tutorial, we’re going to take an in-depth look at the process of creating
an icon in Affinity Designer. You’ll see how you can take some basic geometric
shapes and turn them into a usable, functional product.
So, if you’ve always wanted to create an icon from start to finish but
never knew exactly how, launch the software and let’s jump straight into
1. How to Choose
the Right Size
With every new
creative project that you take on, there will always be a couple of
decisions that you need to figure out. When it comes to icon design, one big
question that you need to answer really early in the process is in regards to
your base size, which will be the smallest size variation taken by your icons.
Luckily for us,
these size variations have already been standardized, which means that all we
have to do is figure out if we need to start really small, or small enough to correctly address the space that it will end up occupying.
behind this approach has to do with the process of implementing and maintaining
a pixel-perfect workflow, where each
and every shape is perfectly snapped to the underlying pixel grid in order to produce a final result that is as crisp as possible.
So that means that
you’ll always want to start from the smallest addressable size possible, and
later on build the required variations by scaling it up using value
multipliers, which will prevent your shapes from breaking down during the
If you want to
learn more, I strongly recommend you go over my How to Scale Icons Correctly in
Adobe Illustrator tutorial, which
will teach you all you need to know about the role that numbers play when it
comes to icon scaling.
Now, in our case, we’re going to create a simple email icon that is
going to be based on a 64 x 64 px base
grid. While the size isn’t the smallest, it’s definitely a good starting point to
which you can easily add larger size variations later on.
2. How to Set Up a
New Project File
Now that we’ve
decided upon the based grid, we can move on and create a New Document by heading over to File > New (or by using the Control-N
keyboard shortcut) and adjusting it as follows:
- Create artboard: checked
- Transparent Background: checked
- DPI: 72
Quick tip: once you’ve created the actual document, it
would be a good idea to lock its Artboard
by opening up the Layers panel and then
using the little Lock/Unlock toggle, so that you won’t accidentally end up moving it later on.
3. How to Set Up the
Once we’ve created our document, we need
to take a few moments and structure the project using a couple of layers,
so that we can implement and maintain a clear and steady workflow by separating
our reference grid from the actual icon.
Open up the Layers panel, and then create two layers using the Add Layer button, naming them as
layer: reference grid
- top layer: icon
Once you’re done, make sure you lock the reference grid layer by
selecting it on the Layers
panel and then using the little toggle as we did with the Artboard.
4. How to Create the Reference Grid
As soon as we’ve finished layering our
document, we can focus on building the reference grid, which will help us define
the actual size of the final icon while allowing us to add a small protective
padding that will prevent it from being clipped when used by someone else that
doesn’t have the same level of experience within the field.
Select the bottom
layer, and then create the main
reference surface (the base size) using a 64 x 64 px square, which we will color using
#F15A24 and then
position in the center of the underlying Artboard using the Alignment panel’s Align Center and Align
Middle options, making sure the alignment is set to Spread.
Add the active drawing area using a smaller 64 x 64 px square (
#FFFFFF), which we
will position in the center of the Artboard, which will give us an all-around 4 px protective padding to work with.
the name suggests, this will be your main working area, where all your shapes
will end up being displayed. As a general rule, your icon should always occupy
the entire Width and/or Height of the active drawing area, which is a process that can vary in difficulty
depending on the subject or theme that is being depicted.
Once you have the shapes
in place, select and group both of them together using the Control-G keyboard shortcut, making sure to individually label them
and the group by double clicking on them within the Layers panel.
5. How to Create the Email Icon
As soon as we’ve finished setting up our
project file, we can begin working on the actual icon, which we will gradually
create one section at a time.
Start by creating the
envelope’s main body using a 56 x 32 px rectangle, which we will color using
then center align to the larger Artboard, positioning it at a distance of 2 px from the active drawing area’s
Quick tip: when working on a new
icon, you usually start out by defining your basic composing shapes and then
tinkering around with their width and height values, and coordinating the positioning
until you find the perfect form. In our case, I’ve already done the math and
figured out the different sizing and gap values, which allows me to give you precise
instructions to overcome all of these little problems.
Adjust the shape that
we’ve just created by first unchecking the Single Radius option, and then setting both of its bottom corners (BL & BR) to Rounded, making
sure to give them absolute values of 4 px.
Grab the Triangle Tool and create the top flap using a 56 px x 20 px triangle, which we will color using
#FFA852 and then
position on top of the larger body’s top edge.
As I pointed out a
few moments ago, when working on a new icon, you need to make sure that the
final design fills in the entire Width and/or Height of the reference grid.
In our case, our main building blocks manage to occupy the entire Width of the active drawing area,
leaving a small 2 px gap between
it and the latter’s top and bottom edges, which allow us to perfectly align it
to the vertical axis of the grid.
Add the next section using a copy (Control-C >
Control-V) of the shape that we’ve just created, which we will adjust by
first changing its color to
#D87E35 and then vertically flipping it (right click > Transform > Flip
Vertical), making sure to center align the resulting shape to the larger
body’s top edge.
Since at this point
we’re pretty much done working on the envelope, we can select and group all of
its composing shapes together using the Control-G
keyboard shortcut, naming both them and the group by simply double-clicking on
them from within the Layers panel in
order to easily target them later on if you need to.
Start working on the
letter by creating a 48 x 32 px
rectangle, which we will color using
#FFF3DE and then center align to the
underlying Artboard, positioning it at a distance of 8 px from the flap’s tip.
Adjust the shape that
we’ve just created by first unchecking the Single radius option, and then checking the Absolute sizes one, making sure to set its top-left corner (TL) to Round, giving it a radius of 4
Create the main shape
for the folded corner using a 12 x 12 px
square, which we will color using
#F4D4AE and then align to the larger
body’s top-right corner.
