In this tutorial, we will be making a blue-colored recycling bin icon, however, you can experiment with different colors (shown on the right is a green version).
Step 1: Set Up the New Photoshop Document
The most basic thing we need is a good canvas to work with. Create a new Photoshop document by choosing File > New or pressing Ctrl/Cmd + N whilst in Photoshop.
Step 2: Create the Top Shape of the Recycling Bin
Create a new layer above the default Background layer by choosing Layer > New > Layer or by using the keyboard shortcut Ctrl/Cmd + Shift + N. Use the name, "top" for this layer.
Select the Rounded Rectangle Tool (U) and set its Radius to 10px.
Go to Edit > Transform > Skew. Drag the top left and top right transform controls inward.
Double-click on the "top" layer in the Layers Panel to bring up the Layer Style dialog window. Give the layer a Drop Shadow layer style with an off-white drop shadow color (#fdfcfc).
Also, give the "top" layer a Gradient Overlay going from a light blue (#89bef9) to a slightly lighter blue (#99d9fa), but you should also notice that the Reverse option is selected.
This is how our shape should look like:
Step 3: Give the Top of the Bin a Light Reflection
Make a new layer (we will name it "top-shine"). Use the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) from the Tools Panel to make a selection within the "top" shape.
Choose the Gradient Tool (G) from the Tools Panel, having the gradient to go from white to transparent, and set the gradient style to Reflected Gradient.
Apply the gradient starting from the center towards the right or left edge of your rectangular marquee selection.
Switch the Blend Mode of the "top-shine" layer to Overlay and Opacity to 23% so that it doesn’t appear too prominent in our icon design.
The shine, as you can see from below, is very subtle but gives our icon a unique surface.
Step 4: Create the Illusion of Depth
We will now make it look like our recycling bin’s opening is hollow. Create new shape layer at the center of our "top" shape using the Rounded Rectangle Tool (U) and Edit > Transform > Skew as we’ve done before; rename this shape layer "top-depth" so that we are maintaining our Photoshop file’s organization.
Tip: Alternatively, you can duplicate the "top" layer and resize the duplicated layer down using Edit > Transform > Scale.
Give the new shape a Drop Shadow and a Gradient Overlay layer style.
The drop shadow color should be white (#ffffff).
Have the gradient go from a light blue (#61a0dc) to a slightly darker blue (#4b84be), but you should also notice that the Reverse option is selected.
As you can see from below, the layer styles give the top of our recycling bin an illusion that it is lower than the bigger rounded rectangle surrounding it.
Step 5: Organize Your Layers
Housekeeping time: Click on the Create new layer group icon ( it looks like a folder) at the bottom of the Layers Panel.
Drag every layer created until now — except the Background layer — into this group. Collapse this group by clicking on the small triangle icon just on the left of the folder thumbnail so that its more compact in our Layers Panel.
Name the layer group as "top".
Step 6: Draw the Front Shape of the Recycling Bin
Now, in the Layers Panel, click on the Background layer to position your work correctly in the layer stacking order. Make a shape for the front of the recycling bin (let us name this shape layer as "front").
You can use the same Rounded Rectangle Tool and Skew Transform process that we used for the top of the recycling bin, but this time, when you are skewing it, you will pull in the bottom transform controls towards the middle.
Step 7: Give the Front of the Recycling Bin Some Color
To give the front of our recycling bin its color, we will use a Gradient Overlay layer style.
The front of our bin should now have consistent coloring with its top.
Step 8: Shade the Right Edge of the Recycling Bin
Make a new shape (you can name this shape layer as "side-shade") towards the right of the icon.
Color the shade appropriately using a Color Overlay layer style, using a darker blue color (#1f456f).
With the "side-shade" layer selected in the Layers Panel, give the layer a layer mask by clicking on the Add layer mask icon at the bottom of the panel.
If done correctly, you’ll see that the "side-shade" layer will look like the following image.
Now take the Gradient Tool (G) and set its options so that the gradient goes from white to black and the gradient style is set to Linear Gradient. Apply the gradient as shown below (indicated by the red arrow).
This should result in giving the right side of the recycling bin an effect of being curved.
Reduce the prominence of the shading by lowering the layer’s Opacity to 29%.
