Compare online icon makers
A number of icon builder utilities exist allowing you to create icon images, but the vast majority are online utilities with little functionality or customization. Let's compare a few, shall we?
Iconion vs. Photoshop
Obviously, Photoshop lets you do anything. Graphics, photography, julienne fries. But in the case of creating icons quickly and simply with very few unnecessary steps, Iconion still wins out. You don't have to set the file resolution in advance, deal with layers or line weights, or make multiple saves while working on an icon set. In Photoshop, you would first need to design the icon from scratch, whereas Iconion icon converter gives you a library of icons to work with. Then you would have to create a background layer and draw the fill.
If you want to add a shadow to the glyph, this can be much more involved in Photoshop than in Iconion. First you'd need another layer between the icon and its background, then either duplicate the shape of the icon and paste it to the intermediate layer or use layer masking to get certain other shadow effects. And remember to save your work often - if you accidentally close Photoshop without saving you could lose hours of work. You'll also wind up saving a separate PSD file and PNG file for each icon you create. If you're making a set of five icons, that's ten files.
And then you'd have to repeat this tedious process for each icon you wanted to create, and hope that you got it right so the icons look consistent with one another. I've been through this process with both icons and richly textured lettering, and if you aren't a designer it is simply maddening. Of course, if you are a designer it's still maddening - except you're being paid for it.
Another sticking point with Photoshop is the price point. A single installation of Photoshop CS6 can retail for over $380 before tax. The price point for Iconion is a nice round zero, and the ease of use encourages you to play around with different styles.
Iconion vs. GIMP
For animated GIFs, GIMP is actually even easier to work with than Photoshop and is open-source. But for icons (especially icons with gradients or shadows), you run into the same problems as with Photoshop - you have to specify a resolution in advance, work with multiple layers, save multiple files multiple times, and duplicating the same style on multiple icons can easily take hours.
GIMP is open-source, which means it's free just like Iconion icon maker. But with a longer learning curve and a more complicated approach to creating graphics, it is a clear second to Iconion (though a better value than Photoshop).
Iconion vs. X-IconEditor
X-IconEditor is one of many quick and simple online icon makers. It does have a text option, but the text is limited to four common fonts and there are no shadowing or fill options. The most advanced feature here is the ability to draw ellipses and boxes. Like Iconion, it allows for PNG transparency and exports in several sizes. Iconion, however, is able to export an unlimited number of icons based on the font glyphs you select. X-IconEditor is also limited in output resolution to 64px square.
All told, X-IconEditor is basically online Paintbrush with transparency and a limited resolution. It's probably best to skip this one.
Iconion vs. IconCool
Another option is IconCool by Newera. This software is geared more towards editing icons for operating systems, particularly Windows. While it does boast a number of features such as the ability to edit animated cursors, it isn't really designed for Web or casual business use. Its only advantage is the ability to import existing graphics, though with PNG transparency importing is not usually the best option - you still might have to crop backgrounds to get the shape you want. There's also the price point - IconCool retails for $29.95, which isn't exactly murder but could easily go towards a Photoshop license.
Iconion is the go-to software for the casual designer who needs to add a few simple buttons to a webpage, the business user who needs to create buttons for a presentation, or anyone who needs to create clear and eye-catching buttons to refer to a topic or function in a document. It also has a range of icons included that refer specifically to topics that you're likely to be dealing with in a tech, publishing or interactive context.
Its layout and features are designed to inspire users who don't necessarily consider themselves artists, and if you don't like a certain result it's easy to remake the entire look of an icon in just a few clicks. For that reason, even though this author is a graphic designer, there are a number of applications for which Iconion beats out many programs costing thousands of dollars. In terms of time consumed, ease of use, and the quality of the results, Iconion is indispensable for users who need to flesh out a design quickly and efficiently.
The beta of Iconion has a few minor layout issues, but these have no effect on functionality and are sure to be remedied in later versions. Be sure to try it now while it's in beta, and offer your feedback at iconion.com.
Free download for Windows and Mac!