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Icon Design: Create a Set of Creative Avatars

Beginner level Adobe Illustrator Adobe Illustrator

How to Set Up a New Document

As we do with all of our projects, we’ll start by setting up a New Document (File > New or Control + N) which we will adjust using the following settings:

  • Number of Artboards: 1
  • Width: 800 px
  • Height: 600 px
  • Units: Pixels

And from the Advanced tab:

  • Color Mode: RGB
  • Raster Effects: Screen (72 ppi)

We’re going to be creating the icons using a Pixel Perfect Workflow, so I highly recommend you take a moment and read this in depth tutorial that will get you up to speed in no time.

How to Set Up the Layers

Once we’ve set up our new document, it would be a good idea to separate our icons using a couple of different layers, since this way we can streamline our workflow by focusing on one item at a time, which allows us to keep track of each and every shape at all time.

So, open up the Layers panel, and let’s create a total of five layers which we will name as follows:

  • Layer 1 > reference grids
  • Layer 2 > music producer
  • Layer 3 > photo editor
  • Layer 4 > coder
  • Layer 5 > illustrator

The way we’re going to be using these layers within our workflow is pretty easy. We’ll want to lock all except the one that we will be working on, so that we won’t move or misplace some of the shapes by accident. Then, once we’re done with the current icon, we can then lock its layer and move on up to the next one.

How to Create the Reference Grids

As soon as we’ve layered our project file, we can start creating the reference grids, which will help us create our icons by focusing on consistency and size.

Step 1

Grab the Rectangle Tool (M) and create a 128x128 px square, which we will color using #F15A24, and then position it to the center of the Artboard using the Align panel’s Horizontal and Vertical Align Center options.

Step 2

Create another smaller 120x120 px square, which will act as the active drawing area, thus giving us an all-around 4 px padding. Color the shape using white (#FFFFFF) and then group the squares (Control + G) and create three more side copies (Control + C > Control + F three times), distancing them at 40 px from the original.

Once you’re done creating and positioning the reference grids, you can lock their layer, and then move on up to the next one, where we’ll start working on our first icon.

How to Create the Repeating Avatar

We’re going to kick things off by creating the repeating avatar, to which we will later on add the defining symbols in order to set them apart, so make sure you’ve positioned yourself onto the right layer (that would be the second one) and let’s get started!

Step 1

Create the background using a 120x120 px circle, which we will color using #9364D8, and then center align to the first active drawing area.

Step 2

Start working on the head, by creating its lower circular section using a 28x12 px ellipse, which we will color using #FFFFFF, which we will position at a distance of 36 px from the active drawing area’s left edge, and 18 px from its bottom one.

Step 3

Add a 28x54 px rectangle (#FFFFFF) on top of the circle that we’ve just created, positioning it so that it overlaps its upper half as seen in the reference image.

Step 4

Move a few pixels to the right, and create a smaller 12x40 px rectangle, which we will color using white (#FFFFFF) and then position onto the right side of the previously created shape.

Step 5

Finish off the current section of the head by adding an even smaller 8x24 px rectangle (#FFFFFF), which we will position as seen in the reference image.

Step 6

Select all four shapes, and then unite them into a single larger one using Pathfinder’sUnite Shape Mode.

Step 7

Take a couple of moments and clean up the resulting shape by removing the extra anchor points created during the uniting process (highlighted in the reference image), by selecting the Delete Anchor Point Tool (-) and then simply clicking on them.

Step 8

Give the resulting head an outline using the Stroke method, by creating a copy of it (Control + C) which we will paste in front (Control + F), and then adjust by first changing its color to #3F3330 and then flipping its Fill with its Stroke (Shift + X). Set the resulting shape’s Weight to 4 px and its Corner to Round Join, making sure to select and group the two together afterwards using the Control + G keyboard shortcut.

Step 9

Create the top section of the head using a 48x12 px ellipse (#B5ACA9) with a 4 px thick outline (#3F3330), which we will group (Control + G) and then position on top of the avatar as seen in the reference image.

Step 10

Add the right eye using a 4x4 px circle, which we will color using #3F3330, and then position onto the head, at a distance of 6 px from the top section’s outline, and 10 px from the larger section’s right edge. Once you’re done, select and group all of the avatar’s composing shapes together using the Control + G keyboard shortcut.

Step 11

Next, we’re going to take a couple of moments and get a little artistic by adding some texture using a custom stipple brush that I’ve created, which you can download from the tutorial’s attachment. To use it simply open up the Brushes panel and then go to Brush Libraries Menu > Other Library > and then find and select the downloaded asset.

Once your brush has been loaded, select the one named freepik stipple brush and using a 0.1 px thick Stroke draw two vertical lines onto the left side of the avatar as seen in the reference image.

Quick tip:you might have noticed that the texture doesn't seem to be correctly applied, but this only due to the rendering done by the software, since if you try to export the file (Alt + Shift + Control + S) the preview shows you what you're actually going to see.