Step 9: Shade the Left Edge of the Recycling Bin
Duplicate the "side-shade" layer by pressing Ctrl/Cmd + J while the layer is the active layer in the Layers Panel or by choosing Layer > Duplicate Layer in the main menu.
Flip the duplicated layer horizontally by going to Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal.
Move the duplicated shading to the leftmost edge using the Move Tool (V).
Step 10: Create Light Reflections
Let us give our icon a radial light reflection to make its surface even more interesting. Create a new layer (you can name it "front-light"), and in this newly-created layer, you can use the Elliptical Marquee Tool (M) and Fill command (Ctrl/Cmd + F5) to make a white half-circle shape located at the center of our bin.
Soften the edges of the half-circle by giving its layer a Gaussian Blur; do this by choosing Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and setting the Radius option of the blur filter to about 18.6px.
As you can see below, we will need to correct the light reflection so that it doesn’t go on the brim.
Remove the excess light reflections at the top by selecting them with the Rectangular Marquee Tool and pressing Delete to remove the selected area.
Let the light reflection blend better by switching the layer’s Blend Mode to Overlay and lowering the Opacity to about 67%.
Step 11: Add the Recycling Symbol
Pick the Custom Shape Tool (U) from the Tools Panel. For its Shape option, find "Recycle 2" which comes with Photoshop CS versions by default (it is in the "Symbol" set of custom shapes).
Draw the custom shape at the center of our recycling bin.
Step 12: Style the Recycling Symbol
Style the recycling shape layer by giving it a drop shadow, inner shadow, and gradient overlay layer styles.
Set the drop shadow color to a blue (#3c6a99).
The inner shadow color should be white (#ffffff).
Finally, the gradient overlay colors should be from baby blue (#bee4f9) to white (#ffffff).
The three layer styles gives the symbol some harmony with the rest of our icon’s design.
Before moving on, let us organize our work by grouping all the "front" layers into a layer group called "front". The "front" layer group should be between the Background layer and the "top" layer group.
Step 13: Draw a Crumpled Piece of Paper Shape
We will now draw a crumpled piece of paper that has been tossed into our recycling bin. Above the "top" layer group, create a new layer (let us name this layer as "paper").
On this new layer, you can utilize the Polygonal Lasso Tool, the Pen Tool, or any of your favorite freehand drawing tools to create a random white-colored shape, as shown below.
Step 14: Style the Crumpled Paper Shape
Give the piece of paper a Drop Shadow layer style and Stroke layer style.
The drop shadow color should be black (#000000) and its Opacity lowered to around 10%.
Respectively, the stroke color should also be black (#000000).
The layer styles give our piece of paper some base definitions.
Step 15: Draw Details on the Crumpled Paper Shape
To add creases to the paper, create a new layer (name it "paper-shade1") and draw black shapes along some of its edges.
Lower the opacity of the "paper-shade1" layer to around 14%. This should result in giving the piece of paper some subtle depth and definitions.
To add more creases, just create a new layer (let us name this one "paper-shade2") and draw more black shapes.
Reduce the Opacity to around 4%. Adding the crease shades on different layers and lowering the opacity to a another value gives our details random nuances that make the piece of paper look more realistic.
Step 16: Make More Pieces of Paper
First, let us organize our PSD by making a new layer group for our crumpled pieces of paper. We can call this group something intuitive like "paper". Drag all layers associated to the piece of paper we just made into this new layer group.
Next, duplicate this layer group (Layer > Duplicate Group) to make another piece of paper.
Move the new piece of paper away from the first one using the Move Tool (V).
Make another piece of paper using the same technique.
Add variance to the pieces of paper so that they don’t look identical using the Free Transform command (Edit > Free Transform). You can rotate them, change their sizes, and so forth.
We will change the angle of the middle piece of paper to 45o. Select its layer group in the Layers Panel, choose Edit > Transform > Rotate, and in the Options Bar, set the Rotate option to 45o.
Create as many pieces of paper as you want, experiment with angles, sizes, and layer stacking order. The goal is to make the pieces of crumpled paper varied so that our icon mimics a real recycling bin.
You can also add pieces of paper outside of the recycling bin to make it look full.
Step 17: Make our Recycling Bin Look Semitransparent
Let’s make our bin look as if we can see inside it slightly. If you don’t want to do this, that is fine — consider this as an optional step. Start by selecting all the "paper" layer groups — except the pieces of paper that are laying on the floor — in the Layers Panel. Duplicate them by right-clicking in the Layers Panel and choosing Duplicate Layers from the contextual menu that appears.
