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Thread: [How To] Design Item Icons

  1. #1
    Basic Member .Budi's Avatar
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    Oct 2011

    [How To] Design Item Icons

    How to "Design Item Icons"

    The important things when designing an Item (in that priority):
    1. Recognisability
    2. Clear Colours
    3. Represent the Style of the Game
    4. Similarity to Dota 1
    5. High Individual Quality

    By Recognisability I basically mean the silhouettes of the items as well as the idea of it. You have to design the Icons so they fit their name and the same time keep them as easy as possible so they don’t look too confusing. The silhouettes need to be clear, which means that even without colours you should be able to understand which item it is. Many items have an unique type of weapon they origin from, e.g:
    • Claymore
    • Broadsword
    • Ogre Axe
    • Mithril Hammer
    • Stout Shield
    • Ring of Protection

    So even without any visual effects you can already recognise the item.
    There are still other important aspects. A contrast between the item itself and the background is very important to recognise the item. The items are no artwork, they don’t need to blend in with the background and look super detailed. The most important thing is to be able to instantly know which item this is. By blurring the items or by adding too many effects and colours you destroy the recognisability.

    Clear Colours
    What do i mean by clear colours? Clear colour means that even without looking at the details or the form of the item you will recognize what type of item it is.
    As there are different “Tiers” of items, the ones who are higher (and more costly) should have more visuals, while the lower Tiers, and most non-active items should look plain, e.g:
    Expensive Item: => Cheap Item:

    Also the colours are very important and should give a hint about what bonuses the item gives. So Strength items should be redish, agility items greenish and intelligence items should be blueish, e.g:
    Strength: Agility: Intelligence:

    In every game there are colours are used for specific attributes and Dota 2 is no exception. Still the new item icons use random colours that do nothing but reduce the recognizability.
    The colours of the item should and have to represent the attributes of the items:
    • Life (red), Mana (blue)
    • Lifesteal (red/green)
    • Poison (yellowish green)
    • Heal, Holy (yellow/white)
    • Negative, Unholy (purple)
    • Damage (grey/greyish red)
    • Attack Speed (greyish green)
    • Armor (grey/brown)
    • All Attributes (neutral/rainbow)
    • Ice (teal/light blue)
    • Lightning (light blue)
    • etc...

    Represent the Style of the Game
    The items should stick to the rest of the artstyle of the game. When the game is overall bright and has quite low saturation you can’t design items that could fit into the next best gothic collection. Also you can’t make extremely saturated items when the game has a different tone. What I noticed is that a lot of items look more metallic, but the game itself looks “stoneish” and has no metallic visuals.

    Similarity to Dota 1

    Not very important but many players come from Dota 1 and for them it’s hard to recognise items that look completely different than in Dota 1. (Notice: Not every icon in Dota 1 is actually good, as the icon sources are limited)

    High Quality
    Least important aspect you need to consider while making an Icon. A high quality picture of a puking cat is not better suited for a Claymore than a sketch of a sword using 5 lines only and no colour.

    General Comment on Items:
    The visual changes that made the item look worse are:
    • They became more darken; when everything gets darker the distinction between other items gets harder as they look more similar.
    • The metalic or 3D look; gives the item more detail but makes it look more similar to other items. Again they icons get harder to distinguish.
    • Smoothness and Blurr; lower the quality and the recognisability.
    • Complete Overhauls into the wrong direction; e.g. Gem, Satanic, Mjolnir, Mekansm, etc.

    Examples of 'bad work'

    Abyssal Blade

    Mixture of 2 different colours in the background makes it look too colourfu, also there is no reason to use teal as an colour for an item that gives only Damage and Strength as it doesn't fit at all.

    Ancient Janggo

    The green background colour doesn't fit the item at all. It's not primary an agility item or a regeneration item, instead it's a "positive" and "neutral" item as it gives to all attributes and gives an active buff. The best colour would be something in the direction of yellow or white.


    Again the background colour doesn't fit at all. But this time the active icon even looks weird. On the first look it looks like a purple magical stone, like a point booster, but not a Gauntlet.

    BOOTS of Elvenskin

    These are not boots. Do I have to say more?

    Gem of Truesight

    It's a terrible icon as noone can actually recognise that this is supposed to be the gem. Everyone I talked with asked me which item this is supposed to be.


    This is not Dota2 style, sorry. Compared to all other items this one looks like it's out of Starcraft 2 or something like that. Also it doesn't fit the item at all as it looks more like a teleport field and not something that heals.


    The angle is weird, also there is no need to show the whole item when it's already clear that it is a hammer. (grats for making it look less like a jellyfish)

    DIVINE Rapier

    This item looks demonic and not divine (like the evil Soul Calibur).


    Looks wrong. The item is just a black shadow and the background colour is too much. The first reaver looked much better


    What is this, like really? It looks like a worm...

    Eye of Skadi

    Doesn't look 'frosty' at all.


    Looks like a Dagger and not a scepter. The Stone is too sharp, the iron thing around it looks like a crossguard.
    ~ .Budi

  2. #2
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    Almost all of the new icons incorporate unnecessary changes that make them look so much worse... It doesn't need to be that dark... seriously.

  3. #3
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    Dec 2011
    I agree with this horrible changes

  4. #4
    And Mithril Hammer looks like something from Tron

    But Mekansm doesn't seem too bad since Tinker is also sci-fi themed.
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  5. #5
    Basic Member .Budi's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by AzianStrider View Post
    But Mekansm doesn't seem too bad since Tinker is also sci-fi themed.
    I wouldn't say Tinker is that much sci-fi themed, but that isn't even the point. Mekansm just doesn't look like it belongs to the world of Dota 2.

  6. #6
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    Lol'd. Boots of Elveskin sucks, Mekans looks weird too. I'm ok with the rest.

  7. #7
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    I vote for something like this for Gem icon:

    Simple, gorgeous and realistic.

  8. #8
    Basic Member Mittsies's Avatar
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    Nice thread. I like how you make it seem so simple-stupid despite Valve managing to mess up big time with many of these item icons.

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  9. #9
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    Dec 2011
    OP is very astute in his observations. I agree with his general conclusions. Playing tonight strained my eyes because the hud and icons were too dark compared to the radiant side. Feels bad man.

  10. #10
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    Dec 2011
    I agree, maybe add that Sange and Yasha is too different to the old ones? I think that they should keep the same models just give them some more work with backgrounds and final touches.

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