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How to Create an Abstract Icon Set in Adobe Illustrator

Final product image
What You’ll Be Creating

Welcome to how to create an abstract icon set in Adobe Illustrator! The theme we’re working on will be chess. In this tutorial we will learn the step by step process of how to create an abstract set of icons using basic shapes and tools.

For more examples of abstract icon sets, check out GraphicRiver where you can find a wide variety of different abstract icons.

1. How to Set Up a New Project File

Step 1

Let’s get started by setting up a New Document in Adobe Illustrator (File > New or Control-N). For this tutorial, we will use the settings below:

  • Number of Artboards: 1
  • Width: 850 px
  • Height: 850 px
  • Units: Pixels

In the Advanced tab, use the following settings:

  • Colour Mode: RGB
  • Raster Effects: Screen (72ppi)
  • Preview Mode: Default
Create a new project settings

Step 2

Go to Edit > Preferences > General and set the Keyboard Increment to 1 px

Edit project preferences

Step 3

Go to Units and use the settings shown below. 

  • General: Pixel
  • Stroke: Points
  • Type: Points
Edit units in project preferences

2. How to Set Up the Layers

Step 1

Next, you will need to structure the project by creating layers. Select the Layers panel and create two layers. Name them as follows:

  • Layer 1: Background
  • Layer 2: Icons
Set up the project layers in Adobe Illustrator

Step 2

Make sure that you select the background layer to begin creating the background.

Select the Background layer

3. How to Create the Background Color

Step 1

With the background layer selected, click on the Rectangle Tool (M) and create a 850 x 850 rectangular area to place your icons in. This should fit the entire area of the Artboard.

Use the Rectangle Tool to create a 850 x 850 box

Step 2

Make sure that the rectangle is still selected, and click on the Gradient Tool. In the angle section, select 45 Degrees from the drop-down menu.

Edit the gradient angle to 45 degrees

Step 3

Select two colors for the gradient. For this tutorial, we will use the following:

  • R: 70
  • G: 82
  • B: 162
Adjust the left gradient color

Step 4

For the second color, we will use the following:

  • R: 138
  • G: 105
  • B: 173
Adjust the right gradient color

Step 5

The final background should look like the image below. Lock the background layer by clicking on the lock icon, and click on the icon layer to start creating the icons. 

The final gradient background

4. How to Create a Pawn Icon

Step 1

Choose the Pen Tool (P) and adjust the settings of stroke to the following:

  • Stroke Weight: 6
  • Cap: Round Cap
  • Corner: Miter Join
  • Align Stroke: Align Stroke to Center
Edit the Stroke Settings

Step 2

Start by selecting the Ellipse Tool (L) and creating a small circle. To create a perfect circle, press and hold the Shift key on the keyboard whilst clicking and dragging with the mouse.

Use the Ellipse Tool to create a small circle

Step 3

Select the Pen Tool (P) and create two lines underneath the circle.

Use the Pen Tool to create two lines

Step 4

Select the Rounded Rectangle Tool (M) and create a shape underneath the two lines. You can adjust the curvature of the corners by pressing the Up Arrow or the Down Arrow on your keyboard whilst creating the shape (clicking and dragging with the mouse).

With the shape still selected, change it to a fill shape.

Use the Rounded Rectangle Tool to create a shape

Step 5

Duplicate the shape by copying it (Control-C) and then paste it into place (Control-Shift-V)

Add a stroke to the second shape with a width of 20 pt. For the best results, align the stroke to the outside. 

Duplicate the round rectangle shape and add a stroke to it

Step 6

With the second shape still selected, go to the top menu and select Object > Expand to open the Expand window. Make sure both Fill and Stroke are selected, and then click OK.

Expand the stroke and the shape

Step 7

This will create a shape from the stroke. Make sure that the shape is still selected and, using the Pathfinder, click on Unite. This will merge the shape.

Combine the shapes using the unite button in pathfinder

Step 8

Change the shape to a stroke by using the Eyedropper Tool (I) and align the stroke to the outside.

Create a new stroke using the eyedropper tool

Step 9

Use the Ellipse Tool (L) to create a small circle at the bottom to complete the pawn icon.

Use the Ellipse Tool to create a small circle

5. How to Create a Rook Icon

Step 1

To start creating the rook icon, use the Rectangle Tool (M) to create a small rectangle shape.

