The Icon Handbook

Now Free!

The Icon Handbook is now available to download for free! Originally published in December 2011, it was the culmination of two years work. Technology and fashion change however, and I now feel that the content is too out of date to charge actual money for. So you can now download the PDF for free - enjoy!

Have you ever needed to create an icon, and not known where to start?

How do you go about crafting the right message, the tone, the line work and getting it to work in the environment it's supposed to; be it mobile, operating system, or browser?

Product shot of the print version table of contents

The Icon Handbook guides you through the process of designing icons - from the metaphor to drawing symbols and implementing in your websites and apps.

Product shot of the print version chapter 5

First published in 2012, The Icon Handbook is still the only resource that guides you through the complete process of designing icons - from deciding on the correct metaphor, drawing clear & understandable symbols and implementing in your websites and apps.

The Handbook begins at the point when you need to create your own icons. Its purpose is to guide relatively inexperienced designers through an icon design workflow, starting with favicons and working up to application icons, as well as inspiring and providing a reference point for existing icon designers. The aim is not to improve proficiency in particular applications but, rather, to show you how to create icons with the common toolset found in most of them, so you can be more versatile.

With this digital version, you will receive:

Here's what you can find in the Icon Handbook:

Page 126

Chapter 1: A Potted History of Icons

A short look at the history of icons, focussing on the the last century, and in particular how ‘icon’ came to mean more than religious painting.

Page 12

Chapter 2: How we use icons

Looking at the uses for icons beyond simple decoration, how they help us navigate, give us feedback and express our mood. It also looks how not to use icons!

Page 30

Chapter 3: Favicons

Starting with the simplest form of icons, looking at how to get crisp artwork at small sizes and the various ways favicons are used.

Page 42

Chapter 4: The Metaphor

Working through the process of discovering if a metaphor already exists, and how to decide on the right one if there isn’t.

Page 156

Chapter 5: Drawing Icons

Walking through the drawing process, working with simple pictograms and small colour icons, and looking at the pitfalls on the way.

Page 84

Chapter 6: Icon formats and deployment

There are many different formats and deployment methods for icons, depending on the context, which can have a bearing on how we create the artwork. In particular I cover all the methods for displaying icons on websites.

Page 103

Chapter 7: Application Icons

We finish on the largest and most complex of all the icons, which are more often than not, photorealistic works of art.

page 125


Handy reference, including: Common icon badges, overview of drawing and creation tools and a comprehensive icon reference chart.

page 156

Along the way, I talk to icon designers such as Susan Kare, David Lanham and Gedeon Maheux of the Iconfactory and many more about their process behind well known icons.