In my sad attempt to write a technique post, I soon discovered that I needed to write a tutorial first to vent. And vent I did. So this week, instead of a technique, I'll be presenting an icon tutorial.
The finished product:
1. Meet Alias's Mr. Sark. Apart from being exceptionally pretty, he will also be today's guinea pig. The first thing's first: cropping. Since this is a close face shot, I have to be careful not to stray outside the lines and still capture the features on Sark's face that I want to focus on. I set the dimensions of my cropping tool to 100 inches for both height and width, selected an area and cropped. I then resized the cropped area [Image - Image Size: 100x100 pixels/inches; Resolution: 72]. This is the result:
You can still see his smirk clearly, but there's still room for text and effects on the icon.
2. Now it was time to sharpen Mr. Sark. Blurry icons are a huge pet peeve of mine, and personally, I don't believe an icon should be blurry at all unless there's a theme or reason behind it (other than a lazy iconist). So I duplicated the base [Layer -- Duplicate Layer...] and sharpened it [Filter - Sharpen - Sharpen]. It was too sharp, though, so I lowered the opacity of the sharpened layer to 85%. I then merged the layers [Layer -- Flatten Image].
3. Mr. Sark was looking rather grainy, and though the icon was still rather dark at this stage, I decided I'd do a little airbrushing. I duplicated the base [Layer -- Duplicate Layer...] and selected my Smudge tool, which is hidden away on the tool bar in the same section as the Sharpen and Blur tools (it's underneath the Eraser tool if that's any help). I chose a hard, round brush at 5px, set the mode to Normal and the Strength to 20%. I then went over Sark's face in slowly in a small circular motion, steering clear of touching any edges. No use airbrushing if you're going to get rid of the sharpening. ;)
4. I merged the two layers together [Layer -- Flatten Image] and then duplicated the finished product. I set the top layer to 'Screen' and merged the layers once again.
5. I now went and duplicated the base again, carefully airbrushed the more visible pixels surrounding and on Sark's face. I merged the layers and then duplicated the base twice. I set the top layer to 'Overlay' and went to Image -- Adjustments -- Hue/Saturation, lowering the layer's saturation to -50%.
With the center layer, I went to Image -- Adjustments -- Brightness/Contrast and added 40% more Brightness.
6. In between the top and middle layers, I created a new layer [Layer -- New Layer] and filled it with a grey-ish-blue-ish color. I set this layer to 'Exclusion'.
7. This image in particular, contains much black space. I've found that this really can't be cared for without a little more effort than with normal icons, and a lot of the time I just sit here toying with the layer modes to see what I get. The one thing you should know: bright colors (mostly fluro colors), they all turn out beautifully in Screen mode when dealing with black space.
But back to this icon. Above my Exclusion layer, I created a new layer and filled it with a blue toned gradient [#3A3A7A to #5483DB to #68D8D9]. If you don't know where your Gradient tool is, just hover your mouse over your Fill Tool and left click. I'm pretty certain that this particular gradient is by crumblingwalls, so yes, crediting where credit is due.
Anyway, I set this layer to 'Screen' at 30%.
8. Now I'm getting excited, because being the geek that I am, I enjoy toying with gradients. Trying them at different opacities and settings is probably my favorite part of icon making. Sometimes I pick the colors from the actual pictures, though most of the time I try to rely on my own. Since this icon lacked contrast (partially because the location where this cap is taken from is indoors and partially because of the desaturated top layer), I've decided to add a little more color.
Above the layer we just filled, I created another and filled it with an orange to yellow gradient [#E06931 to #EBA837 to #FDEB2F]. I set this layer to 'Soft Light' at 55% opacity.
9. It's more pixelated now, isn't it? Not to worry. I'm planning for this icon to be bright, so we'll just try to ignore it for now. Above the layer we just filled, I created a new one and filled it with a medium green color [#2F6225]. I set this layer to Screen at 42% opacity.
10. Just so we're clear, that other face in the picture is meant to be there. Mr. Sark is smirking at you from the other side of bullet proof glass, so please don't worry about it. Now for the gradient that will cure my worry over the icky stray pixels. I created a new layer above the green-filled layer and filled this one with a red to yellow gradient [#FF0000 to #FFFF00].
11. There is a reason why all the gradients were needed: if you're in a playful mood, make one or two of the colored layers invisible. You'll see that they change the outcome of the image, even if the change is slight. But anyway, I'm happy with the coloring right now, so we're going to work on adding some texture. Underneath my Exclusion layer (yet above my 'Screened Sark' layer), I created a new layer, set my foreground color to white [#FFFFFF] and selected a diagonal lines brush by dtissagirl. After using the brush, I set the layer properties to 'Soft Light'; opacity: 50%.
12. I then pulled out my eraser and erased any part of the brush that was on Sark's face and throat. Some people prefer using brushes on faces, and I do on occasion, but it all really matters on what effect you're going for and how much texture you want/need. Now, since I was satisfied with the icon, I decided to add a border to it. If you haven't read starrysummer's tutorial on borders, then I'd advise you to do so now. It's very informative and has helped me in more ways than one ever since I started used Photoshop.
I created a new layer above all my other layers and used a thick, blurred border brush in white. I'm actually prone to adding borders underneath my color layers, but it would've looked terrible with these colors and layer settings.
13. Now it became time for text. Most of the time I just make something up off the top of my head, but sometimes lyrics just seem to fit. This time, I was listening to Sinch's "Something More" (credit!). I wrote the line 'wishing i could always' in Times New Rom I (size: 5pt; tracking: 100; anti-alias: sharp; Faux Bold; color: #FFFFFF).
I then wrote 'feel this good' in Times New Rom I (size: 7pt; tracking: 200; anti-alias: sharp; Faux Bold; color: #FFFFFF).
14. The text was still annoying me, though, so I decided to Drop Shadow it [Layer -- Layer Style -- Drop Shadow]. I set the color to black (#000000), blend mode to overlay, opacity to 30%; angle to 120o, distance to 1px, spread to 1% and size to 1px. I did this to both text layers and came up with the following result:
I was satisfied with the icon now, so I guess this is where it all ends. You'll notice that I fiddled with the opacity with almost all of the layers.
Lessons to be learned from this tutorial:
* Always use a new layer for brushes and color fills.
* The airbrush is your friend if used in moderation.
* You may need to use more than one or two color fills to get the effect you're after.
* Lower the opacity of a layer if you're unsatisfied with the result.
And just one thing I have to say: never, ever use a brush at full opacity. There are very few instances where it'll turn out okay (like with borders), but if you're using a texture brush, you'll probably have to set it to under 50% opacity. Anyway, it's late and I'm tired. If you've got any questions or comments, please don't hesitate in commenting or emailing me with them.