- Click the ∞ to see photo examples.
- Some links link to my tumblr posts.
- A couple people requested this on tumblr.
- I use Photoshop CS5.
- & You shouldn't be taking advice from me.
—The number one thing in my opinion is make sure your cap or photo is HQ. If your cap is HQ then believe me, your icon making will be at least 78% better, there have been studies.
—Choosing a cap or photo that is lighter will also help loads, lighter photos tend to be easier to color (it’s not always the case though). I know most of us do not have the privilege of having a show/movie that isn’t always in the dark so this tip is probably just a big NO SHIT.
—If you’re making icons the default size for makers is 100x100. Although for tumblr it’s better to make your icons 64x64. I never make and post my icons with the size 64x64, if I am using the icon (like the one I am using now) I usually just resize it from 100x100 to 64x64 for tumblr. That’s if you want it to be a bit more clearer, a little sharpen is always good too.
—I’ve seen a lot of other icon makers who make their icons by editing their icons bigger (about 300x300) so they can see it more and maybe add a little more detail. It also serves to let you make more mistakes, that way when you crop it to 100x100 it kind of makes those little mistakes disappear.
RESOURCES: how to cut out an image ∞.
Sharpening is very key in making a great icon. Although, sometimes you may not even have to sharpen, if you’re going for the soft more natural look.
My sharpen settings (old settings ∞):
FILTER › SHARPEN › SMART SHARPEN
Check Advanced and More Accurate.
Remove: Gaussian Blur.
SHARPEN: AMOUNT: 200 RADIUS: 0.3
SHADOW: FADE AMOUNT: 65 TOTAL WIDTH: 25 RADIUS: 55
HIGHLIGHT: FADE AMOUNT: 100 TOTAL WIDTH: 70 RADIUS: 35
If you’re sharpening a picture you cut-out and shrank DO NOT GO OVERBOARD. I don’t sharpen icons like in example 1 and 5 much at all. Use the settings I posted but lower the sharpen amount quite a bit (about 25-50). If you over sharpen an image that small it almost makes the image unrecognizable. WE DON’T WANT THAT, HUH.
If you’re sharpening a close up image like examples 2, 3, and 4 it kind of depends on the coloring.
• If it’s a more vibrant coloring try not sharpen too much. When the colors are vibrant there is bound to be bad ugly pixels about and sharpening a lot will only bring those out. So if you want to sharpen parts of the image, like in ex: 4 where it’s just his beard, use the sharpen tool brush(∞).
• If your coloring is more soft and natural looking then I think it’s alright to sharpen your image normally (ex: setting the amount to 100-170). You never really want to fully set your sharpen amount to 500 when making icons. That’s way too much. This goes for black and white images too.
Cropping isn’t all that hard, since it’s more a preference thing than a ‘you can’t do it like that’. Do you like close ups? Do you like negative space? Do you like the icon to be filled up?
Simple. I tend to go for simple crops. Like in example 3, 4, and 5. A cap with lots of negative space and good from the get go colors. You don’t want sooo much negative space that the subject is just a tiny pixel, honestly what’s the point? You want it to be clear and smooth. The background of the negative space can be plain in color or it could have some texture/pattern but it truly makes a better icon if it stays consistent (like the grass in icon 3 or the brick in 5 or the plain color in 4).
Close-up. Close up crops like icon 1 and 2 are sometimes hard to get right. Icon 2’s crop makes the icon more filled out. When you’re cropping the whole face, I like to crop it so the stopping point is the hair, if the subject has long hair of course. If your cropping a full face I also like crops like this ∞ when it stops at the forehead line, sometimes even above the nose like this ∞. It’s truly just a preference thing, like I said before.
Crops like in icon 4 are some of my favorites. I think it’s a simple way to feature faces and it works for a lot of face icons. Sometimes even half bodied shots. Try to only keep it to faces when cropping like this. Stopping at the forehead and ending either above the chin or slightly below.
When you’re cropping something that’s cut out (ex: ∞) don’t shrink it too small. I’ve seen other icon makers who can make it look good and still be small but I have yet to perfect that, ha. I try to make it fill, say about, 50-40% of the icon. Sometimes smaller, but no smaller than 30%.
Oh coloring, where to start… There are so many ways to color icons. Obviously it’s a preference thing, whether you like bright and vibrant, soft pastels, dark, or black and white. I’ll try to cover the bases.
PASTELS. Pastels are a rarity in icons, I believe. I adore pastel colorings and I am glad it’s gaining in popularity in graphics lately. The coloring in icon 1 is soft and pretty. It’s not overly sharpened (I am sure some would say under sharpened) but I feel like if you’re coloring something in pastel coloring it shouldn’t be sharpened too much.
When making pastel colored icons I almost always use a color fill layer.
Layer › New Fill Layer › Solid Color. I use a color like #ffdaf3 (about this light of a color) and set it to Soft Light — 100%. Sometimes you may even use two of these layers, just not as bright for the second layer.
TIP: When using a psd I love a lot with a color fill layer I always rasterize the color fill layer. Right click the color fill layer and select rasterize layer ∞. Then!!! My favorite part, it makes things so much easier when coloring stuff. Press command+u (I think it’s ctrl+u in Windows) which should bring the Hue/Saturation box up. Then drag the Hue arrow around to change the fill color layer simply! I love this tip because it makes changing the colors so much easier.