Merge the duplicated layers by right-clicking in the Layers Panel again and choosing Merge Layers.
Duplicate, transform, and so forth so that you end up with something like the image below. We want to make it look like our bin is filled to the brim.
Merge these layers (select them in the Layers Panel and press Ctrl/Cmd + E) and name the merged layer as "translucent-property".
Add a layer mask on the "translucent-property" layer, then use the Gradient Tool to create a black to white gradient on the layer mask.
Doing so will fade the layer towards the bottom of our recycling bin.
Step 18: Add Shadows to the Pieces of Paper
We need to add some additional shadows to the pieces of paper. Create a new layer called "extra-shadow", and on this new layer, draw black shapes on the papers’ edges.
Set the Opacity of the layer to 10% to soften the drop shadow.
Perform some organizational tasks by making a new layer group called "papers" and dragging the respective layers and layer groups inside of it.
Step 19: Give the Recycling Bin a Shadow at the Bottom
Let us create a shadow being casted on the floor by the recycling bin. Create a new layer (name it "main-shadow") just above the Background layer.
Use the Rounded Rectangle Tool (U) to draw a rounded corner square behind the bin.
Apply a Gaussian Blur filter to soften the edges of the rounded corner square, using a Radius between 18-19px.
Using the Free Transform command (Ctrl/Cmd + T) like before, squeeze this shape so that it looks like the following image.
Use Skew Transform so that its angle is consistent with the Recycling Bin’s shape.
Step 20: Paint Shadows for the Pieces of Paper on the Floor
We should add some shadows on the pieces of paper that are on the floor so that our icon’s lighting is accurate and consistent. First, create a new layer (name it "paper-shadow") above the recycling bin’s shadow layer (which we had named "main-shadow").
Use the Brush Tool (B) with a soft black brush tip and Master Diameter that is around 65px.
Click once on your canvas to produce a circular brush stroke.
Use Free Transform to squeeze it down and make it look like the shadow of the pieces of paper on the floor. Position it at the bottom of the pieces of paper using the Move Tool (V).
Duplicate the "paper-shadow" layer and scale it down using Free Transform. Position it below the other piece of paper using the Move Tool (V). Having two layers for the shadow makes the depth of our piece as accurate as possible.
Step 21: Add a Window Light Reflection
Let’s give our work some subtle details. We are coming to the final steps of our icon design.
First, we’ll make a light reflection on the top left corner. Create a new layer named "reflection". Use the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L) to draw an uneven polygonal selection. Note that you want this new layer to be at the very top of the layer stacking order.
Next, apply a white to transparent gradient using the Gradient Tool (G).
Let’s say that the light source is coming through a window pane. Make a selection that looks like a cross (using Polygonal Lasso Tool), representing the window’s frame.
Then, just hit Delete to remove parts of the light reflection underneath the cross selection.
Change the Blend Mode of the "reflection" layer to Overlay and also lower the Opacity to around 35%.
Step 22: Add More Creases to the Pieces of Paper
We should give our pieces of paper some more details by adding creases to them. Create a new layer (let us name this layer "crumples"). On the new layer, draw black shapes around the edges as shown below.
Reduce the opacity of this layer to around 10%. Doing this gives our pieces of paper some subtle definitions.
Step 23: Add a Light Reflection at the Recycling Bin’s Edge
To finish our work, we will be adding a light reflection at the edge of the bin’s opening. This process will give our surface an even more interesting design element, as well as draw the viewer’s eyes towards middle of the icon. Create a new layer (we can call this layer "add-shine"). Use the Brush Tool (B) with a white, soft brush tip sized at about 45px. Click once in the center (towards the top) to paint in the light reflection.
Set the Opacity of this layer to 60%.
You’re done! In this tutorial, we used fundamental Photoshop tools such as the Rounded Rectangle Tool, the Custom Shape Tool and the Gradient Tool, as well as basic commands such as Free Transform and Skew Transform to draw a recycling bin icon from scratch.
You can modify your layer styles to make the color of your recycling bin different. Below, you can see that I modified the color to green.
Download Source Files
- recyling_bin_icon (ZIP, 0.51 MB)
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