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August 30, 2007

At some point in the past few months I had considered writing up how you’d go about saving out icons in multiple file formats. With a bit of Photoshop Action action to automate multiple file format creation, combined with free tools like Apple’s Icon Composer and the ICO plugin, you can definitely do it on the cheap.

I’m glad I didn’t, because the real answer is of course, inevitably, buy IconBuilder.

Icon Builder

During the creation of Chalkwork Basic, I had set up my files in a way that would have required quite a bit of adaptation to work with IconBuilder. I figured I’d give the alternatives a look, and ended up saving out all the various file formats with other tools. It worked, but it required a bit more setup, and the process wouldn’t have been easy to duplicate.

Since I’ve been faced with a much bigger task for the new set (coming very soon), I thought I’d look into the tool built specifically for the job, and wouldn’t you just know it, it’s pretty darn near perfect. Automatic colour downsampling, one-click access to multiple file formats, and flexibility to produce any size of icon I might need.

So the choice between spending more hours of monotonous work doing it myself or just shelling out for a license kind of made itself.

Now if someone can please just tell me if there’s a way to automate saving out a file with multiple icons on multiple layers…

The choice between spending more hours of monotonous work saving out icons myself or just shelling out for an IconBuilder license kind of made itself.

August 30, 15h

Just thinking out loud… what about applescript?

August 30, 15h

I bought Icon Builder a few months ago but asked them to return my money and lock the serial number. It is a good tool, but not great, for me. Being a Photoshop Plug-in makes it’s interface very poor and hard to use. The “put all your icons in this grid file” process is really boring and slow, and I felt it required too much time customizing the app to make it fit my workflow.

Dave S. says:
August 30, 16h

“The put all your icons in this grid file process is really boring and slow, and I felt it required too much time customizing the app to make it fit my workflow.”

Depends what you’re going to ultimately do with it. To generate the icon previews I’ll need to do something very similar anyway, so while yes it’s boring, I have to do it one way or another. May as well pull double duty and use it for the masters as well as the preview.

But if you’re not packaging them for selling, I can see how that would be a drawback.

(BTW - you can also create your own custom grid files that contain multiple icons at multiple sizes. That workflow doesn’t quite do it for me, but it’s possible.)

August 30, 20h


Glad you found IconBuilder helpful with your construction needs. Although its UI may have a bit of a steep learning curve, once you know what you’re doing, it really is the best way to build multiple files from a single source layer. Plus we have included actions that help get artwork into the grid file quickly and easily.

To answer your question, no, IconBuilder cannot run on different layers. All of your art work must be on the same layer for the filter pass. Using the Jump tool however means that getting around on even the largest master sheets is pretty simple.

I’m in the process of creating an in-depth video tutorial on how to create your own master sheets as well as customizing presets right now. It should be ready in a couple of weeks. Keep an eye out for it. Custom master sheets (with dozens, even hundreds of icons) are where IconBuilder really shines. What used to take days to save, now only takes minutes or hours.

Tom says:
August 31, 03h

I’m yet to even try IconBuilder as I’ve been happy using a rather old, but still decent program ‘Iconographer’ (

(Stand alone Mac OS X app)

It’s a little buggy, it’s almost 5 years since the last update, but it’s simple and just does the job. Best of all, it’s Free.

I’ll be sure to give IconBuilder a try at some point though, it looks nice just that the price tag is a bit of a turn-off.

September 02, 15h

I have not quite yet figured out, how to use iconbuilder. You write that you use it for saving the finished icons right?

However, I was wondering, what your process of creating an icon is from start to finish and whether you would be so kind to share it. And during which part of that process do you use iconbuilder.

Thanks a lot.


geoff says:
September 03, 04h

The fact that icons even need to be built in different sizes is a sign of how lame OSes are. How about a vector format?

September 04, 22h

Geoff, I don’t think this is necessarily an OS issue, but an aesthetic issue. While vector is ideal and keeps things at their same proportions, some colors and lines that would look nice, crisp and attractive at one size may look horrible scaled down or up. Sometimes you just have to make things more vibrant or more crisp depending on the scale.

kb says:
September 05, 03h

If it’s only 1 icon in a year and only for 1 platform, then there are much cheaper and easier tools that will do the job and give you a satisfactory result. As a professional, you have no choice, this is the one, the only one.

Tom says:
September 06, 05h

I found that with this process, IconBuilder Pro makes importing files and creating icons a breeze. One of the key features of OS X icons is their ability to scale smoothly at any size. I like that IconBuilder provides specific settings and tools that take the drudgery out of the process of applying scalability, transparency, and shadow features to newly created icons. Although you need at least a basic knowledge of Photoshop to take advantage of all the settings and tools, I like that IconBuilder does come with well-written tutorials and a user manual that clearly explains the operations. Overall, users who are well versed in Photoshop and who wish to create Mac OS X icons should definitely check out this program. Regards

Roma says:
September 06, 09h

I use Icon Builder and make icons for my mac all of the time. when i set the plug in for making xp compatable icon files (with a .ico file name) it will export a file, but when i copy it over to my xp machine it looks correct in Icon view in an explorer window, but if i put it on the desktop ithe icon gets cropped (always from the top right if that means anything), anyone can help me ?

Nick La says:
September 08, 23h


Have you tried combining the multi-layers (icon psds) into a Smart Object layer and align them with the IconBuilder’s grid? Then, you can turn on/off individual smart object layer to export various sizes with IconBuilder or you can use Photoshop CS3’s Script > Export Layers to Files.

ADAC says:
September 13, 09h

Great post and comments.

I don’t do icons that frequently so I generally do it with the software I have available which is photoshop.

From the comments it would appear that Iconbuilder would only be worth getting (and learning) if I started to do this on a very regular basis. Feel free to correct me if I took the comments wrong.

Mark says:
October 15, 08h

Great write up. I have always found Iconographer to do the job fantastically and it is on the cheap which is also nice.

Lynne says:
October 28, 08h

IconBuilder Pro is the easiest tool to learn because the examples and tutorials are top notch. And while I realize that not everyone has experience with Photoshop, it is pretty much the defacto standard for graphics applications.

greg says:
February 11, 17h

Um, I realize this thread might be fairly dead, but I would like to bump it and reference the vector or not post above…

I think that it is time to start thinking vector whether you like the quality of it or not. Pixel graphics are not going to easily translate onto high dpi displays… seems like no big deal now, but vector svg is there for the using so my personal process is to do the primary icon design as a vector. adding a SVG variant to the ico bundle would be clutch.