Iconic is Now Open Source

After two years of work, Iconic is now a fully open source project. This release signifies the biggest improvement in the set as well as the biggest shift in how it will progress.

When I made Iconic nearly two years ago, I was always committed to keeping it free. There are a lot of very good commercial icon sets, but I thought it was important to have a free alternative. I am unsure whether the success of Iconic was due to its design, its free model or a little of both, but the set has been downloaded hundreds of thousands of times and it being used on thousands of websites. I’m tremendously happy with how useful it has been for people. That said, the most impressive thing for me has been the willingness of complete strangers to contribute to this project. I am going to make that a lot easier now by open-sourcing the Iconic on Github. In doing so, I have high aspirations for the set moving forward.

Why Open Source?

There are a lot of “open source” icons available, but I have not come across any that are truly open source (i.e., releasing Photoshop/Illustrator source files). On the surface, open-sourcing an icon set does not make much sense. Simply adding visual assets to a repository is pretty useless. I completely agree. Even though I have included all Illustrator source files used to create the icons, the meat of Iconic is in the tools used to automate the production process. These tools are as core to Iconic as the icons themselves. By providing these tools freely, I hope to influence other designers to include these types of tools in their projects.

Of equal priority for open sourcing Iconic is to create greater community involvement. I want to see all the tools improve through the help of interested individuals. As far as I am concerned, Iconic is now a group project. In fact, two of the biggest improvements in this release had absolutely nothing to do with me. Keeping the icon set so close to my chest has limited its progress in the last two years. It works better for everyone to open it up.

There is a lot to this release. Absolutely everything I have created for this icon set is now available to you. Below are the main elements:

  • Ready-to-use fonts, vector icons (SVG format), Omnigraffle stencil and one color of the raste icons (PNG format)
  • The main Illustrator source file (only CS5 for now, I will provide older versions later on)
  • Illustrator JSX ExtendScripts to automate the creation of SVG and PNG files
  • Illustrator symbols (thanks to Achim Rosenhagen)
  • Python scripts to automate the creation of the Iconic fonts (TTF, OFT, SVG, EOT & ATM formats) along with generated CSS files and HTML demo (more on this later in the post)
  • Ruby sprite generator (thanks to Endel Dreyer, still a work-in progress)
  • Actionscript 3 source files plus the Ant build scripts used to create the SWC

The biggest effort of this release was to improve the embeddable fonts provided for this set. I am going to be dedicating a full article about the new organizational principle used along with all the gory details. However, I would like to thank Philip Shaw for providing what I consider to be a brilliant approach for Unicode glyph selection and Yann Hourdel for helping create the Python scripts to automate font creation (which happened to be, by far, the most arduous process prior to his help).

Going open source also forced me to drastically improve the ExtendScripts I created. They are still imperfect, but they have come a long way from the kludgy systems I had grown to accept. To make a long story short, all icon production can be done with a script. You could imagine how long it would take to save 171 icons at 4 sizes at 13 different colors (hint: that’s 11,970 files). Through improving the scripts, I learned how to create custom input dialogs for ExtendScripts should come in handy some day.

Lastly, the number of icons in the set actually shrank in this release. There have been a few icons that I was never happy with that I kept for one reason or the other. My emphasis now will be to improve the overall quality of the icon set before I go on to add others. In fact, I would not be surprised if the set dropped to 165 or so before I am finished.


There are many more tools I would like to provide for Iconic. Most notably, I want a version of Iconic in Javascript that writes icons in Canvas dynamically. This is my number one outstanding item — I know how to do it, I just presently lack the facilities to make it happen. If any of you are interested in such a project, by all means, let me know in the comments below.

I would also like to provide a Ruby Gem and WordPress Plugin that allows for simple deployment of the icon set through any process they desire (e.g., font-embedding, CSS/Sprites or just regular file requests). I am also very open to other ideas if you have one.

The Grand Vision

I want Iconic to be best web-focused icon project through its support of forward-facing display/deployment methods. I also want it to set the standard for how an icon set should be released and maintained. I want it to be an example of how community involvement, open-source principles and strong technological support can be integral to a design project. Lastly, I want people to believe that they do not have to pay for quality design resources. We all benefit by high-caliber public assets — I know I have. If people choose to buy an icon set, I want them to feel like they had to luxury of choosing.

This is a lot to live up to, here’s hoping it works out. I would love to have your help.

6 thoughts on “Iconic is Now Open Source”

  1. At the risk of breaking the  fairy tale rule of not thanking the magical shoemaker elves that do the heavy lifting, a big thanks for your generosity, and great work.

  2. Hello, My name is Wilson, I’m an IxD student at CCA. I think we met at an Adaptive Path workshop. Regardless, I’d love to take a crack at writing ICONIC javascript. I’ve written jquery plug-ins and am familiar with programmatic vector graphics. I’m on break until the 10th and have the space to put in some hours.

    Hope to hear from you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *