How to use Sketch to build great icons

While Sketch app by Bohemian Coding is primarily a UI design app, it’s also great for creating icons. That’s exactly what we will do in this tutorial. I will show you how to create the three icons below in easy-to-follow steps. They are part of the profile card in my course Getting Started with Sketch: Design a Beautiful Profile Card on Skillshare. So if you enjoy this tutorial I’d love to welcome you as a student there to learn more about Sketch.

Preparations

For preparation let’s create an artboard first by pressing A on the keyboard and drawing a rectangle on the canvas. Name it “Icons” in the Layers List on the left. This artboard acts as the “drawing board” for the icons. It doesn’t matter where and how big it is, as we will adjust that in a moment. For this purpose we will jump into the Inspector on the right side of Sketch and enter “0” for both the X and Y position and set the width to “400” and the height to “100”. To get the artboard back into view press cmd + 3 to center it, followed by cmd + 0 to zoom in to 100 %. Finally zoom in with cmd + + twice to get a better view.

The most important thing to remember if you build icons is to always try to construct them with basic shapes instead of using the vector tool. That is also the approach we will take with the first one, the “Followers” icon.

The “Followers” icon

First let’s add a circle by pressing O on the keyboard, holding down shift (to get a perfect circle) and drawing one with the size of about 40 x 40 (note that the dimensions are shown as you draw). Now, just below it, enter another one, but this time dismiss the shift key as we need an ellipse. For this one use 50 x 75 as the dimensions. Now click on this second shape, drag it in close proximity to the first circle (as seen on the screenshot) and align it to the horizontal center with the smart guides (the red lines that show up when you move layers around).

The last shape needed for this icon is a rectangle. So press R and add it just below the two ellipses, with a dimension of about 60 x 50. Drag it to the lower ellipse and align the top of the rectangle with the center of the ellipse with the Smart Guides.

To finish the Followers icon we will employ the so called Boolean Operations in Sketch, which allow to combine one or more layers into completely new shapes. So select both ellipses (click on one, hold down shift and click the other one) and press the “Union” button in the toolbar. As you see in the Layers List on the left of Sketch they were merged into a single shape now.

But the result still doesn’t look as the desired icon, as the rectangle is covering the icons instead of cutting away from it. So let’s use the Boolean Operations again: select the two merged ellipses (the combined shape not the individual shapes) alongside with the rectangle and click on the “Substract” icon the toolbar, but make sure that the rectangle is above the ellipses in the Layers List (as seen on the screenshot below).

The last thing to do is remove the fill of the icon and adapt the default border. So select the whole icon (not one of the individual shapes), go to the Inspector and uncheck the “Fill” checkmark. Then change the “Position” of the border to “Inside” and the “thickness” to “5” and we are done.

The “Tweets“ icon

On we go with the Tweets icon, a speech bubble with three dots in the middle. As above we also start with an ellipse, so press O again and add one to the canvas with roughly the size of 75 x 50. Since not all icons can be constructed with shapes alone, we need to alter the vector points of the ellipse now. So select it and press enter on the keyboard (or make a double-click on it) to go into the vector point mode of Sketch. This mode lets you change the points of which a shape is constructed. In case of the ellipse you see four points — represented by little circles — one at each side.

But we don’t want to alter this predefined points, but add some new ones. If you hover with the mouse over the bottom right line of the ellipse you see that it gets highlighted with a dark blue line — if you click now, you add a new point to exactly this segment, so click and add one roughly in the middle.

After that add two others just left and right of it. You might want to zoom in again with cmd ++ to get a better view. Now select the middle one and drag it to the lower right, so that we get the desired speech bubble. Please note that this point has two lines attached, which control the curve of the point looks. In this case we don’t need a curve at all, but a straight edge, so let’s change it to a “Straight” point by clicking on the first icon in the Inspector.

The bubble itself is finished now, but we still need to add the circles in the middle. But first let’s remove the fill again and adapt the border, so first leave the vector point mode with the esc key, uncheck the “Fill” in the Inspector, and for the border — just like before — set the “Position” to “Inside” and the “Thickness” to “5”. Now let’s finish the icon and add the circles in the middle. For this purpose press O again for the ellipse tool and draw a circle with the size of 12 x 12 (hold down shift again to get a perfect circle). Click on this circle, hold downalt and drag a copy of it to the right; do the same again to get a third copy. All you need to do now is to spread the three circles in the bubble shape and remove the default border — and the second icon is ready.

The “Following“ icon

Now let’s attend to the third icon, the one for “Following”. The first thing to do is to create a rounded rectangle by pressing U to select the related tool in Sketch, hold down shift to get a square and draw the shape on the canvas. Make it about 55 x 55 pixels and change its “Radius” in the Inspector to “10”. Like for the previous icon we want to move from a fill to a border to be able to add something inside. So select the rounded rectangle, deselect the grey fill of the rectangle, select a border instead and give it the same properties as above.

For the plus in the middle the icon we will take a new approach. Instead of drawing a shape a “+” text symbol will be used. So go into the text tool with T, select a clean font like “Avenir Next Bold” in the Inspector, click in the middle of the rectangle and type “+”. The font size should be about “55”. Leave the text tool by pressing esc and move the it to the center of the icon (click on the symbol and drag it there). Lastly convert it to a shape with the “Outlines” icon in the toolbar for an easier handling (or select “Type” > “Convert Text to Outlines” in the menu bar).

All for one and one for all

The icons are basically ready now, but let’s unify them and go from the default grey color to something more vibrant. As a preparation select the first icon and change its border to the desired color, for example a dark Aquamarine. To do so click on the little color field at the border in the Inspector and choose a color of your liking.

To adapt the other icons to the same appearance we will use the build-in color picker of Sketch. So first select their outlines (but nothing in the middle) by holding shift and clicking on them. Now select the color field in the Inspector again and click on the little color picker icon on the color overlay. Move the mouse to the border of the “Followers” icon and with a click transfer its color.

Do the same for the inner parts of the icons, but this time with the fill color. Instead of clicking on the color picker icon you can also press ctrl + C on the keyboard.

Tidy up

As a last step we should tidy up the layers of the icons in the Layer’s List (the left area of Sketch) and move them into a logical order. So select the first icon, drag it to the top of the Layers List and rename it to “Followers” with cmd + R. Then select all the shapes of the second icon (remember to hold shift), press cmd + G to group them, rename the group to “Tweets” and drag it just below the first icon in the Layers List. Do the same for the “Following” icon — select both the rounded rectangle and the “+” and press cmd + G –, name it accordingly and drag it to the bottom of the artboard in the Layers List.

Export to the max

To finish up this tutorial we will export the icons so that you can reuse them in your designs. You can download the finished version here and do with it whatever you want. Exporting is one of the strongest features of Sketch and very easy to handle. Just select one of the icons, click on “Make Exportable” at the bottom right of the Inspector and adjust the fields to your needs.

If you need to use the image at a retina resolution select “2x” or “3x” at the size; you can give it a suffix (which is added to the end of the file name then) and also change the format to “PNG”, “SVG” or anything you need later. In case the icons are too big (we’ve created them quite large to have a better view) you can resize them with the “Scale” icon in the toolbar.

Final words

I hope you have enjoyed this tutorial. If you want to learn more about Sketch please enroll in my course Getting Started with Sketch: Design a Beautiful Profile Card on Skillshare. You can also ping me on Twitter @SketchTips at any time if you have a question about Sketch or this tutorial and I’ll do my best to help out. For more awesome tips and tricks about Sketch please visit my humble site sketchtips.info. Rock Sketch!