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Creating Your Own Icons, Part 2

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Creating a set of icons for a Windows or Mac application involves a much different set of design challenges than when designing icons for Web pages. Read on to discover strategies for creating visually compelling icons, even if you’re new to computer design. The second half of this two-part article aims to help you effectively choose an icon editor program and leverage online resources for tutorials and image templates.
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By now, you've learned the essentials for creating standout icons in a consistent visual language. But if you're still artistically challenged — or just plain short on time — you might need some help in obtaining base images to use and modify in your own icons. In this article we'll cover:

  • The top Web resources for icon designers; download permission-free artwork and templates to incorporate in your own designs.

  • Platform-specific tutorials for replacing specific kinds of Windows icons, or converting Macintosh and Windows icon to the other platform.

  • The best software resources to efficiently and systematically design a large numbers of icons.

Beginners looking for hand's-on experimentation should consider the very fun — and collaborative — approach to icon creation at Icontown. Reminiscent of a Sims game, every location in this fast-growing miniature village — including homes, factories, and a variety of buildings — consists of a user's 32-x-32-pixel icon. This provides a most engaging context for learning about icon construction, from adding colors and details to embellishing with shadows.

Mix-and-Match Templates

Frequently, finding a good base image to modify is the secret to getting started with creating icons in a hurry. Recently, for example, I needed to create a good-looking icon of a thermometer in a hurry. None of the therm.gif or therm.ico images I found in a Google search were inspiring, so I began browsing icon sets looking for parts of sample images of red spheres (for the mercury) and a tube shape that appealed to me. I merged the two in a composite image in Photoshop, touched up the pixels where they blended together, and applied an overall shadow effect — as Figure 3 shows, instant thermometer!

Figure 3Figure 3 An example of an icon created in a composite image in Photoshop.

The following sites are treasure troves of template icons to modify:

  • Pixture Studio — Hide Itoh offers whimsical, intricate assortments of beautiful icons — free for personal use, with licensing offered for other uses at his Pixture Studio site. Most of the icon sets here have American and Japanese cooking or food themes, and are available for both Macintosh and Windows users.

  • Xicons — The thousands of Macintosh icons offered on this site are arranged into themed sets, with many tributes to popular culture (such as Spiderman or Spongebob Squarepants icons) and artsy designs. The artists are visibly credited, which makes it easy to find their additional works once you find a designer whose style appeals to you. This site includes a very helpful search engine to track down a specific kind of image.

  • IconFactory — Icon libraries are only the beginning of the resources for designers here; you'll also find a tremendous range of Macintosh icons, editing tools, tutorials, and information about icon creation.

  • dotico — A shrine to creating Windows icons, this site does for Windows users what IconFactory does for Macintosh designers.

  • Essential icons — A compendium of links to sites devoted to icon development that are frequently updated, although the resources they link to may not always be kept so up-to-date.

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