Most people might not know exactly what PNG or vector icons are, but it's hard to go anywhere on the internet without seeing them. Logos, buttons, and typographical symbols are some of the more common examples of icons that you might run into every single day you use your phone or computer.
Since digital icons have so many uses, you should know how to create and use them yourself. Years ago, you might have started with Microsoft Paint, but what tools can you use today to make and edit icons with more up-to-date tools? Here's what you should know:
1. Start with an existing icon
There's rarely any need to make your icons from scratch, since there are millions of easy-to-find, free icon images on the internet already! I recommend finding an icon similar to the one you want to make, and using it as a template to edit and modify to make it your own. This can take just a few clicks: go to Kapwing.com, click "Start Editing," and enter the Kapwing Studio. Here, click "Images" in the upper toolbar to search the web for any icon you want.
I recommend including search terms like "clipboard icon PNG" or "tree vector icon." There are other ways to import icons quickly, as well: with some programs like Keynote, you can copy & paste vector shapes directly into the Studio, where you can edit them & make them transparent.
2. Edit as a vector, save as a PNG
There are two main formats for common icon images: vectors (using file types like SVG or PDF) and PNG files. Each of these groups has several benefits for either editing or file usage. Vector images, on the one hand, are defined by shapes, colors, lines, and endpoints, so you can zoom, enlarge, and edit them without losing any resolution or quality. Also, most vector image files do not support transparency, except for specific types of PDF that aren't frequently supported online. PNG files, on the other hand, allow for full or partial transparency and complex shapes, so they're ideal for versatile use cases and graphic applications. They do, however, have a specific pixel resolution, so editing or resizing can change their image quality.
For these reasons, the best solution is to edit and create icon files using vector images, and process & save your icons as PNG images. This way, your image quality is as high as possible, and your transparent PNG icon files can be applied anywhere, from web designs and posters to t-shirts and video watermarks. Using Kapwing, you can find and import vector images to the Studio, where you can modify, erase, resize, and edit them. And to process transparent, versatile PNG files, you can simply make your project's background transparent. Even better, you can create large, high-quality PNG files by resizing your canvas up to 2560x2560 pixels.
3. Use simple colors or monochrome
This last point is useful both as a general rule and as a necessity for certain use cases. Most icons check one or more of these boxes: small, printable, or overlaid. For each of these 3 reasons, a simple, minimal colorway is best. For extra small icon uses, too much color complexity can make the icon hard to distinguish. Printed icons can cost far more to print with a complex array of colors, and simple or monochrome icons work on any type of background as an overlay.
A good place to start for icons with complex shapes is by making an image a silhouette. To make an image a monochrome silhouette using the Kapwing Studio, remove all the background parts you want, then turn the image's contrast & brightness all the way down. For a full tutorial, check out this article.