Icon design

One of the problems when buiding a bespoke application is that you can never find a icon that reperesents exactly the action you need. Sure there are hundreds of sites on web that have "free" icons but these tend to be designed for the desktop. You can sometimes find sets that look very professional and you'd be proud to have them in your application. However you still have the issue that you don't only need icons to represent "file open" or "delete record" but also ones to represent the new action that is going make your application a best seller and the last think you need is a icon that sticks out like an ugly sore thumb.

So your left with a couple of choices. Go ahead and build that expensive icon set and hope that no one notices your child like attempts at graphic design. Or bite the bullet and commit your self to buiding the whole set your self. Now this not something you should attempt if you have no artistic aptitude or are short of patience. To be fair I've always been interested in graphic design but have never had the inclination or need to commit to buiding my own icon set. That was until I started working on datagenerator and swingbench. Im a one man team and I know many of you will be questioing the sense in spending time working on icons when it could better be invested in fixing bugs or working on new features, however one of my objectives when I started working on thes projects was to touch on a number of disciplines that my day to day job (core database) doesn't allow.

So once you've committed yourself to building your own bespoke set what tools do you use. Well theres no shortage of tools from bespoke icon editors to top end tools such as Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, Paintshop pro etc. I've shyd away from icon editors in the past simply because I find them to restrictive. You find yourself spending to much time trying reproduce effects such as shadows and gradients which are pretty much the defacto standard on a modern desktop. I use two platforms these days, My Apple iMac and a Linux notebook. If I was designing icons and other graphics for a living I would invest the big bucks for a product like Adobe Illustrator... I wouldn't even hesitate, from my limited experience nothing comes close, however I dont do this for a living and it doesn't make any sense to spend a couple of thousand pounds for a dozen icons (although if someone has a spare license lying around...).

Luckily the open source market has a number of alternatives that provide a viable alternative. i dont have the time to list the various projects building superb tools to compete with the various commercial offerings but two stand out. The Gimp (worth using just to shout accross the office "I working on the Gimp") and Inkscape. The Gimp is primarily used as a raster or digital paint tool as is comaparable to Adobe Photoshop. Inkscape is a vector paint tool and is comparable to Adobe illustrator in terms of use if not functionality, it also has the added benefit of working directly in SVG. Working in a scalable format, such as SVG, is a real asset to icon design it means you can work on a large scale and then shrink or enlarge your design with very little loss in quality.

So Ive comitted to Inkscape and Im very impressed so far. It appears rock solid, has ports for MacOS and Linux, has tools for viewing your designs as they would appear as icons and has some genuinely inovative features. However it does have some flaws.... The documentation is very weak, some of the dialogues are confusing at best and its not a native port to MacOS (that really would set the cat amongst the pigeons).

That set Ive started work and its pretty straight forward to put together some consistent icons. Ill post the results shortly... don't laugh

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