Use the Rectangle Tool to create a small shape

Step 2

Create a slightly larger rectangle shape and set it to Stroke by using the Eyedropper Tool and selecting one of the strokes we used previously on the pawn icon. 

Create a larger rectangle and set it to stroke

Step 3

Use the Rectangle Tool (M) to create a small rectangle shape at the top. Then use the Ellipse Tool (L) to create a small circle at the bottom (holding the Shift key on the keyboard to create a perfect circle). 

Add a rectangle and a circle shape

Step 4

Use the Rectangle Tool (M) and follow the steps below to create the top of the rook icon.

Use the Rectangle Tool to create the Rook Icon

Step 5

Select all the shapes in Step 4 and click on Pathfinder > Unite.

Click on the Unite button in Pathfinder

Step 6

This will merge all the shapes together.

The Unite button will merge the shapes together

Step 7

With the new shape selected, change it into a stroke by using the Eyedropper Tool (I) to ensure that the weight of the stroke is the same.

Use the Eyedropper Tool to change copy the stroke settings

Step 8

To create the semicircles, you need to start by creating a circle using the Ellipse Tool (L). Place a rectangle over the circle using the Rectangle Tool (M).

Create a rectangle on top of a circle

Step 9

Select both the shapes (making sure that the rectangle is arranged on top of the circle) and then select Pathfinder > Minus Front.

Click on the Minus Front button

Step 10

This will remove the rectangle shape and the part of the circle which is overlapping.

Minus front removes any overlapping shapes

Step 11

Duplicate the semicircle by copying it (Control-C) and then pasting it (Control-V).

Duplicate the new semi circle

Step 12

Select the duplicate semicircle and then Right-Click on it. From the menu, select Transform > Select. Choose Vertical axis at 90 Degrees and then click OK.

Reflect the duplicate semi circle vertically

Step 13

Make sure that both semicircles are aligned horizontally opposite each other.

Make sure both shapes are opposite each other

Step 14

Place the semicircles on either side of the shapes to complete the rook icon.

Combine the shapes to create the Rook Icon

6. How to Create a Knight Icon

Step 1

To start creating the knight icon, create a duplicate of the rook icon. With the duplicate icon, use the Selection Tool (V) or the Direct Selection Tool (A) to remove the middle shapes of the icon.

Duplicate Rook icon and remove some shapes

Step 2

Use the Polygon Tool to create a triangle. Whilst using the Polygon Tool, press the Up Arrow key or Down Arrow key on the keyboard to increase or decrease the number of sides. 

To create an equilateral triangle, press and hold the Shift key on the keyboard whilst creating the shape.

Create a smaller equilateral triangle and place it in the middle.

Create two triangles using the Polygon Tool

Step 3

Rotate the semicircles on either side of the triangle so that the strokes align diagonally (Right Click > Transform > Rotate).

Rotate the semi circles to align with the triangle

Step 4

To create the head of knight icon, use the Rounded Rectangle Tool and the Ellipse Tool (L) to create the shapes below.

Use the Rounded Rectangle Tool and Ellipse Tool

Step 5

Use the Rectangle Tool (M) and place two rectangles above the shapes as shown below.

Place two rectangles above the new shapes

Step 6

Use the Minus Front Tool on the overlapping shapes. 

Click on the Minus Front button

Step 7

This will create a straight edge where the shapes used to overlap. Move the two shapes together so that they resemble the image below.

Move the semi circle inside the larger shape

Step 8

Use the Minus Front Tool again to remove the left side of the shape and change them both into a stroke.

Delete half the shape and change it to a stroke

Step 9

Select both shapes and use Pathfinder > Unite to combine them into a single shape.

Combine the strokes using the Unite button

Step 10

Select the Add Anchor Point Tool (+) and add a point near the left corner of the shape. Then use the Direct Selection Tool (A) to drag the top left corner to the left to create the ear.

Add an anchor point and edit it

Step 11

Use the Direct Selection Tool (A) and remove the point shown in the image below.

Delete an anchor point

Step 12

Use the Pen Tool (P) and draw out three extra points on the right side of the shape.

Use the Pen Tool to draw the neck of the horse

Step 13

Select the curve points and drag them to the middle using the mouse to create the neck of the horse. Hold the Shift key on the keyboard to select multiple points.