Step 12

Using the same brush with the same Stroke thickness, draw another circular path following the curvature of the head’s upper section.

Step 13

Start masking the left texture lines, using a copy (Control + C) of the larger underlying shape, which we will paste in front (Control + F) and then with both of them selected right click > Make Clipping Mask.

Step 14

Move a few pixels up and then repeat the same process only this time mask the texture from the head’s upper section.

Step 15

Once you’re done masking the textures, we’ll have to individually cut (Control + X) and then enter each of their underlying groups by double clicking on them to enter Isolation Mode, where we will paste (Control + F) them back in making sure that the outlines are positioned over them as seen in the reference image.

Step 16

Since we now have the main building blocks for all of our avatars, we can create three additional copies (Control + C) and paste them onto the remaining layers (Control + F), making sure to lock them back afterwards.

How to Create the Music Producer Avatar

As soon as you’ve finished creating and positioning all the avatars, go back to the second layer and let’s start adding details to the first one.

Step 1

Start working on the musical note, by creating a 10x8 px ellipse (#D3C5EF) with a 4 px thick outline (#3F3330), which we will group (Control + G), and then position onto the head’s upper section, at a distance of 6 px from its left edge, and just 2 px from its bottom one.

Step 2

Create a copy (Control + C > Control + F) of the shapes that we’ve just grouped, and then position them onto the right side of the head as seen in the reference image.

Step 3

Take a couple of moments and draw the stems and beam using a 4 px thick Stroke (#3F3330) with a Round Join.

Step 4

Give the note heads some texture using the stipple brush with the Stroke set to 0.1 px. Once you’re done, select and group (Control + G) all of the musical note’s composing shapes together, doing the same for the entire avatar afterwards.

Step 5

Select the Brush Tool (B) and using the stipple bg brush with the Stroke color set to white (#FFFFFF), add the front texture covering most of our icon’s composing sections by drawing a simple curved line as seen in the reference image.

Step 6

Finish off the icon, by masking the texture line that we’ve just created using a copy (Control + C) of the underlying background, which we will paste in front (Control + F) and then with both of them selected simply right click > Make Clipping Mask. Once you’re done, select and group (Control + G) all of its composing shapes together, before moving on to the next one.

How to Create the Photo Editor Avatar

As soon as you’ve finished working on the first avatar, lock its layer and then move on up to the next one (that would be the third one), where we will start working on the photo editor one.

Step 1

Kick things off by selecting the purple background and then changing its Fill color to a light blue (#63C7EA) using the Color panel.

Step 2

Start working on the little layer adjustment symbol, by creating a 24x24 px circle (#A0E1F2) with a 4 px thick outline (#3F3330), which we will position onto the head’s upper section, as seen in the reference image.

Step 3

Add the right darker section, using a copy (Control + C > Control + F) of the fill shape, which we will cut in half by selecting its left anchor point using the Direct Selection Tool (A), and then removing it by simply pressing Delete. Once you’re done, set the color of the resulting shape to #3F3330, before moving on to the next step.

Step 4

Take a couple of moments and add some texture to the symbol using the stipple brush, making sure to mask it afterwards. Once you’re done, select and group all of the current section’s composing shapes together using the Control + G keyboard shortcut, doing the same for the entire avatar afterwards.

Step 5

Finish off the icon, by adding the background texture, which we will copy (Control + C) from the previous avatar, and then paste (Control + F) back onto the current layer, making sure to select and group (Control + G) all its shapes together before moving on to the next one.

How to Create the Coder Avatar

Our next creative avatar is that of the coder, so assuming you’ve already positioned yourself onto the next layer (that would be the fourth one), zoom in on the active drawing area and let’s get started!

Step 1

As we did with the previous icon, start by changing the color of its background from purple to a light red (#F7794D).

Step 2

Start working on the ruby gemstone, by creating a 24x24 px square which we will color using #FF9E88, and then center align to the head’s upper section, making sure to position it at a distance of 4 px from its bottom edge.

Step 3

Turn on the Pixel Preview mode (Alt + Control + Y), and then start adjusting the shape by adding a couple of anchor points using the Add Anchor Point Tool (+), following the reference image as your main guide.

Step 4

Turn the square into a diamond, by carefully removing all of its corner anchor points using the Delete Anchor Point Tool (-), switching back to the Default Preview mode (Alt + Control + Y) once you’re done.

Step 5

Give the resulting shape a 4 px thick outline (#3F3330) with a Round Join using the Stroke method.

Step 6

Add the horizontal detail line using a 24 px wide 4 px thick Stroke (#3F3330), which we will position as seen in the reference image.

Step 7

Give the gemstone a nice little texture with the help of the stipple brush, and then select and group all its composing shapes together using the Control + G keyboard shortcut, doing the same for the entire avatar afterwards.

Step 8

Finish off the icon by adding the front texture using a copy (Control + C) from one of the previous ones, which we will paste (Control + F) onto the current layer and then center align, making sure to select and group (Control + G) all its composing shapes before moving on to the next one.

