Camera iris icon speedrun

When viewing my vector icon speedruns, it can be difficult to see precisely what’s going on. Everything happens quickly, with many actions triggered via keyboard shortcuts, and Illustrator’s interface is cropped out of view. That’s just the nature of what they are, which means they provide more entertainment than education.

This article aims to be a director’s commentary for my camera iris icon speedrun, noting the techniques used, and why they were chosen. I use Adobe Illustrator for all the icon speedruns, but many of the tips are relevant for other design tools.

A camera iris icon being drawn in Adobe Illustrator

Workspace #

One important aspect to working quickly is setting up your workspace. When designing icons, I like having a working area well defined, with the center point marked. Both are locked, so I can’t accidentally move or alter them. The “working area” is typically the target icon size. In this example, I’m using a 16×16px area.

Working to a coarse grid is faster and more accurate. If points need to be placed off-grid, Illustrator’s move window can be used, allowing for precise numeric offsets. Illustrator’s snap to pixel has some behaviour I don’t like, so I use snap to grid instead.

Mac shortcuts are noted below, so please substitute control for command, and alt for option if you’re using Windows.

Step 1 #

Start by drawing a rectangle. The bottom of the rectangle will be the edge of the iris opening, so place it where you’d like that to be. The position of the top, left and right of the rectangle aren’t critical — they just need enough padding to cover the circle we’ll be using for masking later.

The first step of a camera iris icon being drawn in Adobe Illustrator

Step 2 #

Switch to the rotation tool, and option-click the center of the icon area. This sets the origin for the rotation and opens up the rotation window, so a specific value can be typed in. Illustrator accepts equations in input fields, so 360/6 can be typed in to work out the angle for a six blade camera iris. If you’d like your iris to have a different number of blades, type in 360 divided by the number of blades you’d like.

Click copy or press option-enter to create a rotated copy of the original rectangle.

The second step of a camera iris icon being drawn in Adobe Illustrator

Step 3 #

With the copied rectangle still selected, remove the fill and give the shape a stroke. The stroke will set the gap between the iris blades. If the stroke is centered, then the size should be double the gap size you’d like. For example, a 2px centered stroke will result in a 1px gap between the blades. Choose Object › Path › Outline Stroke to convert the stroke to a filled path.

Using Object › Path › Offset Path is another method for achieving the same result. I use strokes and Outline Stroke more often, because I have premade graphic styles for various common stroke sizes and an action button for outlining strokes, so that’s quicker for me (just two clicks from permanently visible buttons).

The third step of a camera iris icon being drawn in Adobe Illustrator

Step 4 #

Draw a circle that covers the entire icon area. With the ellipse tool selected, click the center of the icon area while holding shift and option to constrain to a circle and set the origin to the centre of the shape.

The forth step of a camera iris icon being drawn in Adobe Illustrator

Step 5 #

Select all three shapes, and choose divide from the pathfinder panel. This will break the selection into separate paths, with nothing overlaping. Divide always creates grouped results, so choose Object › Ungroup to ungroup everything.

The fifth step of a camera iris icon being drawn in Adobe Illustrator

All the work up until this point was done to create the correct path for a single iris blade. We now have that path, so delete everything except the top right pie-like section.

The fifth step of a camera iris icon being drawn in Adobe Illustrator

Constructing geometric icons using primitives and boolean operations is faster and more accurate than using the pen tool. I do use the pen tool, but typically only when there is no other alternative.

Step 6 #

Switch to the rotation tool, and option-click the center of the icon. This sets the origin of rotation and opens up the rotation window. The angle should already be correct from the previous rotation, so you can just click copy or press option-enter.

The sixth step of a camera iris icon being drawn in Adobe Illustrator

Step 7 #

Choosing Object › Transform › Transform Again will repeat the last transformation, giving you three blades. Repeat this until you have all six blades, or however many you need. The keyboard shortcut for Transform Again is great to learn for instances like this, where multiple rotated copies are required.

If you’d like the icon to be orientated differently, I’d rotate now, once everything else has been drawn.

The seventh step of a camera iris icon being drawn in Adobe Illustrator

Different numbers of blades #

The same steps work with any number of iris blades. Here’s versions with five and seven blades.

Camera iris icons with 5 and 7 blades being drawn in Adobe Illustrator

An alternate method #

I experimented starting with a polygon, but ultimately it turned out to be more steps and a little harder to control.

A camera iris icon being drawn in Adobe Illustrator

Published 17 December 2021.