Everyone knows the iconic Google map marker. Looking like a hot air balloon in flight, this marker has landed squarely in the middle of our visual culture.
Many maps use similar-looking markers. While you can find lots of alternative marker shapes and designs online, why not be a little different and let Adobe Illustrator transform your markers into eye-popping icons? Placing your icons under the creative control of the Appearance panel gives you a myriad of visually sophisticated options.
Draw an Icon
We started our icons by using the Pen tool to draw half of the balloon shape that will become our marker shape. With the path selected, we Option-/Alt-Clicked on one of the end-points with the Reflect tool. In the Reflect dialog, we selected Vertical for Axis and then clicked Copy. To join the halves into a single object, we selected both paths and chose Object > Path > Join.
While many icons add a filled circle or other shape inside their marker, we wanted a hole that would show the background artwork behind the marker. First, we drew a circle and positioned it on top of the marker shape. Then we selected the marker and the circle, opened the Pathfinder panel, and clicked Minus Front.
Make Marker Magic
If you want to further style your icon, open the Appearance panel and prepare to exercise your creativity. With your icon selected, start by clicking on Stroke in the Appearance panel. Then click on the Gradient panel icon to open the panel and click the Gradient Slider. Now edit the colors and positions of slider endpoints and midpoints, and the gradient angle, to create the appearance you want. We styled the gradient with a white-to-blue gradient angled to make the icon appear illuminated by a light source to its left.
Next, we changed the Fill from a solid blue to the same white-to-blue gradient used for the Stroke.
At this point, you have a visually interesting icon. But you can take it a step further by adding a pattern. Employing one of Illustrator’s patterns–or constructing your own–will give your icon a unique look and help differentiate it from other markers. To do this, first add a pattern to your Swatches panel. You can pick one of the patterns that ship with Illustrator by selecting the Swatches panel menu and choosing Open Swatch Library. We chose Patterns > Decorative > Decorative Legacy > Herringbone 1 Color. Next, select your marker artwork and click the Add New Fill icon at the bottom of the Appearance panel. Select the new Fill’s menu and choose the pattern you just added to the Swatches panel.
For our marker, we adjusted the position and blending mode of the patterned Fill in the Appearance panel. We moved the pattern above the gradient Fill, changed its Opacity to 80%. We also changed its Blending Mode from Normal to Color Dodge. Experiment with both of these adjustments and with the position of the Fill in the panel to achieve a visual effect you like.
In addition to the stroke and fill gradients and patterns, you can also apply other visual effects to your icon by selecting the fx icon in the Appearance panel. You can apply visual effects like adding a Brush to the Stroke or applying the Distort & Transform effect to the marker artwork.
For the illustration at the top of this page, we fashioned a shadow for our marker icons. To create the shadow, we added a new Fill to the Appearance panel and applied the 3D Extrude & Bevel, Gaussian Blur, and Transform effects, and reduced the Fill’s opacity to create an angled shadow. To find out more about how to create an angled shadow, check out the CreativePro article we wrote: http://www.creativepro.com/article/illustrator-how-shadowy-icons
When you complete your marker, consider turning it into a Graphic Style that can save time when you create other icons that have similar visual effects. To do this, select your marker, open the Graphic Styles panel, and click the New Graphic Style icon. Now you can apply this style to other artwork and then modify the Strokes and Fills in the Appearance panel to create a variation of the original marker.
Use the Comments below to tell us how you use Illustrator’s Appearance panel to make and modify icons and other artwork.