

Using this technique, create the rest of the elements of the key, basic fill, lights and shadows.

How to Create Mini Icon in Adobe Illustrator

How to Create Mini Icon in Adobe Illustrator

How to Create Mini Icon in Adobe Illustrator

Let’s see how this icon looks like in a full size (Cmd / Ctrl + 1).

How to Create Mini Icon in Adobe Illustrator

Step 11

If you want to quickly replace the colors of this icon, double click on the color swatch in the Swatches panel and tick Global in the dialog window. Now when you change the color swatch, the corresponding color of the icon will change.

How to Create Mini Icon in Adobe Illustrator

Our tutorial is over and now the Icon set looks like this:

How to Create Mini Icon in Adobe Illustrator

Download the mini icon artwork

Click here for Illustrator CS3 and CS4

Click here for Illustrator CS5 and above (also PDF compatible)…

Written by Iaroslav

Iaroslav

Iaroslav Lazunov is a graphic designer from Zhytomyr, Ukraine who has found the job that allows him to share his extensive knowledge and experiments with Adobe Illustrator and plug-ins from Astute Graphics. Iaroslav was also a key author over at Vector Tuts+ as well as his own website Vectorboom

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