Icon design for dummies fanbois

Going Rogue (Amoeba)

Mac Secrets This month, we broaden the bailiwick of the Mac Secrets column. From now on, I’ll cover not only undocumented Apple APIs and programming techniques, but also other topics of Mac developer interest. This time around, I examine the thorny issue of application icon design.

Why thorny? Well, even if you can churn out awesome code all day long, one of the things that sets an app apart - especially on the Mac - is a great looking icon. And frankly, that’s an area where I have almost no ability. My father was a very passable artist, and his talents were inherited by both my siblings but not, apparently, by me.

Anytime I’ve sat down to produce an icon for my new software creation, the end result has always looked much like my attempts at watercolour painting - muddy and uninspiring.

For the artistically challenged...

Recently, all that changed when I discovered a program called Axialis IconWorkshop. I’ll get the bad news out of the way: This is a Windows app. I find fewer reasons to use Windows as time goes by, but for the artistically inept like myself, this app is definitely one of them. As a Mac devotee, I run IconWorkshop using Vmware Fusion.

Mac Secrets Icon Design

Axialis IconWorkshop makes it easy for even the artistically challenged to produce great-looking application icons, thanks to the large number of included images, and the mix-and-match approach that’s use

The program includes all the standard drawing/painting tools to enable you to create a design completely from scratch - if you’re comfortable with that! However, what I find especially attractive about IconWorkshop is the large number of pre-packaged "icon packs" which registered users can download and install into the program.

By combining these high-quality images in various ways (usually by simply dragging, dropping and resizing), you can create completely new, custom icons which are wholly your own and, for purchasers of the Professional Edition, royalty-free for use in your own commercial software.

IconWorkshop supports numerous different icon file formats up to and including 512x512 pixel icons as used by Leopard and Snow Leopard. Obviously, Windows icons are supported too (after all, this is a Windows app!) and the program includes plug-ins for integration with Visual Studio and with Photoshop. The Pro Edition costs $69.95, which is a fraction of what you’d have to pay if you employed an icon designer to create artwork according to your specifications. For me, that makes Axialis IconWorkshop a no-brainer.

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Next page: Icon insanity...