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Icons are usually needed in a variety of sizes, so I don't understand why I always hear/see everyone using Photoshop for their icons. Probably I'm exposing my PS ignorance with this question, but aren't Photoshop images of fixed size and you have to redraw them to change it?

As opposed to an Illustrator project where it's vector-based and you can just resize it to whatever. Isn't that preferable? What am I missing?

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When it comes to creating an icon, the best end result is almost always obtained by creating it pixel by pixel or tweaking it by hand. The smaller the icon's dimensions the more it is essential to create it in a pixel environment, even if it started life as a vector. The number of times "Why do my icons look fuzzy, even though I created them as vector shapes?" comes up here and elsewhere shows how unsuccessful simply rasterizing a vector shape is when the item is tiny.

When (if) we get to the point where every screen is High DPI and all icons are delivered to the browser as SVG files, that may change, but that's not how things are today. You can start in a vector application to get your initial outline, but you still have to convert to pixels and that almost always requires adjusting it manually to create the final icon.

  • Firework is A GREAT option here (Pixel Perfection!). It's similar to Photoshop, but also add some much needed tools for quick rollouts. – Kukka Dec 5 '14 at 15:44
  • @alan gilbertson But then how do people handle resizing when they make it in photoshop? – temporary_user_name May 6 '15 at 15:50
  • When using Photoshop, it makes sense to create one broad sheet with all your different, standardised sizes. This means you can collect and export the different sizes as you wish, instead of simply using one icon which is constantly resized though gains a blurriness when compressed. – Gray Roberts Nov 24 '16 at 8:23
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There are many reasons why many choose to use Photoshop over Illustrator, but it depends on the particular situation.

As an example, I myself would use Photoshop when designing for the web where I need to be pixel perfect. I can't really work at the pixel level with Illustrator, so Photoshop is perfect for web work in that sense.

Now, I might have an instance where I wasn't sure of the exact dimensions of the final work as it could potentially be used in offline material. In that case I would probably go for Illustrator, because I can scale up or down without losing quality.

There are other reasons, such as the fact that vector based programs are less effective at reproducing gradients.

Also I agree with Rsiel;

I think there are more people who know how to use Photoshop, than there are people who are comfortable with Illustrator.

There are those who are frightened of having to use bezier curves to get a perfect line, and from the outset simple tasks like filling colour look difficult to accomplish.

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Because those that sell icon packs sell them as Photoshop/PNG packs to those that can't even begin to draw in Illustrator.

Because those that sell icon packs advertise and partner with those sites that talk about design.

Advertorial control is bought by advertising and expressed through editorial sentiment.

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    +1 because those who answer like this, deserve to be upvoted and commented like this... :P – user3459110 May 17 '14 at 0:47
  • Lots of truth to this, though perhaps a slightly less cynical addition to this is that most software/web graphics have (traditionally) been raster based so selling icons to those that need them (non-illustrators) in a raster format only made sense (whether or not the original icons were created as rasters) – DA01 May 17 '14 at 0:50
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I would use Illustrator,
but you can use Shapes in Photoshop and they can scale a bit.

You might want Photoshop to control specific pixel dimensions or add effects to an icon.

For the actual design process, it probably comes down to what you're more comfortable with. What you can mock up and revise quickly.
I think there are more people who know how to use Photoshop, than there are people who are comfortable with Illustrator.

I would draw or design it in Illustrator so it's Vector art. Then, if it needed something extra, I might import it into Photoshop.

  • I appreciate your answer, that was informative. – temporary_user_name May 16 '14 at 21:02
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    ;) thanks, didn't realize how annoying it was until I look at it on my screen at home. – Rsiel May 16 '14 at 22:06
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Because clients can see JPGs in their email browswers and online, whereas they cannot see Illustrator EPSs or AIs >_<

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This is a really good article on using Photoshop and Illustrator to make icons. It goes on to show you how to make your life easier buy developing your icons in photoshop then bringing them into illustrator to make them vector so they can be saved to svg. http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2014/10/15/create-assets-for-multiple-scale-factors/

You can set up Illustrator so that it works as well as Photoshop at making icons and you really should use Illustrator in most cases. Unless you are a seasoned Illustrator user, making vector icons with pixel perfect lines can be very frustrating and if you are under a deadline you could end up spending a lot of time you don't have trying to figure out why your lines don't line up to the grid you have the way you think they should. Photoshop is much more user friendly so the approach they outline in this article is a good one to bookmark.

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