The amount of icon sets available for purchase or download has exploded over the last couple of years – even I am guilty of jumping on the bandwagon with my own icon sets of, Uicons and Liney. A quality icon set is invaluable for a designer. We all have our favourites and the good ones get used again and again becoming a regular part of our tool kits.
So why would we want to create a Photoshop shapes file from our icon set?
The simple answer is optimum workflow. Good icon designers understand that providing multiple ways for users to interact with, and use, their icons is a good thing. Anything to speed up workflow is well received by the design community.
Provided you’re designing in Photoshop, which most of us are, having your favourite icon set ready to go directly from the toolbar saves you time again and again. Instead of having to preview your icons in another app, Photoshop custom shapes allow you to work with icons directly in the program, streamlining your design process.
Custom shapes also allow you a greater level of customisation. Having the ability to alter, finesse and tweak icons makes a massive difference when you’re striving for pixel perfection. Custom shapes also provide flexibility for both size and colour, unlike raster icon files such as jpegs and pngs. Big Note: this advice is really for mono icon sets only. Multi-layered icons will not work because Photoshop Shapes are single layer paths. Working with icon sets as Photoshop Shape files (extension .csh) makes sense and saves time. Better icon sets should provide .csh files by default but if they haven’t, or you want to make your own, read on.
To start we need some icons/glyphs or shapes in a vector format. Speaking from experience, I’ve found the best way to create your initial icon or glyph is in Illustrator. The control you have over paths is far superior to Photoshop.
Just because you create websites or User interfaces in Photoshop doesn’t mean it’s the best for creating icons. I mean you can but its not the best.
Once we have a set of icons we’re happy with, it’s time to fire up ol’ Photoshop. Let’s start by opening up your custom shape tool from the toolbar; from here you can see all the existing custom shapes and icons Photoshop has by default. We’re basically going to be adding to these, then taking it one step further and exporting a .csh file of our own particular icon set.
Our process is as follows: select your icon (one at a time) from Illustrator and paste onto your Photoshop canvas. By default you’re asked to past as a Smart Object, Pixels, Path or Shape Layer. We need to choose ‘Shape Layer’ for what we’re doing. Hit ‘Ok’. Now you should have a single layer custom shape on your Photoshop canvas. From here you can do any last minute tweaking to your icon/shape. I usually make sure the shape isn’t sitting on half a pixel and that I have sharp, solid edges.
The next step is to add our custom shape to our existing list of shape presets so that we can use it again and again. To do this, we need to select our shape with the Path Selection tool (the black arrow), and then go to under the Edit menu and select ‘Define Custom Shape’. Give your shape a name and hit ‘Ok’. Once you have done this, the icon/custom shape is committed to Photoshop’s list of available custom shapes. Keep in mind though; if you ever purge or reset the shapes your icon will be lost. That’s why we need the next step.
The Last Step
Once you have completed the above process with all of your icons, it’s then time to export all your new icons as a .csh file. To do this, go to your ‘Preset Manager’ (under the edit menu) and choose ‘Custom Shapes’ from the ‘Preset Type’ dropdown. From here you should see all your new icons listed (most likely at the end). By holding the ‘Shift’ key you can select multiple icons/shapes, so select all of the icons that you want in your .csh and then hit ‘Save Set’. Save this .csh file to your chosen location.
You now have an icon file that can import all of your favourite icons into Photoshop, wherever you are.