Use the curve points to round out the corners

Step 14

Once you are happy with the way the horse head looks, use the Ellipse Tool (L) to create the eye (remember to press and hold the Shift key on the keyboard to create a perfect circle).

Use the Ellipse Tool to create the eye

Step 15

Add a line underneath the head and position it underneath the previous shapes to create the final knight icon.

Add the horse head to create the final Knight Icon

7. How to Create a Bishop Icon

Step 1

To start creating the bishop icon, create a duplicate of the knight icon. With the duplicate icon, use the Selection Tool (V) or the Direct Selection Tool (A) to remove the top shapes (the horse head) of the icon.

Delete the horse head from the duplicate icon

Step 2

Use the Ellipse Tool (L) and hold the Shift key on the keyboard to create a perfect circle on top of the icon.

Add a circle using the Ellipse Tool

Step 3

Use the Direct Selection Tool (A) to move the top point of the circle slightly upwards. This will create an egg-like shape.

Use the Direct Selection Tool to edit the anchor points

Step 4

Select the handlebars with the Direct Selection Tool (A) and move them to the middle point to create a teardrop shape.

Edit the handle bars to create a tear drop shape

Step 5

Use the Ellipse Tool (L) to create a circle and place it on top of the teardrop shape. Then use the Pen Tool (P) to create a cross, and place it inside the teardrop shape to create the final bishop icon.

Add a cross and circle to complete the final Bishop Icon

8. How to Create a Queen Icon

Step 1

To start creating the queen icon, create a duplicate of the bishop icon. With the duplicate icon use the Selection Tool (V) or the Direct Selection Tool (A) to remove the top and middle shapes of the icon.

This will leave just the two circles at the bottom and the semicircles on the sides.

Duplicate the Bishop icon and delete the middle shapes

Step 2

Rotate the semicircles slightly. To do this, Right-Click on the shapes, and then go to Transform > Rotate, following the image below.

Rotate the semi circles

Step 3

Use the Ellipse Tool (L) to create two circles, with the outer circle using a stroke and the inner circle using a fill. Remember to hold the Shift key on the keyboard to create a perfect circle.

Create two circles using the Ellipse Tool

Step 4

Use the Ellipse Tool (L) to create two overlapping circles side by side on top of the other shapes.

Create two overlapping circles using the Ellipse Tool

Step 5

Use the Ellipse Tool (L) to create a small circle on top.

Create a small circle using the Ellipse Tool

Step 6

To create the base of the crown, use the Pen Tool (P) or the Rectangle Tool (M) to draw the shape as seen in the image below. When using the Pen Tool, you can hold the Shift key on the keyboard in order the draw a straight line vertically or horizontally. This will make it easier to align.

From there, use the Direct Selection Tool (A) to select the curve points (hold Shift to select multiple points) and move the points towards the centre with the mouse to transform the corners into curves.

Use the Pen Tool and edit the curve points to create the crown

Step 7

Complete the queen icon by placing the crown on top of the shapes, as shown in the image below.

Combine all the shapes to create the final Queen Icon

9. How to Create a King Icon

Step 1

To create the king icon, duplicate the queen icon. With the duplicate icon, use the Direct Selection Tool (A) to delete the middle circle shapes.

Duplicate the Queen Icon and delete the middle shapes

Step 2

Use the Direct Selection Tool (A) to delete the small circle shape at the top of the crown.

Delete the top circle

Step 3

Use the Rectangular Shape Tool (M) to create two squares (one larger outline and one smaller fill shape). Place the smaller square inside and in the middle of the larger square.

From there, select both squares and rotate them both by 45 degrees (Right Click > Transform > Rotate) and place both squares in the centre space of the icon.

Add two squares in the middle and rotate by 45 degrees

Step 4

Use the Pen Tool (P) to create a small cross on top of the crown.

Add a cross shape using the Pen Tool

Awesome! You’re Finished!

Congratulations! You have successfully completed this tutorial. Feel free to share your own creations below! I hope you found this tutorial helpful and that you’ve learned many new tips and tricks that you can use for your future illustrations. See you next time!

The final Chess Icons Set in Adobe Illustrator

Learn More Icon Skills!

If you liked this and are looking to learn some new icon skills, check out these tutorials below! Expand your expertise by going through these in-depth guides. Happy designing!

Check out my video course on Animating Icons in Adobe Illustrator and After Effects:

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Or why not check out these tutorials: