A complete guide to making and publishing an iOS 10 sticker app

For artists, illustrators, creators, or anyone without app creation experience

1. Create your sticker images. These are the image dimensions that Apple recommends:

Small: 100 x 100 pt @3x scale (300 x 300 pixel image)
Medium: 136 x 136 pt @3x scale (378 x 378 pixel image)
Large: 206 x 206 pt @3x scale (618 x 618 pixel image)

For optimal results, just stick to one of these. Also, keep your file sizes to 500KB or less. Save them as a PNG or JPEG for static stickers, and GIF or APNG for animated stickers.
If you don’t know whether to pick PNG or JPEG, just ask yourself, “does my sticker have any transparent areas?” If the answer is yes, use a PNG.

For example, if your sticker background is not colored in, use a PNG.

2. Compress the size of your sticker files. I suggest:

This step is optional, but I recommend doing this because users short on storage space on their phones will appreciate this.

3. Create your sticker app icons. These are the icons for your sticker app that will be displayed in the Messages App Store, iPhone, iPad and iPad Pro. Apple provides Template-iMessageAppIcons-iOS.psd so you don’t have to figure out all the sizes. Paste your icon artwork once into the Smart Object and follow instructions to export all the files. You’ll also need to create a 1024 x 1024px PNG or JPEG of your app icon in addition to the ones the template generates.

4. Create an iTunes Developer Account. You can use your regular iTunes account to sign in if you already use Apple products. The developer account is what you will be using to upload your sticker app to the Messages App Store.

5. Download Xcode. In your developer account, go to “Download Tools” and get the latest version NON-BETA version of Xcode. This is the software you will be using to create the sticker pack. Heads up — make sure you have at least 5GB available disk space before downloading.

6. Join the Apple Developer Program. Enroll as an individual.

Alright, this is why there aren’t any “complete” guides on the internet for making and publishing sticker apps for individuals without app development experience. The unfortunate reality is that if you want to distribute your sticker app on the Messages App Store for other people download and use, it will cost you $99+tax to enroll in the iTunes Developer Program for a year. When your membership expires, your app will be removed from the Messages App Store. You will have to keep renewing your membership every year if you want your sticker app to remain available. You can see now why most sticker apps are created by companies, and not individuals. If you’re put off by the price, you can still make a sticker app — but only you will be able to use it. This guide is written for individuals wanting to publish their own sticker pack in the Messages App Store so other people can download and use it; if this is you, read on!

6. Open Xcode and create a sticker pack project.

Create a new Xcode project
Choose Sticker Pack Application

On the next screen, name your sticker pack. For team, select “Add Account” and use your Apple Developer account. You’re also going to need to put something as the organization name, so just make something up. For organization identifier, put “com.[your organization name here]”.

Next it’s going to ask you where you want to save your Xcode project; anywhere accessible on your machine is fine. Select “Create.”

7. Plug in your iPhone and set it as your test device in Xcode. Xcode will create your Provisioning Profile and Signing Certificate automatically when you do this (these are your developer credentials that the Messages App Store will use later).

8. Log into iTunes Connect in Xcode. Go to Xcode > Open Developer Tool > Application Loader. Follow the instructions to log in with your Developer account and generate an app-specific password.

9. Add your sticker images. In the left hand navigator, select the “Stickers.xcstickers.” You’ll see an area where you can drag and drop your sticker images.

Drag and drop your sticker files to add them

In the right hand navigator, you can click on the Attributes inspector to change your sticker cell size. This affects the size of the stickers that the user sees when they are choosing a sticker from your sticker pack.

10. Add your app icons. This is right above the “Sticker Pack” folder.

11. Test your sticker pack. You can select different devices to simulate and test in Xcode.

Click the button that looks like “play” in the top-right to test your sticker pack

12. Create (up to 5) app iPhone and iPad screenshots for the Messages App Store. You can take screenshots of your sticker pack when testing your sticker pack in Xcode by hitting Command+S, or create something custom that will stand out in the Messages App Store. If you’re doing the latter, create the iPhone screenshots at 1242 x 2208px and iPad screenshots at 2732 x 2048px (iPhone X screenshots at 1125 x 2436px are optional). Save as a PNG or JPEG. Make sure there are no transparencies by flattening your images in Photoshop.