Alright, after you use a fill layer your image usually isn’t looking that well. When I color in pastels I tend to use the Levels tool more than the Curves tool. My Levels (Layer › New Adjustment Layer › Levels) settings are usually ∞ but, honestly it can change depending on the image. If your image is pretty dark then you can try duplicated the image and setting it to Screen 100%. Almost always a dark image isn’t going to fair well in the pastel battle.
Now you can add a Brightness/Contrast layer to add a bit more contrast and brighten the image up (it’s a given).
VIBRANT. My favorite! PLEASE remember that there is such a thing as too vibrant or saturated (it’s okay, you can cry). Icons 3, 4, and 5 are the icons I am gonna focus on for vibrancy. Let’s start with icon 4.
When trying to make a vibrant and beautifully colored icon (it’s what we all want, sigh) the cap you pick is the absolute most important thing. Although there is some makers out there who obviously sold their souls to the color porn Satan and this rule does not apply to them. Anyway, pick a image that already has great light and colors or color. Sometimes you can just get away with lightening the image up using curves ∞ or duplicating your image and setting it to screen and then just upping the saturation using the Vibrance (Layer › New Adjustment Layer › Vibrance) tool.
The settings when using the vibrance tool is totally up to you. Try not to overdo it. It’s hard to gauge how much you should use and honestly it’s practice. Another big player in coloring images with good bones is the Selective Color tool (Layer › New Adjustment Layer › Selective Color).
I think you have to be pretty familiar with photoshop to be able to use the selective color tool well. I’m still struggling. Help. I will say that when I do use it, I have Absolute checked when I want something vibrant. The Selective Color tool is to be used to intensify colors, individually. The best way to learn how to use it is to play around with it. It’s truly a lifesaving tool (it’s saved mine at least twice, at least).
Now, for icons like 3 and 5 where we’ve cut the image out and pasted it onto a plain background (or texture). When making icons like these I like to keep it simple and color the cap vibrant and clear using some of the steps above, keeping it to one color(ish), not so much saturation, I tend to use the Color Balance (Layer › New Adjustment Layer › Color Balance) tool more for icons like those. That way it’s almost monotone, it looks clean.
Sometimes I add a Gradient layer (Layer › New Fill Layer › Gradient) to the background, the black and white one, and set it to Soft Light or Screen and the opacity is to your preference. It will give it a bit more depth.
BLACK AND WHITE. Black and white can be a bit troublesome. Or sometimes it can be a truly amazing thing, like in certain situations ex — I am gonna color this damn thing black and white because making it an actual fucking color is obviously too damn difficult for me and I really just wanna finish this damn graphic/icon and black and white will cover my failures, but I digress.
There are 2 ways (that I do and find easy) to color caps black and white. One way is to use the Gradient Map (Layer › New Adjustment Layer › Gradient Map) tool. This is the way I usually do it. Then use curves to lighten/contrast the image.
Another way is pressing shift+command+u. It’s fast and easy, then edit as you like.
I am truly terrible at using textures on my icons. You really shouldn’t be taking advice from me. You’ve read this far so I will try not to disappoint you too much.
There are many ways to use textures… To color images. To add backgrounds. To add texture. There are even text textures so you can add text to your icons. I’ll focus on coloring images with texures and backgrounds. Sorry if you wanted more from me, but I am lazy at this point.
I’m a very monochrome person when using textures, I want it to just flow and look as natural as it can. Look as clear and hq as it can, but at the same time add some busyness without making it look like a cluttered mess.
Icon 2, 3, and 4 use light textures. Which means (to me) finding a great light texture (or gradient texture) and changing the settings to color the image. My favorite settings when coloring with textures are setting the layer to Soft Light and playing around with the opacity. In icon 3 it uses a light texture like this ∞ and it’s set to Screen. I love doing this in icons. In icon 4 the background texture was duplicated and put over Derek and set to screen but I erased most of it except around his body, so it almost looks like it’s consuming him. This is a great way to make the icon look cohesive. I hope you understand, it’s kind of difficult to explain stuff like this.
In icon 4 there is a texture as the background. Meaning I cutout the image and pasted it onto the texture. Icon 5 is similar except the texture is cutout to differentiate between the photos. You could also achieve this effect with brushes, but that’s a whole different convo that I am not getting into in this tutorial.
The most basic explanation of using textures is to place (File › Place) the texture onto your icon and change the blending mode for the layer ∞. The most popular blending modes are probably Soft Light, Screen, Lighten, Multiply, and Color Burn. Lighten is very similar to screen just not as clear. Multiply is usually used when you want to add a texture that’s a bit grungy/dusty. Color Burn is used very carefully, it can get scary quick. I usually use to to add a bit contrast with a texture.
I honestly don’t add text to icons all that much. There are geniuses that can do it amazingly.
The only tips I can give is to add it to icons that have a bit of negative space, it looks better. If you’re gonna add it to a full icon then try to keep the text short. Obviously you can’t add a paragraph to an icon but people try to. I’ve been guilty of this, the shame.
Don’t make it so small that it’s unreadable. You want it to be around 10pt or 12pt at most, a little smaller is always okay. I think fonts like Helvetica or brush fonts look best on icons. Or even fonts like Times. I think adding text to icons is an art form in itself. I obviously need to learn.
I HOPE THIS HELPED EVEN A LITTLE BIT. This literally took me hours to make so any feedback is much appreciated.
If you need some help still please feel free to message me, I will help if I can. :)
If you see a link down let me know and I will fix it. If most of this is gibberish please forgive me.