In this tutorial we’re going to learn how to create a large 512×512 car icon, based on a lovely BMW Mini Cooper. We will be using Photoshop (CS4 in this case) to create the icon, using a handful of different techniques.
Open up Photoshop and create a new document by 512×512 pixels. Search the web for an image of a car that you want to create an icon for. In my case, I’m using a front on photo of a Mini Cooper that can be found here.
Obviously, as this is only an icon, we won’t be putting 100% of the detail into our icon (otherwise you may as well use a stock photo). We will be paying a lot of attention to smaller details though, and recreating them with various built-up layers of gradients and subtle pixel-width lines.
Place your found image into your canvas. We will ‘tracing‘ the image of the car to get the shape correct, and then using it as a source for highlights, shadows and additional detailing.
Lower the Opacity of the stock image layer, and then begin to trace your car with the Pen Tool. It’s all about separating the car into parts. For example the bumper alone can be separated into various parts, as you’ll see over the new few steps.
Once you’ve traced your first shape, right-click with the Pen Tool still selected and select Fill Path. Fill your select with white, making sure you’re doing this on a new layer (also be sure to name the layer). Here is the first ‘shape‘ from the bumper that I have traced…
As we our car is going to be icon, we want to keep it symmetrical. Duplicate the layer, and then go to Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal. Reposition this layer on the other side of the car.
We’re now going to create the bottom/front part of the bumper, which actually appears beneath the two side-bumpers we just created, meaning the layer we fill it on will have be beneath the existing shape layers. Trace the shape, and do just that!
As you can see, we’ve missed out a bunch of different shapes underneath the front of the bumper. Hide the layer, and trace some of the other shapes, such as the grills. Remember to fill in each different shape on a new layer. You can also fill the shapes with different colors to help determine which is which.
By just building up the shape of our car shape by shape it soon starts coming together. There are still plenty of other shapes on just our bumper though! One area that will involve several shapes is the area of the cars foglights. This section alone we will two shapes for the foglights themselves, and two shapes to make up the paint work that surrounds them… Not to mention the various other layers we will be applying later to make it come to life! Trace shapes similar to the ones in the screenshot below.
Now trace the wheels of your car using the exact same technique, and then flip your tyre horizontally and reposition it on the other side of your car.
We’re now going to move on to the main body of the car – this is where it gets a little tricker, mainly because it is much harder to actually determine shapes, as really it is just one shape with various curves. The first shape we’re going to concentrate on is the air vent shape in the bonnet of the car. Grab the Pen Tool and complete the several shapes that make this up.
Start tracing the main shapes of your cars headlights.
Trace the shapes of your cars wing mirrors and stripes.
Our car is really coming together now! The next step is to trace the bonnet shape and paint work area around the headlights.
Using techniques we have been using throughout, finish off the shapes for your windscreen and roof, including any extras such as the rear view mirror, steering wheel and seats.
Our Mini is, well… looking like a Mini, which is a wonderful sign! We’re now going to start applying color to our icon. Reduce the size of your stock image and increase the opacity of the layer up to 100%.
Remember that we’re not going to make our car incredibly detailed, but we are going to apply gradients and various strokes and shadows to give it a little more life. We’re going to start off with side bumpers. Select your left side bumper layer, right-click and select blending options.
Apply a Gradient Overlay similar to the one found below – you can select colors from your stock photo using the Eyedropper Tool.
Also apply an Inner Shadow to this shape using the settings seen below in the screenshot.
Repeat the process on the right side bumper.
Using these techniques, apply a similar gradient to your main front bumper.
Apply a very dark gradient to the first shape we created behind our fog lights.
Now add a slightly lighter gradient to the second shape we created behind our fog lights. This give its a bit of shadowing, which we will further develop later on in the tutorial.
Carry on adding simple gradients and the occasional drop shadow to your cars paint work. Just stick to the blue and white paint work for now (the body color, mirrors, stripes and roof) – we’ll move onto the chrome effects and head/fog lights afterwards!
It’s time to start work on our chrome effects. Chrome is a relatively hard look to pull off in Photoshop. Apply a gradient to your top grill chrome with somewhere between 10-20 colors, alternating between white/light grey to light grey/medium grey, as seen in the screenshot below.
Also add both drop and inner shadows to your chrome using the settings below.
You should end up with something looking like this…
Complete any other chrome areas on your car.
We’re now going to add some effects to our cars grill and bonnet vent. The first thing you need to do is change the color of your grill/vents to a very dark grey.
Open up the blending options window for one of your grills and apply a pattern overlay. Select the stripy diagonal lines from your pattern drop-down list. If you don’t have this pattern, simply create a new 3×3 pixel document and draw three dots on the canvas using the Pencil Tool, then go to Edit > Define Pattern to create the pattern.
Lower the opacity of the Pattern Overlay to 25%. This will make the patterns/lines much harder to see and show a lot of the dark background through – just what we need! If need be, you can also add an inner shadow.
Simply right-click on your grills layer and select Copy Layer Style, then right-click on your other grill layer and vent layer and select Paste Layer Style.
Were now going to add some gradients to our headlights and fog lights. Lets start with the main background of our left headlight. Open up the blending options and apply a gradient overlay. From the style drop-down menu, select radial, and apply similar colors to those seen in the screenshot below.
I’ve also added an inner shadow set to Normal with the color #FFECBD. Set the opacity to 54%, the distance to 0px, the choke to 28% and the size to 10px. Click OK, right-click on the layer, copy the layer style and paste it onto your other headlights background layer. Paste this layer style onto your fog lights as well.
Using similar techniques, apply gradients and other effects to your actual lights and indicator.
We’ve almost done with applying all the basic gradients. You should now know how to apply the rest of the gradients to our car. We have only a few things left to apply gradients to: the tyres, windscreen and a few things we can see in the car such as the seats, rear view mirror and steering wheel. Finish these few bits off…
We’re now going to add a few little extras to finish our car icon off. Grab the Rectangular Marquee Tool and make a selection like below. Fill it with black.
Zoom right into your document and remove the edges of your lines so that it doesn’t overlap the edge of the side bumpers or grill.
Add a stroke to your line.
Create a new layer on top of all your other layers. Select the Brush Tool and pick a soft brush. Select white as your foreground color, and begin painting on areas of highlights on your car.
Once you have done this, go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur. Blur your brush work by 4.5 pixels.
Change your layers blending mode to overlay, and lower the opacity to around 30%.
Remove any excess brush work that may be overlapping the car. You can do this by changing the main background to black so you can see any overlapping lines.
There we have it; we’re done! Here is my final result – be sure to share a link to your outcome in the comments section!
You can download the final result in PSD format right here: