As a designer, I use iconography in nearly every project I work on. Whether it’s just one arrow icon, social media icons or an entire site filled with badges (like Treehouse!) – icons are something I could never live without. I tip my hat to the illustrators who create such invaluable resources for the rest of us to use. (While we’re at it, let’s thank the typographers and photographers, too!)
There are endless amounts of free and paid icons all over the web, but finding a set with a large quantity of icons that that are customizable, scalable, and of high quality can be hard to come by.
Detailed, glossy icon sets – while they’re pretty to look at – aren’t the best investment to start building your versatile collection. Their complex shapes with layer styles and masks can be tricky or even impossible to manipulate. Something as simple as changing the color (the right way!) or adjusting paths can turn into a painful endeavor.
Don’t get me wrong, they can be great for a specific project, but don’t expect to use them over and over again unless you want your work to start looking redundant.
In my experience, I find that when purchasing simpler sets you get sharper, more pixel-perfect icons, since there’s no gloss, glow or shadow to distract from the quality of the shape. Start with a simple icon as your base, and then add the gloss and glows if you so desire.
I prefer to invest in icon sets that contain entirely vector shapes, so I can scale the icon to whatever size I need – for web or for print.
PNG or GIF icon sets can be great for the web if they’re at the exact size you need them to be, but scaling down (and up, of course) will distort the shape. This is unavoidable, because any transformation made to a raster file will ultimately bring down the quality of the image.
Recently we’ve been seeing more and more icons that are actually web fonts, completely eliminating the need to export icons as images for your website. Small file sizes and scalability? Awesome. The only downfall is that you’re limited to styling the icon with CSS. (Which really isn’t too much of a limitation these days!)
Quantity is super important when looking to purchase icons. Make sure you have enough to work with so you don’t have to worry about mixing too many different sets of icons in one design. By purchasing a large set of icons with lots of variety (or a series of sets from the same illustrator) you know the general style will stay consistent throughout your design.
I used to scrounge the web for free icons. There are good free icons out there, but they’re hard to find. It wasn’t until I started freelancing that I realized I was spending quality time trying to find the free ones, when I could have been working and earning money.
You’ll notice many of the free icon sets aren’t crafted with the same level of detail as the ones that will cost you. Why should they be if they’re not being compensated for their time? If you pay for a quality set, you can almost guarantee it’s quality.
So invest in a few great sets and you won’t need to scrounge like I did. Not to mention you support the illustrators for their hard work, say thank you for all the time they saved you, and fund their efforts to make more great icon sets!
Sets to Invest In
These are some sets that will get you some serious bang for your buck. There are tons of icon sets I could list, but I wanted to keep it short to include only sets that contain a significant amount of beautifully crafted, simple icons. If there are any icon sets you swear by that aren’t on this list (vector and/or type) please let me know and I’ll add it!
Helveticons – $279 for 245 icons (Vector)
Pictos Complete – $240 for 4 sets (Vector & Type)
Symbolicons – $35 for 400 icons (Vector)
Glyphish – $25 for 400 icons (Vector)
Tipogram – $18 for 90 icons (Vector & Type)
Gedy’s Social Media Icons – $5 for 107 icons (Vector)
(Best 5 bucks you’ll ever spend.)