The Icon Designer’s Toolkit

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The Icon Designer's Toolkit

The icon designer need not be weighed down by the contents of his or her toolkit. A combination of three or four good-quality tools is sufficient for producing sleek, polished and professional icons that will help users navigate their way around computers and the web. For icon designers, and pretty much everyone else in the design related industries, Adobe CS4, or at least Photoshop, is a vital tool. Without it, your competitiveness in the job market will be severely limited. Beyond CS4 you can take your pick from a wealth of additional tools that will make your life a lot easier. We explore the best of the bunch below.

1. Adobe CS4


Adobe CS4 is an absolute must for icon designers. It might seem prohibitively expensive, but it includes a lot for your $1,799. For icon designers, CS4’s most useful tools include Photoshop, the market leading piece of image editing, manipulation and compression software; Illustrator, an artwork program used throughout the creative industries; and Fireworks, which lets you optimize images for the web. When deliberating over whether or not you have enough money to shell out for CS4, bear in mind that Photoshop costs $699 by itself, and the combined value of all the tools included in the CS4 package is well over $4,000.

2. IconBuilder


Available for both Mac ($79) and Windows ($49), IconBuilder works together with Adobe Photoshop and Fireworks to make creating icons easy. It gives users the ability to create icons of any size (up to 1024 x 1024); create icons of any shape; save all icon resources as one Photoshop layer; use keyboard shortcuts; import existing icons; save icons in numerous different formats in one click; view items against numerous backgrounds and colours; and create, save and share grids to use as templates. In other words: it does a lot!

3. Icon Machine

Icon Machine

Icon Machine is a $25 shareware program for Mac users only (Mac OS X 10.2 or later). It contains various tools that make it possible for you to produce rich, attractive icons in a range of colours and sizes. If you prefer, you can import icons that you’ve created in Photoshop, and edit them using the Machine. Drag and drop functionality, as well as the Edit Icon plugin, which lets you open files in Icon Machine from the Finder, make this tool a pleasure to use.

4. Iconographer


Mscape Software is no longer supporting Iconographer, but you can still download this piece of software and use it for free, ideal for those of us not so willing to splash the cash! With Iconographer, available for Mac only, you can create and customize your own folder icons. As well as, change the icons of items, edit the icon resources used by programs, and convert icons between platforms.

5. Axialis IconWorkshop

Axialis IconWorkshop

Icon Workshop, priced at $49.95, is a highly versatile piece of icon creation, editing and conversion software available for Mac, Windows and Unix. Besides the standard features you would expect, IconWorkshop is the only icon editor which lets you create and edit Image Strips for toolbars. With Image Strips, you can edit, add and remove individual icons without any of the problems traditionally associated with wide bitmaps. IconWorkshop also simplifies the icon creation process by providing you with a vast array of basic image objects, which you can drag and drop on top of one another for professional looking results.

6. Microangelo


Microangelo, for Windows only, is a family of icon software comprising On Display ($24.95), Toolset ($49.95) and Creation ($59.95). You can buy the whole package for $79.95, saving $55. On Display lets you right click on and change any icon, wherever it is on your computer. Toolset includes an icon editor, icon manager, icon explorer and animated cursor editor. And last, but not least, Creation lets you make icons and cursors that look stunning in Windows XP, using a similar set of tools to Photoshop, with layers, gradients and a fully customizable colour palette.

7. IconPackager


With IconPackager, for Windows, you can change all of the icons on a computer’s desktop at the touch of a button. Rather than changing the Windows theme, which leaves many of your icons unaffected, use IconPackager to transform hundreds of icons at once. There are tons of icon packages available for you to use, so you’re bound to find one that’s perfect for the project at hand. You can trial the software for free, or buy it for just $9.95.

8. IcoFX


IcoFX is a completely free icon creation, extraction, and editing tool. Windows users should feel instantly at home with its image editing interface, which looks like a superior version of Microsoft Paint. As well as creating your own icons using the 40 or so tools available, you can convert any image to an icon, or an icon to an image, at the touch of a button. You can also convert Mac to Windows icons and vice versa.

9. Favicon Generator

Favicon Generator

Favicon Generator is a browser based tool, meaning that it’s accessible from any computer in the world, provided that it’s connected to the internet. It really couldn’t be easier to use. Simply select an image from your computer and click Create Icon to generate a 16 x 16 favicon for use on a website or blog. You can even merge your image with a 32 x 32 desktop icon or a larger, 48 x 48 XP icon. Favicon Generator’s completely free to use.

About the Author

Tom is a writer and designer from the UK who works with a supplier of genuine Epson ink, toner, paper and printing accessories. You can read more of his writing on their blog, the CreativeCloud.

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  • Eric B.

    Pen and paper. When designing icons, I always find it helpful to take a pen and a piece of paper to sketch it out first.

  • Melody

    Hadn’t known there were so many programs available for icon design..very cool..

  • Tuhin Kumar

    A list post that is not crap. Had wanted to know of the tools and you just did it for me! Thanks!

  • Comunicarte

    Nice Stuff :)

  • Xpirt Design

    Axialis is looking pretty cool. I’ll give the free trial a shot. Thanks for sharing!

  • Inside the Webb

    Really interesting article dude. I love MyInkBlog, always have some of the greatest posts and inspirational collections

  • Steve

    Cool stuff. I’ve been kicking around some ideas for icons, but all I really have right now to create them in is Fireworks. I’ll definitely look forward to checking some of this stuff out

  • Magnetic Signs

    Great post, I didn’t realize there was so much software to create icons. I’m definitely going to try some of these out.

    Thanks for sharing.

  • Espreson

    Adobe CS4 is all along best. Might cost a bit, but it is best design software in earth TILL DATE….

  • Elas Beauty

    Nice collection. Maybe you forgot about GIMP.

  • juan iconshock

    Yes, all those tools are really useful in the icon design process, but you missed the most important !!

    The simple (and offline) sketchbook !

    see ya ;)

    • Andrew Houle

      Very nice addition! That should be at the top of any designer’s toolkit.

    • juan iconshock

      yeah andrew !

  • Benjamin Rama

    Cheers Tom nice Yoda gravatar mate , I just recently designed 2 or three icon packs , I find the online icon programs v useful untill you get v serious about them thks

  • teorico

    great, thanks…

  • Sarah Clark

    i use adobe illustrator a lot and i really love its great freatures`”.

  • Alberto Dieago

    I love Favicon Generator. I have created a few attractive Fac ICONS using this already;.

  • Nieruchomości Szczecin

    Goog work you made, realy impressive.