Tutorial: Creating an RSS icon in Adobe Illustrator - 1

RSS Icon
RSS Icon

This will be a simple Illustrator tutorial on how to design a basic RSS icon. Part 1 will only deal with creating the shapes (paths) needed for the icon. This tutorial is intended for Adobe Illustrator “beginners.”

Tools Used:

  • Guides
  • Rectangle Tool
  • Rounded Rectangle Tool
  • Ellipse Tool
  • Pathfinder – Divide

Start by creating a new document in Illustrator. Since this type of icon is typically used for web applications, we will use RGB color mode. The dimensions of the document should be 600px by 600 px. (If you are using CS4 or higher, we will only be using 1 artboard.)

Now, that you have created a new document, make sure you have your Rulers visible. If they are not visible, you can turn them on using View>Show Rulers or with the keyboard shortcut Ctrl-R (substitute Cmd for Ctrl on Mac).

We are going to use Layer 1 for our guides, so double-click on Layer 1 in the Layers palette to bring up the Layer dialog box and name this layer “Guides.”

Layer options
Layer Options

Next we will set up our guides. For this step, make sure that “Lock Guides” is unchecked (View>Guides>Lock Guides or Alt-Ctrl-; ). A new guide can be created by clicking on the rulers at the top (for horizontal guides) or left (for vertical guides) of the page and then dragging the mouse across the artboard. The guide will be set at the position at which you release the mouse button. As long as you have “Lock Guides” turned off, you will be able to select your Guides with the Selection Tool (or Direct Selection Tool). When a guide is selected you can set the x and y positions of the guide either using the x and y value boxes on the Control toolbar (at the top of your screen, under the main menu) or by using the Transform Palette (Window>Transform or Shift+F8).

Setting Guide Position image
Setting Guide Position

We will be creating Guides using this method at the following values.

  • x=25px y=0px
  • x=575px y=0px
  • x=0px y=25px
  • x=0px y=575px
  • x=175px y=0px
  • x=0px y=175px
  • x=125px y=0px
  • x=0px y=125px

(note: The zero x-values for horizontal guides, and zero y-values for vertical guides are done for illustrative purposes. These values are actually arbitrary given the nature of guides.)

Once you have your guides set, your artboard should look something like this.

Guide Setup image
Guide Setup

Now that our guides are set, we can go ahead and turn on the “Lock Guides” option. Next, we will add a new layer by clicking on the “New Layer” icon in the Layers Palette. Double-click this layer to bring up the Layer Options and name it “Artwork.” We will be creating the paths for our RSS symbol on this layer.

Add New Layer image
Add a new layer and it "Artwork"

Now we’re ready to start creating our paths. We’re going to start out with the the Rounded Rectangle Tool. The first thing we want to do is set a stroke color for our path, so that we can see what we’re creating. I’m going to select black as the stroke color, and keep the fill color empty (transparent), since we are really only just going to be drawing paths for this exercise. (See image below) We’ll get into fills, gradients, and stroke in Part II. After you set your stroke color to black, click on the Shape Tool icon in the toolbar. The Rectangle Tool is typically the default Shape Tool, but we want to use the Rounded Rectangle Tool. Anytime a shape tool other than the one you want to use appears as the Shape Tool (for example, a rectangle or another shape is there instead) click on that shape and hold down the mouse button and more shape options will appear.

Select Rounded Rectangle Tool image
Selecting the Rounded Rectangle Tool

Before we start drawing paths, we want to make sure that “Smart Guides” are turned on (View>Smart Guides or Ctrl-U). Smart Guides will facilitate positioning are objects in relation to the guides we created in our Guide layer.

With the Rounded Rectangle Tool selected click and release the mouse button anywhere on the artboard. This should cause the Rounded Rectangle Dialog box to pop-up where we can enter Width, Height, and Corner Radius values for our rounded rectangle shape. The rounded rectangle that we are going to create will have the following values.

  • width=550px
  • height=550px
  • corner radius=20px

Enter these values into the Rounded Rectangle Dialog box and click “OK.”

Rounded Rectangle Dialog Box image
Rounded Rectangle Dialog Box

You should now have a rounded rectangle somewhere on your artboard (depending upon where you clicked and release the mouse prior to the Rounded Rectangle dialog box appearing). We are now going to select the Selection Tool to position our rectangle with each of the four edges aligned to the guides we set at x=25px, y=0px; x=575px, y=0px; x=0px, y=25px; and x=0px, y=575px. The Selection Tool is the black arrow in the upper-left corner of the Illustrator Toolbar (keyboard shortcut V). With the Selection Tool click on any edge of the rounded rectangle (but NOT on one of the vertices/corners, see image below) and hold the mouse button down. You can now the drag the rectangle to any position on the artboard. Since we have Smart Guides enabled, you should notice that while you’re dragging the shape around, it will “snap” into position whenever an edge approaches one of your guides. Drag the rounded rectangle so that the edges approach the guides that we are trying to align to until it “snaps” into our desired position.

Dragging Rounded Rectangle image
Positioning rounded rectangle with Selection Tool using Smart Guides

Once you have positioned the rounded rectangle, your artboard should look like this…

Positioned Rounded Rectangle image
Positioned rounded rectangle

Next, we are going to use the Ellipse Tool to create a circle. The Ellipse Tool can be activated the same way we activated the Rounded Rectangle Tool. Click on the Shape Tool icon in the toolbar (which is currently the Rounded Rectangle Tool) and hold the mouse button down until the shape option pop up. Now, select the Ellipse Tool (the Ellipse Tool can also quickly be selected with the keyboard shortcut L).

