Reverse Engineer Icons: Marvel Icon Sets, Simple rules that Unify

When making an icon set, sometimes a set of rules need to be made so that they can feel unified. I will be showing some of the basic rules that the artist followed in order to make these icons work well together so that it feels like a complete set.

Design/Composition Rules

  1. All icons must be circular shape, and must have a circular border outside the character’s main shape.
  2. Facial structure is symmetrical. The placement of the eyes, nose, ears, etc is the same on each side.
  3. Hair does not follow this rule, and rule can be broken only for emphasis on personality (See Deadpool)
  4. Light source is coming in from the left
  5. Simple design, minimal detail
  • Comments on Rule 3: Making this asymmetrical adds interest and humanizes them instead of just being a picture.
  • Comments on Rule 4: The Ghost Rider has his own light source


Color Rules

  1. All of the colors are darker on the right side, except direct skin.
  2. Highlights, if any, on left side, shadows on right
  3. Same colors for eyes and skin
  4. Repeat similar colors Example: Blacks and reds
  5. No stroke color
  • Comments on Rule 1: This seems to make the costume pop out and the face is less emphasized.
  • Comments on Rule 2: Notice Hawkeye’s highlight on the left side and upper tip of his mask – it’s the same color as the left side of the H.
  • Comments on Rule 3: Eyes and skin are the middle swatches of the picture
  • Comments on Rule 4: If you notice, the blue set has reds placed on the outsides, and the red set has the two oranges (Iron Man and Black Widow) and the two cool colors (Captain American and Thor) on the edges trying to balance the set both horizontally and vertically. (also considered a rule of design/composition)
  • Comments on Rule 5: Except Ghost rider, who also doesn’t follow Rule 3.


One of the interesting decisions that the designer made was on Captain America. In the A of his forehead, the main color is white. Instead of just choosing a darker white (grey), he used a blue. This is a great example of keeping the idea of a monochromatic scheme within each character.


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