Next, we’re going to
convert the letter’s main body to curves using the Convert to Curves operation so that we can adjust its path, and
then add two new nodes to its top and right edges by simply clicking on them with
the Node Tool (A), using the smaller
square as our main guide.
the current shape by selecting its top-right node using the Node Tool (A) and then immediately
removing it by pressing Delete.
Select the smaller
square, and turn it into a folded corner by first converting it to curves and
then removing its top-right corner as we did with the letter’s larger body.
Once you’re done, select and group the two composing shapes together using the Control-G keyboard shortcut.
Set the Radius of the resulting shape’s
bottom-left corner to 4 px, making
sure to select and group the two composing shapes together using the Control-G keyboard shortcut.
Start adding the
dummy text lines by creating the narrower one using a 12 x 2 px rounded rectangle with a 1 px corner radius, which we will position at a distance of 8 px from the letter’s left edge and 10 px from its top one.
Add the remaining lines of text using three 32 x 2 px rounded
#5E6572) with a 1 px corner
radius, which we will vertically stack 4
px from the narrower one, making sure to select and group all of them
together afterwards using the Control-G
Create the main shape
for the subtle shadow using a copy (Control-C)
of the triangle from the envelope, which we will paste (Control-V) on top of the text lines as seen in the reference image.
Adjust the copy that we’ve just created by
first changing its color to
#5E6572 and then flipping its Fill with its Stroke
using the Shift-X keyboard shortcut,
making sure to set its Width to 4 px afterwards.
Open up the resulting
path by adding a new node to the center of its top edge using the Node Tool (A), and then selecting it
and using the Break Curve action.
Remove the extra nodes
created during the process by individually selecting them using the Node Tool (A) and then pressing Delete. Take your time, and once you’re
done, move on to the next step.
Lower the resulting
path’s Opacity to 20%, and then open up the Layers panel and mask it using a copy (Control-C) of the letter’s main body
which we will paste on top (Control-V),
by simply dragging the shadow onto the larger shape. Once you’re done, make
sure you remove the clipping mask’s fill, selecting and grouping (Control-G) all of the letter’s
composing shapes before moving on to the next step.
Next, we need to create
the clipping mask that we’re going to use for the letter, using a copy (Control-C) of the top section, which
we will paste in front (Control-V)
and then adjust by adding two new nodes to its top edge, which we will then reposition as seen in the reference image.
Finish off the icon by
removing the resulting shape’s fill color, and then using it to mask the
letter’s composing shapes by simply dragging them over it from within the Layers panel. Once you’re done, select
and group all of the icon’s composing sections together using the Control-G keyboard shortcut.
6. How to Maintain
the Icon’s Protective Padding
Now that we’ve
finished working on our little icon, we need to take a few more steps in order
to ensure that it won’t get clipped by accident when being used later on, once
the product gets shipped to the client.
This is something that I
really encourage you to do, since sometimes the user doesn’t have any real
experience working with the tools that we use on a daily basis. Just imagine a
scenario where the client might try to export the final design after doing some color
adjustments, but the shapes get clipped due to bad alignment. I’ve had my
share of experiences where my otherwise pixel-perfect icons ended up distorted or clipped because the person on the other end didn’t have the
Snap to Pixel option on, and decided to make a few “small” changes.
Start by creating a 64 x 64 px square (highlighted with
green), which we will stack on top of the Layers
panel, making sure to center align it to the underlying Artboard.
Mask the entire icon by
simply dragging the larger group on top of the shape that we’ve just created, which
will make it act as a clipping mask.
Since we want the mask
to remain fully transparent, we’ll have to select it from within the Layers panel and then open up the Color panel and remove its green fill.
7. How to Add Size Variations
So we’ve seen how easy it is to create a good-looking icon using nothing more than some basic geometric shapes. Now let’s
take a look at the process of creating size variations.
As I pointed out in my scaling
tutorial, icons usually come in different size variations that are almost
always created by doubling the Width
and Height values of the base size.
Since Affinity doesn’t come with a
dedicated scaling/resizing tool, we’ll have to do things the old-fashioned
way, but don’t worry since the end result is all that matters.
Start by creating a New Document (File > New or Control-N)
which will be double the size of the one that we currently have, so 128 x 128 px.
Create a copy (Control-C) of the icon that we’ve just
finished working on, which we will paste onto the larger document, making sure
to center align it to its underlying Artboard.
All we have to do now
is open up the Transform panel and
adjust the Width and Height values of the copy by entering
the desired values (128 x 128 px),
or by using a 200% increment, which
should give us our first size variation.
Using the same process, you can
generate larger and larger icons depending on your overall needs.
8. How to Export
At this point, we’ve seen how to create our icon, and we’ve talked about the process of creating size
variations, which leaves us with the final step of exporting our little asset.
Start by opening up the Layers panel, and then hiding the
icon’s reference grid by unchecking the little blue box found on its right
Once we’ve hidden the
reference grid, all we have to do is go to File
> Export (or use the Control-Alt-Shift-S
keyboard shortcut) which will bring up the following window prompt. Here, you’ll
want to make sure that the Preset is
set to PNG and the exporting Area to Artboard1 (which is the default label used for the current
Artboard), and then simply hit Export
once you’re done.
As always, I really hope you had fun
working on the project and most importantly managed to learn some new tricks
along the way.
That being said, if
you have any questions, feel free to post them within the comments section, and
I’ll get back to you as soon as I can!
Expand Your Icon-Building Skills!
Want to become a professional icon designer but are just starting to grasp the complex notions involved in this line of work? Well if that’s the case, today’s your lucky day since we’ve hand-picked a set of in-depth tutorials that will help you become a master of your craft in no time!