Apr 27 2009
Build iPhone-style icons in Photoshop with IconBuilder
With IconBuilder, you use Photoshop (version 7 to CS3), Photoshop Elements (version 2 and up) or Fireworks (versions MX and CS3) as your icon editor and then export your artwork as icons for your system or even your web page.
When going about making an icon, you have to consider the size at which it is going to be viewed. Mac OS X allows users to view icons at any size but, most often, people will be looking at your icons at around 32 pixels wide… not very big. At that size a lot of detail will be lost, so you have to be creative in how you try to get the message of your icon across; you have to do it in the simplest way that you can. IconBuilder also lets you build icons for your computer’s list view (16 pixels wide), so you should consider how your icon idea will translate at that small a size. With the addition of CoverFlow in Leopard, icons can now be viewed at sizes in the neighborhood of 512 pixels square, but still have to tell their story at 16 pixels square.
Even though you have to be aware of how your icon looks at smaller sizes, the main art should be built at at least 128 pixels squareâ€”512 pixels square if you intend for them to look good in CoverFlow.
Building Icons in Icon Builder
Since IconBuilder comes with thorough documentation, I won’t duplicate it here. The trouble I find with learning new software is sometimes you need a project to work on in order to give the documentation some context. So, what I’m going to do is show you how to build a 512 pixel size “iPhone-like” icon to get you started on creating your own icons.
Start with an RGB document in Photoshop that is 512 pixels square with a transparent background.
Set guides at the center going horizontally and vertically (one 256 pixels down from the top and another 256 pixels in from the left)
Using the Rounded Rectangle Tool set at a 45 pixel radius, create a shape layer by clicking in the intersection of the 2 guides and, holding Alt+Shift on a PC or Option+Shift on a Mac, drag out a Shape Layer 440 pixels square.
Set the color of the shape layer to your choosing (mine will be red).
Add a Drop Shadow Layer Style as seen below:
And an Inner Glow:
Next add a symbol in white on its own layer. The easiest way to do this is to use type. Use letters, number or symbols or, better yet, grab something out of a digbat font like Zapf Dingabts or Webdings.
I have used the obligatory @ symbol on a text layer at 410pt in white.
Add a Drop Shadow style to the text layer:
Now for the highlight. Create a new shape layer by drawing another rounded rectangle as we did before; this time use a radius of 40 pixels and a size of 420 pixels square. It doesn’t matter what color it isâ€”see?
Set its Fill slider in the Layers to 0%. Add a Drop Shadow Style:
And then a Gradient Overlay going from transparent to White:
It should look like this:
Now, using the Direct Selection Tool (it’s the hollow arrow), select the bottom 4 nodes of the path that forms the shape layer…
We’re going to Transform these to make the concave curve on the underside of our highlight. Go Edit>Transform Points>Flip Vertical. Now, drag these 4 points together until the lowest 2 touch the horizontal guide you made midway down the icon.
Still using the Direct Selection Tool, select the 2 points on the middle of the lower arc we just made and go Control-T on a PC or Command-T on a Mac. We are going to bring these points in toward the center a bit and we’ll use the Transform feature to make sure they are even.
Hold down the Alt key on a PC or the Option key on a Mac as you scale the width of the Transform box to look like what I have shown you below:
Click Enter/Return to apply this transformation, and your icon artwork is done.
You should save this file as a layered PSD so that you can make more icons by simply changing the background color and the symbol. Use Save As… to save each icon design as a flattened transparent PNG that you can then paste into the Expanded Preset that comes with IconBuilder to create your icons masterpieces. Resize and adjust the icon to look good in all of the sizes in which your icon is likely to be used and seen.
To jumpstart the process, install the IconBuilder Assistant Action that comes packages with IconBuilder. Place your 512 pixel creation in the 512 pixel icon area of the Expanded Template that comes with IconBuilder and open the Actions Palette in Photoshop. Select the Generate Expanded actions and click Play. Boom! You have most of your icon resources already created (probably all the resources you are likely to need).￼
Enjoy your new icon creating abilities and share your creations with us!!