How to Create an AI Icon Business in Twenty-Four Hours
Right now, icons are laboriously hand-drawn by designers. But there’s a gap in the market — and you can take advantage of it with AI.
Naturally, this represents an opportunity. Big businesses and regulatory agencies are going to take years to figure this out. In the meantime, you can take advantage of the gap in the market to both improve your business, make more money, and make your life easier.
In this series (which I’m also turning into a newsletter), the goal is to jam-pack every volume with simple, real ways to apply AI to various industries. I include examples, and show you specific steps that you can take to multiply your effectiveness. I also take industry requests.
So, without further fluff: let’s get into how to make an AI icon business.
The emerging artificial intelligence icon industry
Right now, icons are laboriously hand-drawn by designers. If used widely, they’re refined and disseminated in the next big ‘icon package’ and hosted on an icon website — think Material UI, icons8 or flaticon.
This takes a bunch of time and money. Fully custom icon designs can cost between $20 and $40; that’s a fair chunk of change for something no bigger than your pinky.
You could easily bootstrap an artificial intelligence icon startup to dominate in this space. Alternatively, if you’re not willing to do the heavy lifting, you can sell the bulk of your icons to the big players in the market (I mentioned a few of them earlier), or just generate artificial intelligence icons for your personal business or project.
How to create an artificial intelligence icon startup
AI icon startups are easy. First, you need a reliable way to create the product.
1. Create AI icons using diffusion
The best way to create icons with artificial intelligence is diffusion. This is the statistical process that the majority of AI art is now created with.
You don’t need to be an AI or programming expert to use diffusion reliably — you just need to understand how to find new projects and use tools that have already been created for you, like Colab.
Many diffusion models exist, but the one most primed for AI icons is probably Katherine Crowson’s Text to Image with Classifier Free Guidance.
Using a prompt like user interface icon, vector, trending on artstation, opposed symmetry | opposed symmetry, user interface icon, you can get something like this in 15 seconds:
Not bad for your first go. Spend a few hours testing for the prompts that work best for your particular use case and you can significantly improve the quality.
2. Create a post-processing stack to standardize sizes & imagery
Now it’s time to turn your crude artificial intelligence icon set into something polished using post-processing.
Here, you can hire a designer to cut through the center of each icon & mirror it (for simplicity and to standardize symmetry), and then crop and export each icon in the 4 standard sizes: 16px, 32px, 64px, and 128px. Assuming a manual (but optimized) process, you’d be looking at between thirty seconds to a minute per icon, or perhaps thirty icons for an hour of your designer’s time. You can also do this manually to start.
During this time, deal with any watermark-type-entities that come up (which are common when attempting to create ‘vector’ images using AI — look at the last image carefully).
Alternatively, you could post-process using Photoshop Batch Actions or an equivalent (below are a few bullet point actions you can take, but I won’t get into this further):
- Center the top-left, top-right, bottom-left, or bottom-right quadrant
- Cut halfway through the icon
- Mirror the result
- Crank up contrast/brightness to a pre-ordained level to eliminate the majority of noise
Here’s an example of what that might look like for one of the icons we generated earlier:
Pretty neat, huh? It’s easy to imagine using this in a logogram or logo (I could see this on Discord or something similar).
3. Host AI icons using marketplace website software, or a pre-created platform
Building stuff yourself takes time. Why spend months creating a platform to validate an idea when a few days will do?
Use a premade solution like WooCommerce, Shopify, or an equivalent to start hosting your icons. You can hire a virtual assistant for between $5USD/hr and $10USD/hr using something like onlinejobs.ph to manage and upload your icon set, and if you’d like to stretch your budget further, you can even have them do some of the graphic design we mentioned earlier.
If you don’t have any management experience, stick with something simple:
- Create a daily task list you’d like them to fulfill.
- For example: uploading fifty icons per day, responding to customer inquiries, and thirty minutes of looking for icon commission requests on reddit.com/r/icons.
- For each item, write a detailed, step-by-step procedure they can follow to complete the task.
- For the first week, check in with them at the end of every day. After the first week, check in with them whenever suits your schedule.
4. Market your AI icons on Twitter or other social media platforms
Artificial intelligence art is blowing up right now. You could easily carve out a niche with an ‘AI icon’ account on Twitter. Here’s how:
- On a day when you have the time, pre-generate a few hundred icons across a wide variety of sectors/interests.
- Follow a few dozen AI art accounts on Twitter, and comment on their posts consistently. Optimize your profile. Link back to your new website, and make it clear what you do.
- Several times per day, tweet one of your icons with the requisite hashtags. There are several great approaches to this that you can emulate (be different, of course): @nearcyan, for example, does this very well.
Creating an AI icon business: conclusion
In summary, there currently exists a gap in the market that you can take advantage of: AI icons. With a bit of clever prompting, a good post-processing stack, and a reliable assistant, a business like this can be grown in an automated fashion with little to no personal involvement.
You can also extend this approach to other, related B2B services: AI logo making, AI branding, and so on. But be warned — these opportunities won’t exist forever. All it takes is one major player to rise up to the challenge in the next few years, and it’ll be gone.