With the Ellipse Tool selected, move your cursor over the intersection of the guides positioned at x=175 and y=175. Hold down the “Alt” key and click and release the mouse button. Holding down the “Alt” key causes the point at which we click the mouse button to be the center point of the ellipse/circle.

Create Ellipse
Create a circle center at x=175px and y=175px with the Ellipse Tool

Once you release the mouse button the Ellipse dialog box will appear, and you can enter width and height values for your ellipse. We will be using values of 100px for both width and height.

Ellipse Dialog image
Ellipse Dialog Box

Note: While clicking and releasing the mouse button causes the Ellipse dialog box to appear, holding the mouse button down and dragging the mouse allows you to set the width and height of the mouse based on how far you drag the mouse from where you first clicked the mouse button. Releasing the mouse button will set your ellipse. Feel free to experiment with this technique, as well. For precise sizes, like we are using in this example, using the dialog box makes things easier. This click and drag technique works across the various different Shape Tools in Illustrator.

Enter 100px in for each value in the Ellipse Dialog Box and click “OK.” You should end up with the result below.

Ellipse Resultant image
Resultant Circle

Next, we will be using the Rectangle Tool. It can be found in the same spot on the toolbar as the Ellipse Tool and the Rounded Rectangle Tool, by clicking and holding the mouse button over the Ellipse Tool until the Shape options pop-up appears or by using the keyboard short-cut M.

With the Rectangle Tool selected click and release anywhere on the artboard to bring up the Rectangle Tool dialog box. This will be very similar to the method we used for creating our rounded rectangle. Enter values of 375px for both width and height in the Rectangle dialog box and click “OK.”

You should now have a 375px x 375 px rectangle on your artboard. We are now going to select the Selection Tool to position our rectangle with the bottom-left corner at the intersection of the guides at x=125px and y=125px. Since we have Smart Guides enabled, you should notice that while you’re dragging the shape around, it will “snap” into position whenever an edge approaches one of your guides. Drag the rectangle so that the bottom-right corner approaches the intersection of the guides at x=125px and y=125px until it “snaps” into place. Once you have positioned the rectangle, you should have a resultant image that looks like this.

Rectangle Position image
Positioning the rectangle

Now, that we’ve gone through the Rounded Rectangle Tool, the Ellipse Tool, the Rectangle Tool, and how to position objects with the Selection Tool. I’m going to pick up the pace a little bit. Next, we will be drawing 4 circles using the same method we used with the Ellipse Tool to draw our first circle. Our four circles will have the following dimensions:

  1. 350px x 350px
  2. 500px x 500px
  3. 600px x 600px
  4. 750px x 750px

Each circle will be centered at the intersection of the guides at x=125px and y=125px (the same position as the lower-left corner of our rectangle). Select the Ellipse Tool in the same manner you did before. Since we know we want each circle to be centered at a specific point, we will again hold the “Alt” key down and click and release the mouse button at the point (x=125px and y=125px) we want the circle to be centered upon. Enter each set of values above for each respective circle. You should end up with the following result.

Circles image
Resulting Four Circles

You’ll notice that your circles are overflowing off the artboard. Don’t worry about this, as we are about to take care of any overflowing objects. Our next step is to simultaneously select the four circles that we just drew along with our rectangle. Select the Selection Tool, click and hold the mouse button and drag the cursor to create a selection marquee (see image below). With the Selection Tool, any shape that is intersected by the selection marquee will be selected.

Selecting Object image
Selecting Multiple Objects with the Selection Tool

With all four circles and our rectangle selected, we are now going to use Illustrator’s Pathfinder Tool (Window>Pathfinder or Shift-Ctrl-F9). We will be using the Divide option in the Pathfinder palette. In Illustrator CS4, Pathfinder seems to “Expand” compound shapes by default, but I believe older versions of Illustrator used to require holding down the “Alt” key while clicking the Pathfinder option. (This may vary depending on your version.) Click the “Divide” option to divide intersecting paths into separate shapes.

Pathfinder Divide image
Using the Pathfinder Divide option (Expand compound shapes)

With our divided shapes still selected, we now want to use the Ungroup (Object>Ungroup or Shift-Ctrl-G) command to ungroup the separate shapes. We can also “turn off” or “hide” our Guide layer at this point, because we no longer need to use the guides we created. In the Layer Palette click on the icon that looks like an eye next to the layer named Guide. This will turn the visibility off for this layer, so that our layers are hidden. You can toggle the visibility of any layer on or off by this method.

Layer Visibility image
Toggle Guide layer visibility off to hide the Guide layer

After we have ungrouped the divided shapes, we can now select each one individually, by clicking on an “edge” or path with the Selection Tool, and delete the shapes we do not need. Selected objects can be deleted by hitting the “Delete” key.

First we will select the objects that are overflowing off the artboard.

Selection Delete image
Select and Delete Unwanted Shapes

Deleting the objects overflowing off the artboard should give you the following resultant.

Resultant Shape image
Resultant after deleting overflowing objects

Using the images below as guidelines, delete the remaining three unwanted shapes. I have used the Selection Tool in the example images to create a selection marquee around part of each unwanted shape to give you a guideline for what shapes should be deleted.

Selection Delete image
Select and delete the remaining upper-right corner of the rectangle
Select and Delete Middle Ring image
Select and delete the "middle" ring fragment
Delete Bottom Corner image
Select and delete the remaing bottom-left corner of the rectangle

If you deleted the correct unwanted shapes, you should now have the shapes for an RSS symbol!

RSS Icon Outlines image
RSS icon outlines

Part 2 of this tutorial will walk-through applying stroke and gradient fills to our shape to achieve this…

RSS Icon image
RSS icon color

Stay tuned for Part 2!

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