How to Create the Illustrator Avatar

We are now down to our fourth and last icon, so assuming you’ve already positioned yourself onto the next layer (that would be the fifth one) let’s jump straight into it!

Step 1

As we did with all the other avatars, start by changing the color of the background from purple to a light yellow (#F9BC50) from within the Color panel.

Step 2

Start working on the pen nib’s main body by creating a 20x24 px rectangle, which we will color using #FFD694, and then adjust by switching over to Pixel Preview mode (Alt + Control + Y) and adding a couple of new anchor points with the help of the Add Anchor Point Tool (+).

Step 3

Continue adjusting the shape by removing all its corner anchor points using the Delete Anchor Point Tool (-).

Step 4

Give the resulting shape a 4 px thick outline (#3F3330), making sure to set its Corners to Round Join.

Step 5

Add the vertical detail line using a 12 px tall 4 px thick Stroke line (#3F3330) with a Round Cap, which we will position as seen in the reference image.

Step 6

Give the nib some texture using the stipple brush, selecting and grouping (Control + G) all its composing shapes together doing the same for all of the avatar’s composing sections.

Step 7

Finish off the icon and with it the project itself, by adding the front texture using the exact same process used for all the other ones. Once you’re done, select and group (Control + G) all its composing shapes before hitting that save button.

It’s a Wrap Folks!

With a few shapes and a couple of textures here and there, we’ve managed to put together a nice little avatar set that can come in hand in any future projects.

As you can see, we can apply the same techniques to create new personalized avatars and even quickly adjust the ones that we already have by playing with their colors.

That being said, I'm looking forward to seeing what you've managed to come up with, and if you have any questions feel free to post them inside the comments sections and I'll get back to you as soon as I can!


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Discussion

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2 weeks ago

Buenas tardes:

Me llamo Michel y hace poco llegué a esta página gracias a un conocido. Hace poco que comencé a manejar Illustrator y hay cosas en las que me pierdo todavía. ¿Cómo puedo alinear a 36pixeles de un borde? Sé que se puede alinear respecto a selección, a un objeto clave o mesa de trabajo pero en este caso no sé a qué se refiere.

El paso 2 de Cómo crear el avatar base.

Un saludo

Good afternoon:

My name is Michel and recently I came to this page thanks to an acquaintance. I recently started running Illustrator and there are things that I still get lost in. How can I align to 36 pixels of a border? I know that it can be aligned with respect to selection, to a key object or work table but in this case I do not know what it refers to.

Step 2 of How to create the base avatar.

a greeting

2 weeks ago

Hey Michel,

Glad to hear you're interested in learning more of Illustrator!

Now, regarding your question, unfortunately Adobe hasn't introduced a visual value indicator similar to the one found in Affinity Designer, which means that you'll have to take a more manual approach.

You can measure the distance between two edges using either a simple rectangle, or by aligning the shape to the edge and then gradually pushing it in the needed direction using the directional arrow key, keeping count of the number of pixels that it jumps.

You can also try and use the Measure Tool (found underneath the Eyedropper), but unfortunately it doesn't snap to the underlying Pixel Grid, which means that you will have to approximate the values most of the times.

Let me know if that helped!

2 weeks ago

Muchas gracias por la aclaración estimado Andrei Stefan. Llevo poco tiempo usando Illustrator. A veces me da la sensación de que hay cosas que en los tutoriales dan por sentado que los principiantes lo sabemos. 

Reciba un cordial saludo 

Thank you very much for the esteemed clarification Andrei Stefan. I have been using Illustrator for a short time. Sometimes I get the feeling that there are things that in the tutorials assume that beginners know.

Receive a cordial greeting

Edited 3 months ago

Hey, glad to hear you found it useful!

According to Facebook the profile image should be 170x170 px, so just create a New Document using those values and then simply paste (Control-C) a copy (Control-C) of the finished icon onto the new document, slightly resizing it. Then, simply save it for the web as a PNG using the Alt-Control-Shift-S keyboard shortcut.

Let me know if that helped!

3 months ago

Thank you. it said pic should be at least 180x180 but it lost quality :D Thank you anyway, I think it's facebook problem :D

3 months ago
Icon_Design-_create_a_set_of_creative_avatars-01.png

Hello, great tutorial, helped me much. Can you give an advice how to save for facebook profile, that when I upload it won't loose quality?

3 months ago

Hi, we really liked your project. It would be great if you could share it in the Projects section at Tutpad, so that our users can see what you've done. Regards :) 

Being a creative is probably one of the most fulfilling jobs at the moment since you get the chance to materialize ideas and concepts that can actually change the way people interact with the world. Now since each and every one of us is creatively different, I thought it would be a great idea to put together a nice little avatar set that illustrates some of these creative types. That being said, poor yourself a fresh cup of that magic bean juice and let’s get started!

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