There are a dizzying number of free icons (opens in new tab) available for download from the web - so where do you start? In this feature, we've gathered some of the best sites to help track down options that work for you.
First, you need to know what you're looking for.
The key to iconography is a consistent aesthetic (line weights, proportions, composition, amount of positive vs negative space used, etc) that displays a sense of competence and good decision-making in your design.
Each individual icon needs to communicate clearly but relate to every other icon used on the site or design piece.
In other words, you need to make sure the free icons you download are scalable. While some realistic/illustrative icons are intriguing, they ultimately do not reduce down in size and maintain legibility. But icons that are stripped down to their essence can usually scale well, whether small or large.
Understand what your needs are: the amount of room needed to display the icons, if the background is clean or complex, and so on. That way you'll be better equipped to find the kind of free icons you're looking for more efficiently.
Understand that icons are more about being literal rather than symbolic. And remember that while vectors (AI, EPS, SVG) can be scaled in size and maintain quality, pixel-based images (PNG, JPG, PSD) cannot be enlarged without losing quality.
The iconmonstr website is a great place to find black and white vector icons. They’re available in various sizes, and you can download them either in .PNG or .SVG format.
Find Icons helps you track down everything from flat black and white icons to colourful 3D icons. Uncover what you're looking for by searching by colour, background colour and even style.
At Icon Archive you'll have to sort the wheat from the chaff to a certin extent, but you are able to sort icons by colour, background colour, size, style and category, and download PNGs in four different sizes.
Icon Gallery offers you with a simpler filter option to help you find the icons you're looking for. Icons are available in several sizes to download in .PNG or .ICO.
With a very clean interface, the Iconfinder site has one purpose: find icons for your web projects. Type in a search keyword and you’ll get an array of free icons to scroll through.
Handy tools such as changing the background colour, pixel size, and licensing options make the results all the more helpful. Most resulting images are available in PNG format for download.
Gaining more and more traction and use, the aim of The Noun Project is to provide free icons that all have a similar and consistent aesthetic. It’s like a 'free icon set' that's been juiced up with a search area, a beautiful UI, and some fantastic icon designs.
The primary benefit of IconToucan is convenience. The site enables you to quickly view the transparent, PNG icons and then drag and drop them into a drawer on the right side of the page. Appearing underneath is a list of those icons you’ve chosen and with a single click you can download all the free icons you've selected at once in a ZIP archive file.
Iconza offers a collection of free icons that can quickly be customised in colour and size to suit your needs. You can change the colour of the icons as well as the background on which they’re displayed with some presets, or use your own HEX colour number. Sizes range from 32px to small favicon-sized 16px images.
Freepik has a ton of free visual assets for using in websites, banners, presentations, magazines and advertising, including a number of great icons packs. You'll find all the content indexed by Freepik here (opens in new tab).
Minicons offers a clean set of 210, vector-based free icons with a few hidden gems. You can download all of them in a single click, and they're are free for both personal and commercial use. If you’re feeling frisky, you can open the wallet and pay $59 for the complete package of 1,500 vector icons.
This site lets you create your own free webfonts of icons. You basically select the 'glyphs' of icons you want in your font from a few different (really nice) collections. You can change the pixel sizes, customise the file names, and download your webfont bundle. Everything is generated on through the site and ready for publishing on yours.
Minimal and graphic, Iconic offers a lovely selection of free icons from Some Random Dude. They've been created using grid systems and are so are mindful of being scaled from super-small to ultra-large. Scroll down on the page and you’ll find a couple other icon projects worth taking a look at too.
Design blog Smashing Magazine regularly features free downloadable design assets, and we love this set of 200 useful and beautiful foodie icons courtesy of Freepik.com (opens in new tab). According to Smashing Magazine, it’s the largest set of food icons available on the web in one pack!
Social media is everywhere these days, and the number and variety of social-based sites is increasing all the time. Every website designer seems to have the need for some good social media icons, and this collection provides some of the more common ones (Facebook and Twitter) to more niche ones (Dribbble and deviantART). The free icons come as a font, with the icons both in a circle holding shape and without a circle.
An OpenType font for download, this free offering provides an attractive selection of free icons. The designs were created with simplicity and competence from the folks at The Design Office (opens in new tab) and is available on the popular free fonts site, Font Squirrel. (The icons apparently look good intermingled with Helvetica.)
Have you discovered a great place to find free icons? Let us know about it in the comments!
Adam Ladd is a graphic designer whose work includes logo and identity design, posters, information graphics, typeface design, and more. His video (opens in new tab) on logos seen through the eyes of a child has had more than 1.4 million views on YouTube.
Nindya Retnasatiti is a freelance graphic designer living and working in Indonesia. She blogs on Photoshop and graphic design in the Bahasa language at Bisa Komputer (opens in new tab).