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How to Create a Pixel Perfect Icon in Adobe Illustrator

06.08.2015

Graphic design should be fun, but we all know that Adobe Illustrator can be a little bit frustrating sometimes.

So we’ve created this tutorial to make your learning experience a little easier, and to help you create a pixel perfect icon every time.

So if you are struggling – read on. In this tutorial we’re going to help you create a shopping basket icon for an eCommerce website, but once you’ve got the hang of the basics you can start getting creative.

STEP 1

Yes, I know it’s obvious, but the first step is opening a new document:

  • Load Adobe Illustrator. Then at the top hit ‘File’ and select ‘New’.

 

 STEP 2

  • After completing Step 1 you’ll be greeted with the screen below:

1

  • First of all, set the ‘Units’ to Pixels, and then:
    • Set the ‘Width’to 18px.
    • Set the ‘Height’ to 15px.

 

If you can’t see the expanded ‘Advanced’ section:

Click the arrow next to ‘Advanced’ to display these three extra fields. These hidden fields let you set up a document cantered around pixels, now:

  • Set ‘Colour Mode’ to RGB
  • Set ‘Raster Effects’ to Screen (72ppi)
  • Set ‘Preview Mode’ to Pixel
  • Also, be sure to tick the option ‘Align New Objects to Pixel Grid’

Ticking ‘Align New Objects to Pixel Grid’ means all new objects drawn within Illustrator will now snap to a pixel grid. This option only applies for new objects, not objects pasted into the document from elsewhere.

 

STEP 3

  • Open the Illustrator menu at the top and select ‘Preferences’
  • And then select ‘Guides & Grid’ in the bar on the left-hand side
  • Set ‘Gridline every’ to 10px
  • Set ‘Subdivisions’ to 1, and click ‘OK’.

pixel-perfect-step

  • After you’ve clicked ‘OK’, go to the menu at the top and open ‘View’, and then select ‘Show Grid’.

Menu then View - pixel perfect logo

 

As the name implies, you will now see a grid. So, we’ve made it this far, and if you’ve followed the steps above you should see a screen that’s identical to this:
2

 

STEP 4

  • Choose the Rectangle Tool, circled below (Keyboard Shortcut: M)
  • Now draw a rectangle with a width of 18px and a height of 10px.

3

  • Choose the Direct Selection Tool, circled below (Keyboard Shortcut: A)
  • Now select the right anchor point at the bottom of the rectangle and move it 3px to the left
  • Now do the same with the bottom left anchor point, and move it to the right by 3px

4

 

STEP 5

With the Creative Cloud version of Adobe you can make round corners directly from the vector image:

  • Select the two angles you want to make round with the white arrow. Grab one of the two little white circles you can see near the angles and move diagonally towards the centre for as long as you like.

 

5

If you’re using an older version of Photoshop and you want to make round corners on a shape:

  • In the menu at the top go to ‘Effect’ > ‘Stylize’ > ‘Round Corners…’
  • A new window with all the sets will appear and you can set the round corners as you like

Pixel Perfect - stylise

 

STEP 6

After completing Steps 1-5 you should have the main shape of your basket – now it’s time for some detail:

  • Select the circle tool (Keyboard Shortcut – L)
  • Now draw a circle with a size of 10px x 10px
  • Place the middle of the circle on the top part of your red shape

6You may notice that the circle goes outside the white canvas.

This is because when you align a line to the pixel grid and apply a trace of 1pt, the trace will be not aligned to the grid, but instead on the vector line you drew.

STEP 7

You now have to change the set of the trace trough the stroke panel:

  • If you don’t see the ‘Stroke’ panel, on the menu at the top, go to the Window > ‘Stroke’
  • Circled below, in the ‘Stroke’ panel next to ‘Align Stroke icons’, click on the second option (If you don’t see all the options to set the trace, click on the icon on the right of the panel and click ‘show options’)

7

The line should now be defined.

 

STEP 8

It’s time to add some details to the outside of your basket. Let’s draw a rectangle with the rectangle tool (Keyboard Shortcut: M) and duplicate it.

To duplicate the shape:

  • Hold the alt button whilst moving the shape, or with copy and paste (Keyboard Shortcut: CMD/CTRL + C and then CMD/CTRL + F)
  • Using CMD/CTRL + F allows you to paste the shape in the same position as the copied shape.
  • Now, drag the copied shape and put it in place alongside your other rectangle.

8

Your icon is now finished!!

 

Designing With the Grid

Below, I have copied and pasted another icon side-by-side with the icon you’ve just created. I’ve done this so you can see the difference between designing with the grid and without.

As you can see the two baskets are exactly the same when you deactivate the view of the grid:

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But when you activate the ‘Pixel Preview’ you can see that the left rectangles are more defined than the ones on the right. This is because the ones on the right do not follow the grid.

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