You’ve finished your great new app, it runs smoothly and you can’t wait to tell everyone about it.
But wait, there’s something very important missing. If you are not a designer and get nightmares from staring at too many pixels, you’ve probably left working on the launch icon to the end of the process. This is perfectly fine, you wouldn’t want to waste your time if your app will never see the light of the day, right?
We are going to have a look at creating your own launch icon for Android apps and getting them ready for use. We will also have a look at some various resources which will be helpful in the creation process.
Before we begin you should check out the iconography reference guides on the Android Developers site.
Note: The link above is the style guide for Android 4.4 KitKat. If you want to follow Material Design (as we will do in this tutorial) you will have to dig a bit deeper, as Android L and Material Design are not finished yet. I will point out changes throughout the tutorial. You can find the Material Design reference and general philosophy here.
Android L generally has a different icon style than KitKat. Material Design is more simplified and uses contrast rich colors for its elements. You may notice the fake shadow implemented in the icons and other elements, which is unique to Material Design, but seen before (for example the Google Admin launch icon, released last year).
There seems to be no general rules for implementing this kind of shadow, but experiment yourself and make your own mind up. The shadow is a shape filled with black and a transparency of 22%, which covers the main color. For example in the Google Admin app icon you can see 2 main colors, but when the shadow is added, 2 additional colors are created. The shadow is usually 45˚ diagonally aligned.
Let’s try to use the same concept for a custom icon.
Creating Your Custom Icon
I decided to use a special icon (you will see why later), specifically the logo for Open Labs Albania, a great open source community in Albania. The logo looks like this:
We will not include the text, only the actual symbol. Then we play with the remaining logo slightly until we get something we like the look of.
The problem with many logos, as here, is that they might not work well as monochrome logos. With the Open Labs logo it’s mostly due to 3 colors colliding in the same place (technically 2, but the lack of a 3rd and it’s blank space counts), so the shape would be not recognizable.
We can make use of negative space and use the other half of the cut color (and may remind you of Pink Floyd). This monochrome logo is perfect for notification bar icons or other occasions where monochrome icons are needed.
A different approach could be adding strokes to the shapes we can’t convey with the same monochrome color. Instead of filling it with a color it can have a set amount of stroke width. In our case though, it wouldn’t work well with the Open Labs logo.
That said, I tweaked the logo in Illustrator and added the shadow where I thought it would work well.
After a quick overhaul, this is the result:
As you can see, you will need different approaches depending on the style you choose.
In our case, I made a version with minimal changes, only adding a slight shadow to the frame. The second and third variations are pure Material Design, as the icons have a circle and a box with rounded corners as containers respectively.
These shapes would either have a 3D effect or a gradient element in KitKat or earlier Android versions, but these icons will look great on non Android L devices to.
Pick what suits you best and export the icon to a 512×512 PNG (the largest resolution available for icons on Android).
Take a look at the great Android Asset studio by Roman Nurik where you can export your finished icons and much more.
You can also accomplish this via the help of the launch icon generator, which will automatically export the icons for various DPIs.
Get Real? Get Material
It’s true that we still need to wait a few months until we can enjoy the full power of Material Design and Android L, but there is no harm in being prepared and be one of the first to have your app ready for Material Design.
If you get overwhelmed by all the rules and guidelines of the style guide, start small and create your icons in Material Design style as we did. You will eventually get the hang of it. Let us know your results!
Elio is a open source designer and founder of Ura Design. He coordinates community initiatives at SitePoint as well. Further, as a board member at Open Labs Hackerspace, he promotes free software and open source locally and regionally. Elio founded the Open Design team at Mozilla and is a Creative Lead at Glucosio and Visual Designer at The Tor Project. He co-organizes OSCAL and gives talks as a Mozilla Tech Speaker at various conferences. When he doesn’t write for SitePoint, he scribbles his musings on his personal blog.