My client is requesting SVG files (saving as an SVG would require me to build the icon in Illustrator), but I have always designed icons in Photoshop (importing vector art from Illustrator, and placing as smart object, + applying layers styles)—I find that Photoshop allows for greater flexibility in layering effects (for drop-shadows, gradients… for an embossed look).

Has anyone had any experience in building icons in Illustrator and creating the same effect that Photoshop provides?

I'm hoping to pitch my case, that I can build the icons in Photoshop and easily scale them to any required sizes—but I'm happy to build them in Illustrator if I can create the same effects.

  • 3
    It sounds like they have some specific tasks that require SVG; can you ask your client why they want SVG files in particular? Commented Feb 7, 2012 at 12:58

4 Answers 4


If SVG is the desired output, I'd suggest giving InkScape a try. It's open soure. While the UI isn't quite as polished as AI, it's quite robust and the native file format is SVG, so ideally suited for SVG work.

As for 'effects', you can emulate raster effects with vector files and vice versa. It can be tricking depending on the type of effect, but certainly doable.

  • I'm still having trouble creating the same style effects in AI (even if I can, the effects aren't really translating in export > SVG). I've downloaded Inkscpae among (Acorn, Sketch, Opacity etc.)—to no avail. Don't find any of them very intuitive, and if I were to use one, it would need to import an EPS and be able to export as SVG. I've also attempted loading an SVG export plugin into Fireworks, but it doesn't import as an embedded file (creates multiple files) + loaded CS5 updated plugins for additional SVG support (for HTML5 updates)…so I'm at a loss at to the SVG solution…
    – Leslie
    Commented Feb 8, 2012 at 7:17
  • Inkscape is the best option for pure SVG work. Like any software, it takes a bit to get used to the UI...it won't happen in an hour. But it's fairly well done. I equate it more similar to Macromedia Freehand than Adobe Illustrator, though. That said, I would hope that AI is getting better at SVG support. With Flash on the way out, Adobe has to be getting back up to speed on SVG and the like.
    – DA01
    Commented Feb 8, 2012 at 8:22

It greatly depends upon the art and your skill level with Illustrator.

Illustrator does have drop shadows, gradients, glows, etc. So it can all be done in Illustrator. It's merely a matter of one's proficiency.

SVG offers a great deal more than any Photoshop format will. SVG can be scaled on the fly and maintain appearance... png/gif/etc. can't.

  • It's been a long time since using Illustrator, so maybe it's different now, but in the past, things like drop shadows were raster based, so not sure if they'd work in the SVG or not.
    – DA01
    Commented Feb 7, 2012 at 17:16
  • 1
    @DA01 They are rasterized, and then embedded in the SVG. Which sort of defeats the purpose of SVG, but it can be done. <image xlink:href="data:image/png;base64,{bytes}">. I'm not sure what other programs consume SVG, but I believe that's supported by all major browsers.
    – Farray
    Commented Feb 7, 2012 at 18:32
  • I suppose if the SVGs will only be used at one size, that would work. But as you point out, that kind of defeats the point of using SVG to begin with.
    – DA01
    Commented Feb 7, 2012 at 19:10
  • @DA01: It does and it doesn't. SVG has always been designed to support the embedding of raster images. But this still allows you to use vectors whenever possible. If you preserve Illustrator editing abilities, then you can always have the drop shadows, etc. re-rendered at a higher resolution. Alternatively, for most simple effects like blurs and drop shadows, you can just use the ones from the SVG filters menu. Commented Feb 8, 2012 at 5:21

I am a vector artist, I always do things vector-ly then rasterise it to required size. Doing an icon in vector is desirable as you can scale them to any size afterwards, yes even to A0 size without losing quality.

My solution for you is this. Do in Photoshop as raster, do it in a slightly bigger size, say 256 x 256 with sufficient details and line thickness which would look good even at 64 x 64.

When you are happy with the rasterised result, then convert to .svg by using Inkscape (yes, there is a function in it to trace bitmap!) or Vectormagic. And you will end up with a nice .svg to make your client happy.

Depending on your effect, you might end up with a bigger vector file, anyhow don't be too heavy on special effects, as these programs will take time to translate your raster into regions (vectors) of colours.

Later you can use Illustrator or Inkscape to fine tune your .svg.

Let me know if this solution feasible for you. All the best.

  • 2
    that can work depending on the illustration style, but note that auto trace rarely produces results that are quality...especially when starting with such a low resolution raster file.
    – DA01
    Commented Feb 8, 2012 at 0:43
  • True, depending on the artwork and its complexity. Rembrandt's painting is definitely out of the scope of auto trace ^_^
    – ikel
    Commented Feb 8, 2012 at 6:46
  • IME, auto-tracing can work OK if you're starting from something like a high-resolution scan of a black-and-white drawing, but I really wouldn't expect to get anything useful out of tracing a 256 x 256 pixel bitmap with colors and complex gradients. Of course, it depends a lot on the program you use; Vector Magic looks pretty good at a glance, but it seems telling that most of the sample images on their website still consist of nothing but solid color figures with simple outlines. Commented Feb 8, 2012 at 12:18

A lot of great answers here already. I would recommend checking out the Icon Handbook by Jon Hicks http://iconhandbook.co.uk/ for further reading. Personally I'd use illustrator unless making a 16x16 favicon

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