Magnet 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 magnet 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 magnet 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 will be 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 selecting the rectangle tool and drawing a rectangle with a 4px centered stroke. Switch to the direct selection tool (the white pointer) and remove the right side by either clicking the line segment and pressing delete, or dragging a marquee selection across the line segment and pressing delete. There’s various other ways to remove a line segment in Illustrator, but they’re a bit slower than simply selecting and removing it.

The first step of a magnet icon being drawn in Adobe Illustrator

Step 2 #

Select the rightmost two points of the path with the direct selection tool (you should already be using it from the last step).

Illustrator’s various transform tools can be used to act on just the selected points, enabling lots of tricks and workflow shortcuts. Switch to the scale tool and drag the bottom point up to move both points closer to each other. Given they have the same X position, scaling will be constrained to just up and down — holding the shift key is not needed.

Select the two leftmost points and round them with the live corner widget. Drag it inwards until the path outline gets thicker. The thicker path segment indicates that the corner radius is as large as it can get.

The second step of a magnet icon being drawn in Adobe Illustrator

Step 3 #

Change to the selection tool (black arrow). Drag the entire path to the left while holding option to make a copy and shift to constrain to just horizontal movement. With the copied path still selected, change the stroke size to about 12px.

Now choose Object › Path › Outline Stroke to turn the stroke into a path. The goal of this step is to create the lines on the right side that are needed to cut the magnet tips. The larger 12px stroke helped push the resulting path away from the underlying shape we are about to cut.

The third step of a magnet icon being drawn in Adobe Illustrator

Step 4 #

Apply a 1px stroke and remove the fill from the top shape. Pressing ⇧X is a quick way to swap the fill and stroke. I also have a bunch of premade styles and the graphic styles panel always open, making many icon-related style changes a single click.

The stroke on the path will be used to cut the shape underneath. If you’d like the gap on the magnet tips to be larger or smaller, now would be the time to make that change via the stroke size.

Change to the selection tool (black arrow) and select both shapes. Choose Object › Path › Outline Stroke again to convert both strokes to outlined paths. In the pathfinder panel, click minus front. This will subtract the top shape from the bottom shape.

The forth step of a magnet icon being drawn in Adobe Illustrator

Published 1 April 2021.