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Classic Rotated Icons Made Simple With Adobe Illustrator
David Smith on Tue, March 6th 0 comments
David Smith, Adobe certified Trainer, explores one of the design concepts behind the best and most successful icons you see on iOS, OS X, and well…everywhere else!

Icons are an everyday part of our lives. The rules have always been the same: the simpler the design the more iconic its status. Here are a few examples:

Recycle icon

Recycle icon 

Nuclear Icon

Nuclear Icon

iOS settings icon

iOS Settings icon


These particular classic icons all have one thing in common (other than being all very cool): A repeated rotating pattern. In this article I’m going to talk you through the techniques you need to create your own classic icons using Illustrator. 

Here is what you will be creating:

Final Pic

Final Pic


Step 1 - Create a Background

Select the Rounded Rectangle tool, choose a blue fill color and then click in the middle of the page. Clicking with the shape tools rather than drawing gives a better level of control over size and in this case, Corner Radius. 

Rectangle options

Rectangle options


Set the Rectangle Options to Width and Height 150mm and the Corner Radius to 15mm. 


Step 2 - Add a Circle

Now choose the Elliptical Marquee tool or Press L and set its fill color to white. This time draw a circle by placing your cursor near to the center of the blue square and holding down Shift to constrain the ellipse into a circle while at the same time holding down Option to cause the circle to grow out from its center.

White Circle

White Circle


Select both shapes and use the Align Horizontal Center button in the Control Panel so that the 2 items are partly aligned.


Step 3 - Add a Ray

Add a small white rounded rectangle above the centre of the circle, making sure that there is an adequate gap between the 2 shapes.

Ray 1

Ray 1


Then select all 3 items and use the Align Vertical Center button to finish the alignment. 


Step 4 - Add Guides at the Center

Switch on the rulers (View > Rulers > Show Rulers or press Command-R) and use them to create 2 guides that intersect at the center of the icon.

Cross Hair

Cross hair


Step 5 - Rotate the Ray

Select the Ray you drew in step 3, then pick up the Rotate Tool, or press R. Move the cursor to the center of the icon, as marked by the intersecting guides. It is very important that you don’t click the mouse at this stage.

Ready to rotate

Ready to rotate


Press and hold the Option key and click the mouse over the center point. Doing this makes 2 things happen: Firstly the anchor point by which the Ray will rotate moved to the center point when you clicked. Secondly the Rotate window opens, ready for you to input your options. 


Step 6 - Copy The Ray

Set the Angle option to 30° (use any number that divides equally into 360°) and click Copy. 

TIP: tick the Preview box to see the amended position before you copy the shape. 

Copied ray

Copied ray


A second Ray appears around the circle. 


Step 7 - Repeat

Rather than repeat the whole rotate process, now that one transformation has taken place, it can be repeated by choosing Object > Transform > Transform Again or perhaps the easier Command-D.

Keep pressing Command-D until the ray entirely surrounds the circle

Final pic

Final pic


From this basic workflow can come a huge array of potential designs, each more complex than the other. In the end though, at the heart of each design sits rotating and repeating. See how far you can push your designs using it. 


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