How to create circle-based icons

For sure you’ve noticed a trend in design to simplify projects and often base them on geometry. This tendency is mostly visible in logos and icons. A lot of famous sings are created by using the shape of a circle. If you take a look at Twitter or Apple symbols you can see that they follow that idea. Amount of circles in logotypes can pose an impression that it’s difficult to create symbols based only on rounds. Of course it isn’t easy but if you follow my tutorial you’ll make a first step to perfection :)



1. Make a lot of circles


To start with, I recommend using photos – they will help you keep the correct shape of icon all the time. I have chosen the picture of flamingo. Open the photo in Adobe Illustrator. First in the Toolbox, select the Ellipse Tool. Set the Opacity to about 20%, and make a lot of circles! Imagine that contour of the object is made of arcs. Create circles that arcs will more or less make an object’s outline. You don’t have to be very exact. Select all figures and replace filling with stroke. As you can see, at some points circles are tangent to one another, and others are intersect.


2. Draw the guide line


Block layer which you’ve used to create circles, select the Brush Tool and try to draw a line along flamingo contour, using only paths of the circle arcs – this will help you later to choose parts of figures that can be used to show flamingo shape.


3. Match the circles


Look at your circles again. Enlarge and lessen the shapes, make every one of them have two points which will connect them with the others. Final icon mainly consists of arcs. The points of contact later on are going to be the ends of the arcs. Remember to keep arcs near to the line you drew in the Step 2. Be precise in this part. When you finish editing one circle start matching next to the previous one. If you want to fit two circles precisely – press Ctrl/Cmd+Y (to see paths without any stroke) and maximally zoom the view. Edit shapes until they come into contact and one’s path freely switch into another (look at the green line).


4. Cut the circles


When you finish matching circles it’s time for cutting! Select the shape you want to split and double click it with the Select Tool. It opens the isolation mode for this object and makes the edition of the path easier. Now you can edit only elements which are isolated, the other will stay inactive. Select the Scissors Tool and cut circles in points where it connects with the other. When you cut the circle, delete the part of the path, that you will no longer need. Repeat the cutting for every shape. Don’t merge the paths yet.



5. Simplify your icon


When you delete all unnecessary elements here you are: your first circle based icon. It looks pretty good and I know that you’re proud of it but if you see into it, there are still a few things to improve. Simplify icon and cut down on number of arcs. If you decide to delete one of it, edit two arcs at its’ end to merge into smooth line. It can happen that you’ll need to draw a new circle and cut a new arc from it. During creating my flaming I reduced amount of circles from 17 to 10. Below you can trace stages of constructing my flamingo icon.


6. Merge arcs


Basic shape of your icon is almost finished! Now merge arcs to create smooth path. Zoom two ends of arcs which to you want to merge. If you use CC you’re lucky! In hidden tools under the Pencil Tool you can find the Join Tool. Click and drag it in a scrubbing motion over points you want to merge. Magic happens, paths are joined and their original trajectories are maintained. Things are little more complicated if you use lower versions of Illustrator. Then you can select two points and use Merge command (Object > Path > Merge). However, it works well only if your points are really close to each other or overlap. Second way is using the Pen Tool and merging anchors by hand. Both ways are more time-consuming than the Join Tool but they’ll give you similar result.


7. It’s finished!


Congrats! If you merge all segments in one path your first geometrical icon is done. Now you can give it some color or extra elements to make it even lovelier :) It will look great as a logo or part of information symbol. Let us know in comment below how did it go!



–>You can also learn about how to create smooth animations<–


Olka Fiszbak on sabemailOlka Fiszbak on sabbehance
Olka Fiszbak
Graphic designer at PrimeModule
The devil is in the details, and that's the way I like it. I’m an experienced designer, interested in UI/UX, branding and editorial design. Pugs lover <3

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