Disclaimer thingy: I am by no means technically minded and I don’t use any expensive software. This is just how I make my icons, basically tips I’ve picked up and figured out myself as I’ve gone along. It’s meant to be a rough starting point for people looking into making graphics or joining graphics making communities. I know there are other and better guides out there. Feel free to ask questions, discuss amongst yourselves, and so on. Remember to have fun!
Find images and save them to your computer. Remember to make a note of where they’re from or save a link to them so that you can credit and so you can find the place again if you want to use those images again. If you want images from a film or TV show then you’re looking for ‘screencaps’. Google and fan sites are your friends.
You can find (most of) the places I’ve used for images on my graphic resources list.
When it comes to copyright issues I treat icon making (and graphics making) like fanfiction in that these are transformative works and no profit is being made. That said, even though I use other people’s screencaps I don’t use screencaps of a film or show that I haven’t bought or intend to buy, so the industry doesn’t lose out on money from me. It’s up to your own conscience and morality *shrugs*.
When it comes to crediting, personally I have that graphics resource list and I won’t make icons or graphics from other people’s art, or graphics, or manipulated pictures without their permission and without crediting them. I think it’s rude to do otherwise. Pictures and photographs that people have copied or scanned though, I believe those belong to the industry and come under my transformative works rule.
Find some software to use. Photoshop is the big one I know of, but it costs and I don’t own it. I have GIMP, which you can download for free, although I’m still learning how to use that. I started out using Picnik, and I now use Picmonkey, which evolved from it. It’s free, although if you want special features you now have to pay, and it’s an easy, self-explanatory place. You do, however, have to be online for the whole time that you’re using it.
Playtime. For Picmonkey: upload your image using ‘Edit Photo’. For other programmes: upload, open file, save, whatever your poison.
If you’re making icons for Livejournal or Dreamwidth you need to crop the image to 100x100 pixels. (Pixels are the little squares that make up an image.) Other sites use different dimensions, so check that. On Picmonkey there’s a ‘100x100 avatar’ option under ‘crop’ and you can tick a box to ‘scale photo’ which will shrink down whatever area you chose to crop to the right size proportionally. Shrinking your image will ‘soften’ it though, or in other words make it blurry or less sharp. Picmonkey has ‘sharpen’ and ‘clarify’ options to solve this. I usually sharpen to at least 10, but sometimes I use 8 for a softer touch and I generally use 12 when it’s an image of a person.
Then you’re off – add text, change colours, blur, add overlays (which are shapes or other images that you can put over the top), whatever you like. Play around with what your software offers.
With text, you can deliberately make it unreadable for effect, but if you want people to actually be able to read it be careful what text you use. There’s a zoom feature in Picmonkey in the right. Before you finish set it to 100% so you can see exactly what your icon will look like and if you can read the words. If your text can’t be seen over the image, try ‘softening’ behind it or putting an overlay behind it, like a simple rectangle, or change the font. On Picmonkey you can chose to soften/blur/change the colour/paint only a section of your image, just behind your text. To put an overlay behind do a right-click and ‘send to back’.
If you don’t want an image, just a ‘text icon’ or a ‘quote icon’, then instead of uploading an image you want to upload a ‘texture’.
When adding text to an icon you’re either adding it to what is called a ‘base’ image, simply the image at the back of everything, or a ‘texture’, which is a plain or patterned background. Again, you can search for these. Some people make texture collections.
As an example, here’s a text icon on a base and a text icon on a texture:
I like my icons bold and clear, so I sharpen and I tend not to add much. Sometimes I play with overlays and other more complicated things. I don’t know how to make moving icons though, for instance. You should play around and develop your own style; it’s supposed to be fun!
When you’re happy with your icon it’s time to save it to your computer. PNG works best as a file type, although JPG is okay, and you might want to name it something with your username in it. This makes it easier for people to credit you and also to keep track of which icons are yours when you have lots of pretties saved. I use the format ‘somethingicon_inkvoices’.
Now you need to get your icons onto the internet. You need a place to store them. I started out using my scrapbook on livejournal, which is fine, but I find Photobucket is easier when dealing with large batches and I know people who use imgur.
(Note: If you’re making banners or large graphics, which are pretty much done the same way as icons but they’re a different size, then unpaid accounts on Photobucket will sometimes change the size of what you upload without telling you. Livejournal scrapbook does not.)
Now you have your batch of icons and you want to post them. What you want to share is the ‘direct link’ of your images – this is a link to an image itself and not the website that it’s on. A straightforward way is to post them as you would a standard image, using the html code img src= DIRECT LINK / with < at the start and > at the end.
I like to put my icons in tables and I use this icon table generator. (There are others around too.) The settings for this that work best with my journal style are: 3 fixed rows, no background or grey background. You can experiment with what works best for you.
If using an icon table generator, when you’ve generated your code copy and paste it into Word or somewhere, in case anything crashes or goes wrong at this point. You do not want to repeat putting this table together if you have a large batch, trust me. On the table I use you want to delete the http:// bit in each field and paste the direct links for your icons into a field per icon in the order of your choice. You then paste the table code into your LJ (or dreamwidth, or wherever) post.
You’ll want to cut your actual icon batch, but then post examples of your icons above it. Similarly, if you advertise your icons on communities or elsewhere you’ll want to post examples and then link to your batch. Examples can be posted with the img src code from above. NEVER use more than three examples. It can mess up people’s layouts and bandwidth and things, and that annoys them. Seriously, it’s even a rule at a lot of icon communities. No more than three.
You will also want to post a few rules type things with your batch: they’re your icons, it’s up to you to say what happens to them.
First up: crediting. Some people ask for their username to be credited (like me), some ask for their community to be credited, and some both. How to credit is that on their userpic page people should have ‘by X’ on there, with a link to the maker is good. Some people put code on their journal for people to copy and paste for how exactly they want to be credited.
(Keep in mind that some people won’t pay attention or might not know you made it if they get it from someone else’s userpic page or wherever. I’ve seen my icons around and uncredited. There tends not to be as big a deal made over this as when people do similar kinds of things with fics etc. (although it is a bad thing so don’t do it). You can message them politely or something if you like, or just let it go.)
Other things to consider:
-hotlinking. This is where people link directly to your image rather than saving it to their computers and uploading it individually. If someone hotlinks a lot of your images the place where you store them may crash. ‘Please don’t hotlink’ is an appropriate message.
- bases. Remember how I said textless icons are called ‘bases’? Some people make bases and let other people add text to them if they want. If you don’t want this you can say something like ‘textless icons are not bases’ or ‘please don’t rework my icons’. (I tend to say nothing; I haven’t seen it happen to me yet.)
- stealable. Sometimes you might make icons specifically for someone, in which case you say those are not ‘stealable’ or ‘sharable’ or what have you.
- personalised. You can offer to personalise icons (or banners or other things) for people, which usually means adding their username to them. You might want to think about how many you’re willing to do per person, what you’re willing to personalise them with, if there’s a time limit, etc. (I did personalised NaNoWriMo icons the first time I did this. I got swamped lol.)
- spoilers. Don’t post icons with spoilers, either in the image or text or quote, in your examples and warn for spoilers if there are spoilers in your batch. Be nice.
- NFSW (Not Safe For Work). Again, if you need to warn for this, do.
Once you’ve posted your icons you might want to spread them to a wider audience. Most fandoms have communities specifically for icons, if your icons are of a specific character or pairing check out communities dedicated to those, and there are communities dedicated to non-fandom icons as well. On livejournal search interests and check how often communities are updated.
Remember: Have fun!