Where Customization Begins 

  • 10 easy tips to create your own cool icons with photoshop

 #14166  by amy_frull
 12 Mar 2011, 02:21
This is by no means a complete icon design tutorial. just getting you started on the rudimentary basics – technicalities, a design checklist, and an icon design toolset.

Icon Technicalities

Below are some specifications you should know concerning the icon format, most importantly image resolutions and file formats.


The importance of size is further discussed below. For now, we’ll stick to the technical aspects.

Icons are always square. This means that a rectangular icon will either be stretched out or sized down to respectively fill the entire canvas or fit in it. Either way, highly rectangular icons stand out in a bad way. The following icon sizes are the most common in use:

16 x 16 px
24 x 24 px
32 x 32 px
48 x 48 px
64 x 64 px
96 x 96 px
128 x 128 px
256 x 256 px
512 x 512 px

Windows 7 advises the use of 16 x 16, 32 x 32, or 48 x 48 resolutions*. If none are available , it’ll resize the the icon that’s closest in resolution, up to 256 x 256. With desktop resolutions rising ever higher, it’s advised to always include larger resolutions.

File Format

For Windows, the most commonly used file format for icon distribution is ICO. The Mac counterpart is ICNS (Apple Icon Image Format).

The Icon Design Checklist

There is not one tutorial to design the perfect icon, time and time again. Different themes and designs require different approaches, and the ‘current trend’ is in a state of constant flux. Below are three major pillars of icon creation that have proven true time and time again. If you’re new at designing icons, make sure to keep the icon checklist in mind at all time.



create your own icons. Above all else, icons need to be unmistakable. The relation to your application must be obvious to all, across time, culture and age differences. Fight the temptation to create flashy icons that bear no relevance, and stick with a simple, solid and obvious design.

Don’t see this as an obstacle for your creativity; icons can be beautiful and thought-provoking, but shouldn’t be open for interpretation



create own icons. If you’re designing an icon set, keep the design uniform.

Make sure you’ve got a common thread that interconnects these icons and shows the synergy to the users; the whole needs to be bigger than the sum of the parts.



create own icons Icons are always created in multiple sizes. This affects the design in more ways than one.

For starters, icons must look good and recognizable regardless of the size. Take down the contrast around the sides to avoid jagged edges and make important details stand out enough to retain focus in the smallest implementation of the icon.

On a technical level, icons are best designed using vectors, images composed of endlessly scalable shapes, rather than a set composition of pixels. Nevertheless, if your resolution is high enough, bitmaps will do just as well.

The Icon Design Toolset

Photoshop is a great application to design icons. You’ve got (nearly) all the tools you need to create vector graphics or manipulate bitmaps, and apply complex effects and shading. Most importantly will be following tools:

Pen Tool

The Pen tool allows you to create scalable vector graphics. You can draw a shape by creating nodes and drag to adjust the curve of the line. It’s harder to use than it looks, but probably the best tool of choice. We wrote about the pen tool in the past, read Photoshop Pathing: How To Use Photoshop Pen Tool.


ICO File Format Plug-In

This Photoshop plug-in adds the ICO file format to your export settings. The installation method is dependent on your OS and Photoshop version, so be sure to check the website.

Hongkiat: 40+ Hand-Picked Icon Design Photoshop Tutorials

Design blog Hongkiat.com has compiled a list of over 40 different Photoshop icon design tutorials. This list covers all kinds of icons, and several degrees of difficulty. Browse the list for inspiration, and extrapolate the techniques used to realize your own designs.

Layer Styles

Photoshop’s built-in layer styles are a great way to put the final touch to your icons. Open the layer style pane by double-clicking a layer, or right-clicking it in the layer overview. Use a 1px grey stroke with 40-50% opacity for your icon’s borders, and put your shadows at 110° for the best results. Try not to use shadows around the icon, though, as most operating systems already do this.

Credit to Simon Slangen from makeuseof.com