Pixelmator Tip #31 – How To Create A Cool Game App Icon

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In this tutorial we show you how to create a cool IOS game app icon from scratch. Game App Icons have really become an art form onto themselves, and we thought we would show you how to create your own using Pixelmator.

One of our passion/side projects is an IOS game we have been working on called Kirby’s Words, which has been completely designed using Pixelmator. So in this tutorial, we show you how we created the app icon in Pixelmator from the original sketch.

The final product

Here is what you will be able to create at the end of this tutorial.


Before you start…

We would recommend that you try your hand at:

Step 1:

So let’s get started. Create a new document 1200x1200px. We want to ensure we give enough space for the dimensions of the IOS app icon (1024×1024). We left the PPI at 72, and generally you only need to worry about this for really complex designs. This awesome article gives you a great IOS7 cheat sheet for you to get all dimensions for creating anything for IOS7.

We’d recommend that you use our IOS7 App Icon Grid System Template to set exact proportions and perfect corners for your app icon base.


 Step 2:

We made a rough paper sketch of the app icon design and took a HD photo of the design using an iPhone.

This is often the most difficult part of the design – where do you get started? However this is also the most fun part. We started with a blank page and started sketching, and in the end we had about 20 different icon designs for the same game. As our game is a character based one, the below design is in our top 3 contenders for the final design.

There is no secret here, just start designing, and we know everyone can draw/doodle/sketch to some extent. Just try to capture the essence of your app or game in the icon.


We’d also recommend reading 7 rules for app icon design by Creative Bloq, which give you some good guiding principles and look out for other app icons of a similar nature/theme for some inspiration either on the app store or Pinterest.

Step 3:

Now that we created our app icon base in our Pixelmator document, we coloured it based on our character – a nice green. We’ll also recommend keeping the colours to a maximum of 3-4 overall, and use the opacity, and colour darkness setting for any variations for shadows or highlights.


After you have imported the sketch as a new layer into the Pixelmator document, the following is what you should have in the layers panel.


At this stage we will disable the layer called background, and also reduced the opacity of the app-icon layer to 50%. This give us a chance to line up the sketch behind the app-icon layer, and will help us build the app icon from the sketch. If needed, resize the sketch (and not the app-icon) layer to match the app icon.


Step 4:

Once  you have a rough match up, lets start adding shapes to make the main elements of the design. So let’s start by creating the eyes of our character. Add a circle shape, and resize it to roughly match the size of the eye.


You’ll notice that the circle doesn’t match the sketch perfectly, so we’ll need to edit the circle shape. You can do this by right-clicking on the shape and select Make Editable.


This will highlight the anchor points on the shape. At this stage you can add or remove anchor points and move them around as you need to to match the sketch. Just simply click on the anchor point and drag them, or right-click and choose to add a point or remove a point. We showed you how to do this in Tip #22.

We add a few more points at the areas where we need to expand the circle.


Once we’ve added a few more points, we move them around to match the sketch.


Once we are happy with this layer, we create the next few layers, which forms the eye, the cornea, the pupil, the retina, and the highlights. As you add each new layer, make sure the previous layer opacity is set to 50% so that you can still see the original sketch to guide  you. We’d also suggest you keep each new shape as a separate layer, and then group them into an eye group layer, so that it will be easy to edit later on. After adding a few more shapes for different parts of the eye, colouring them in, and modifying the shapes to match the sketch, your layer panel should look something like the below.


And the final eye should look as awesome as below.


Hopefully you have been able to follow along up to this point. You might also notice that we’ve also added a black border on our app-icon layer, and two layers in our eye group. This really highlights the eye and focuses attention on the icon.

Step 5:

Now let’s do the same process for the mouth and tongue. You should keep this as a separate group of layers from the eye group – again for easy editing at later stages. It is easy to start with a rounded rectangle shape or a circle shape and just add points and move them to match the sketch.


Alternatively you can use the pen tool to draw your anchor points for complex shapes, but we’ll show you how to do this in another tutorial.

Overall we have 4 layers in our mouth group as follows – the lips, the teeth (as a group of layers, one for each tooth), the tongue, and finally the back of the mouth (which is just the black background).


Our character icon is now coming alive, and we have now converted our basic sketch into an icon in Pixelmator.


Step 6:

We can start adding other key elements of our design. We decided our character was a nerd, so we added some spectacles to our character.

First add in a circle shape with a thick stroke, and no fill, to get a hollow circle.


Then we added a square shape, and modified the anchor points to make one of the spectacle bands. Once you create one side, it is just a matter of duplicating the layer, and flipping it horizontally for the other side.


Step 7:

For some depth, we now add in some shadows and highlights.

First, lets add some shadows. We will created shadows for the spectacle, and also the overall icon to give the character a 3D shape.

To create the shadows for the spectacles, we will firstly create the top shadow. In order to create the top shadow, we simply duplicated the circle shape of the spectacles, changed the colour to match the green in the app-icon layer, and darkened it slightly. Next we modified this shape by removing anchor points, and shifting others to line up with the existing spectacle shape.


For the bottom shadow, we simply duplicated the top shadow layer, flipped it vertically, and adjusted the position and any anchor points to line it up to the bottom of the spectacles.


The overall icon shadow is created by duplicating the original app-icon layer, removing the stroke, and reducing the size to fit inside the original app-icon layer. Once you have done this, you should line it up so that it meets the edges of the black stroke line of the original app-icon layer at the bottom. We also darkened the green colour slightly to create the shadow effect using the colour palette. The final step is to move the top anchor points of this rounded rectangle shape to create the U-shape as shown below.


We have now finished the main shadow elements to give our character some depth.


Next we will add some shadows to our teeth. To achieve this effect, we duplicated each tooth layer and ensured it was placed above the existing tooth layer, darkened the colour slightly, and modified the anchor points of this shape to mimic the shadows created by the gums and the lips.


Once you’ve completed all the shadows for the teeth, you have given some depth to our characters mouth.


We also added a highlight above the mouth for additional depth. To do this, we duplicated the mouth outline layer, changed the colour to match the green background and lightened the colour in the colour palette. We then moved the highlight shape above the existing mouth outline, removed any unnecessary anchor points, and reshaped the shape to get a very thin highlight just above the mouth.


Our character icon is really coming alive now.


Step 8:

As a final step, we added the reflection on the spectacles. This is essentially a couple of white rounded rectangles, with an opacity of 50%, which have been reshaped to look like the reflection from a window.


And finally we come to our final app icon made using Pixelmator. We can continue adding more detail and keep tweaking this icon to make it a truly 3D icon, but that is for another tutorial.





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