If you have a LiveJournal, Myspace account, or if you post on forums or online social networking communities, you’ve likely seen the small icons and avatars used to personalize a comment or account. There are hundreds of very creative folks all over the web who graciously allow people to download and use their small pre-made icons, and most of these only ask that you attribute the maker with a link to their site or a credit to the artist.
Most of these icons are in the 100×100-pixel size range. If you want to make one yourself, and you don’t have a lot of confidence in or experience with using an image editing program like Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro or GIMP, it’s still relatively easy to make avatars and userpics.
I’ve made 5 free textures for you to download for use as a base for making simple icons. All you have to do is download and unzip the files, open them in your image editing software program, and use them as a background for the image or text you want to feature in your icon.
Begin with a plain 100×100-pixel canvas on your image editing software. What you’ll get is a tiny square; you’ll be surprised what you can do with it. Select one of the images in the 5-image pack and paste it over your blank canvas. If you’ve done it properly, there’s no need to resize it. After this, you have only to decide how you want to use the background.
Other great free sources for icon textures include Celestial Star, Icon_Textures, and Divine Designs. Each site has different terms and conditions concerning the use and attribution of the textures and backgrounds posted there, and each is worth a look.
Below are some suggestions for use:
Words work. For a simple yet effective icon, you can paste text into the background texture you’ve selected. Some good text options are your username or favorite quote. It’s best to not resize these, as you will lose resolution in the process, and may distort the text. Just paste in your selected words, rename the icon, save it, and upload it as a userpic.
Make a photo icon. Take a favorite headshot of yourself, for example, and paste it on top of the background, resizing it by pulling the corners in. If you crop the subject of your image out of the original digital image, it makes for a cleaner userpic or icon.
Use the entire set to represent different moods: Use text to differentiate them; for example, one could say “Excited!” and another might read “Angry”. You could even use emoticon symbols to represent the same.
For Administrative use only: Use coordinating background textures to use as icons for site or page administrators; similar colors and designs used as a set can make a striking but unified page.
Make it a still-life. Each texture is a tiny 100×100-pixel background for your favorite shot of a flower, a close-up of a baby’s hand, or a cup of coffee. You decide what to showcase. Erase the parts of your picture you don’t want to show, or place the background texture over your image and erase parts of the icon background to let your image show — either way, it’s a great way to use a favorite picture.
Let your skills shine. If you’re more comfortable using image editing software, use the background textures in masks. Overlay your object d’art with one of the textures I’ve provided and change the transparency, opacity of the image, erase the background, and blend the two images together. For even small-scale projects like an icon, you can get pretty spectacular effects by experimenting with the tools on your program of choice.
When you’re done playing with your tiny digital canvas, name it, save it, and upload it to LiveJournal, Facebook, MySpace or your favorite forum.
In case the maximum size specs fall under the 100X100-pixel size, make your original blank canvas the specified size — typically the alternative is 75X75-pixels — and then drag the corners down diagonally to resize the background in your smaller new canvas. If you’re more comfortable, resize your entire finished icon in the image editing software program you use, which can be less likely to distort your artwork.
Have fun, above all else. It doesn’t take much effort to make personalized icons you can use for a variety of online purposes. The reward comes in sharing something with others that’s not too time-consuming to make, but which makes a personal statement about who you are and what you have to say.