13. Create a free website using Wordpress. This is because Apple is going to ask you for a Support URL when you submit your sticker app. If you already have your own site, feel free to use that. But for people who don’t, using Wordpress is the simplest way.

14. Create a new app in iTunesConnect. Log in, go to My Apps, and hit the ‘+’ button to add a “New App.” Select iOS as the platform and under “Bundle ID Suffix,” paste your Bundle Identifier from Xcode. You can find your Bundle Identifier by selecting your sticker app in the lefthand navigator and copying it from the General tab.

Put whatever you’d like for the SKU. Only you’ll be able to see it so anything recognizable or meaningful to you is fine. These are the guidelines that Apple provides about your SKU: “You can use letters, numbers, hyphens, periods, and underscores. The SKU can’t start with a hyphen, period, or underscore.”

15. Upload your sticker app to iTunes Connect. In Xcode, go to Product > Archive. Then click on that shiny button that says “Upload to App Store…” You’re almost there!

16. Set up your tax and banking information. You only need to do this if you’re going to charge for your sticker app. Log into iTunes and go to “Agreements, Tax, and Banking” to fill out the appropriate contract. It typically takes 24 hours for changes in iTunes Connect to take effect.

17. Fill out your App Store Information in iTunes Connect. Select your app in iTunes Connect go to the App Information Tab. Fill in Privacy Policy URL with the appropriate link on your website or Wordpress. Select “Stickers” as the Category and choose sub-categories if you wish. In the Pricing and Availability Tab, set your sticker price. You can also add pricing tiers if you wish.

18. Prepare your app for submission. In the Prepare for Submission tab, add your app screenshot(s) for iPhone and iPad. Fill in your sticker app description. For keywords, fill in search terms that you think describe your sticker app and would help other people find it. Put your website or Wordpress link for both the Support URL and Marketing URL.

Click the ‘+’ button next to Build to add your sticker app.

Under General App Information, use the 1024 x 1024px app icon that you created earlier. Add the copyright holder if you wish. Add rating.

Under App Review Information, fill in your contact information. Uncheck the box under Demo Account.

20. Submit your app. Click “Submit for Review,” then answer “no” to the questions regarding Export Compliance, Content Rights, and Advertising Identifier. Click the “Submit” button and finally you’re done! After your app goes through the Apple approval process (typically ~4–5 days for new apps; ~2 days for updates to approved apps) your sticker app will available to download from the Messages App Store.

Congrats, you’ve made your own sticker app!

How to update your sticker app

I’m including this short section because you may want to update your sticker app in the future with new or different images.

1. Open up your Xcode project and increase your version and build number for your app. Make sure your sticker app is selected in the left-hand navigator, then click on the little icon that looks like a square, then select your app under “Targets.” Increase your version number. A good practice is to increment 1.0 →1.0.1, 1.0.2… for very small changes, 1.0 →1.1, 1.2… for medium changes, and 1.0 →2.0, 3.0… for major changes. Increase your build number to the next whole number.

2. Increase your version and build number for your sticker extension (under “Targets”). Make the same exact change for the sticker extension as you did for the app.

3. Update your sticker images and follow previous steps to archive and upload your app.

4. Go to your app in iTunes Connect and add a new version. Write what you changed in the updated version and follow previous steps to submit your updated app.

So that’s it. If you’ve made it to the end of this guide, you can probably tell that it’s not exactly easy to figure out how to publish a simple sticker app. I actually got started with this project because during WWDC 2016, Apple was like, artists can make sticker apps without any code!

That’s clearly a stretch. Anyone who doesn’t know their way around Xcode or have previous app development experience is going to need detailed guidance and have to read a ton of documentation to figure it out.

It’s also surprising that there’s no tiered pricing on the App Store. It might seem trivial for apps that make a ton of money (Uber, Amazon, Dropbox, etc.) to pay $99+tax to submit their app, but for free apps or sticker packs, it seems astronomically expensive. The result is that stickers are cost prohibitive for an individual to make, but this kind of runs counter to Apple’s plan to make text conversation more engaging with stickers — if I can’t share stickers I make with my friends and let them use it without paying an arm and leg, why would I even bother making stickers? Only companies or brands can afford to.

Anyways, I made this for all the creators and makers out there — let’s support each other! Hopefully with this guide you can skip reading all the documentation and just get right to creating a sticker pack if the desire strikes you. Also, if you’re curious, you can see the example that I used in this guide here.