We do a decent amount of icon work for both web and iOS and I used to find that my layer palette would become a mess once I had a couple simple icons constructed with tons of layers. I learned this little trick a while ago to keep my layer palette clean when working with shapes and use it on a fairly regular basis, so I figure it’s worth sharing.
To put the tip in context, lets create a simple page icon. We’ll put this on our lovely blue background.
To create our border, I’m going to make make a white rectangle.
Now to actually make it look like a border, I’m going to draw another square over our white square with the “subtract from selection” option turned on in the pathing options. You can also use a keyboard shortcut to do the same thing by holding down option (alt on pc) while you’re drawing the rectangle.
Note that it’s consolidated the new path into our previous layer.
Now lets start adding simple simple lines to fill it out. Select the square shape tool and In your pathing options, make sure it’s set to “Add to shape area (+)”. The keyboard shortcut is to hold down shift while you’re drawing the next shape.
One of my favorite things about using this technique is that it’s super easy to duplicate existing paths. To do so, enable the Path Selection Tool or press “a” for the keyboard shortcut, and select our newly created line.
To duplicate the selected path, hold down option (alt on PC) (notice a little + sign will appear beside the cursor) and drag the shape up a few pixels.
Do the same thing a couple more times to fill out the icon. Notice that all of shapes are still nicely consolidated inside one layer.
Since everything is inside one layer, you can also easily add layer styles which will carry across the entire icon.
Also keep in mind that if you want to consolidate a path from one layer to another, you can always select one of the paths in the layer with the move tool (v) and copy & paste it into the path section of another layer.
My favorite part about this process is that all the shapes are independently editable within the one layer once they are selected with the direct selection tool. Magic!