Flag 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 flag 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 flag 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 that’s 12×6px. Holding option when creating shapes draws them from the center. With snapping turned on, this means the resulting shape will always be even by even dimensions. It’s also a good technique for situations where you know the center point you’d like for the object.

Step 1 of a flag icon being drawn in Adobe Illustrator

ObjectPathAdd Anchor Points can then be used to subdivide each path segment into two parts. We’re after more points along the top and bottom of the rectangle, but there’s no way to selectively add anchor points to just part of the path. One way to solve this is to switch to the direct selection tool, then select the points in the left and right sides, and remove them with ObjectPathRemove Anchor Points. This removes the points and connects the surrounding points. It’s different to pressing delete, which removes the points and segments.

After the side points have been removed, ObjectPathAdd Anchor Points can be used again to add more points to the top and bottom, and re-add the left and right points back again. The flag now has all the points we need.

Step 2 #

With the direct selection tool, select the six points shown below, and drag or nudge them up 2px.

Step 2 of a flag icon being drawn in Adobe Illustrator

Step 3 #

I find it’s often easier and better to start with a polygon, then round the shape with Illustrator’s live corners, rather than using the pen tool or dragging bézier handles around. Live corners always result in perfect arcs, which can be a nice stylistic choice for geometric icons.

With the direct selection tool, select the four points shown below, and drag the live corner handle (the little circle that appears near corners) to create rounded corners. When the line segment gets thicker, you’ve reached the largest radius possible.

Step 3 of a flag icon being drawn in Adobe Illustrator

Clicking on the canvas with a shape creation tool lets the width, height and other parameters for the shape be typed in. Option-clicking the canvas creates from the center as well.

The move window in Adobe Illustrator

Step 4 #

The side points now need to be dragged in 1px. The right point needs to also be moved down 0.5px.

Step 4 of a flag icon being drawn in Adobe Illustrator

I have an action for this, but another easy technique is to press enter to bring up the move window, which lets exact values be typed in.

The move window in Adobe Illustrator

Step 5 #

Select the rectangle tool and draw the pole. That’s it!

Step 5 of a flag icon being drawn in Adobe Illustrator

This article is also available as a video: Icon speedruns: Flag and pushpin.

Published 15 November 2022.