Creating icons for Custom Entities for CRM 2011

As described in my article about how to add your own new icons for custom entities in CRM, for each custom entity you will need two icons at 16 and 32 pixels square. These should be png, gif or jpg files, and I would strongly recommend png for preference, gif as second choice (as they at least support transparency) and jpg as last resort (areas of uniform colour often end up no longer being uniform but “noisy”).

Buy or find free icons online

There are various libraries of general-purpose icons you can buy such as the V-Collection from Icon Experience (they also do a more “modern” posterised style M-Collection which complements them well for different scenarios). I have also found others which you can download and use for free individually or as a collection. These often come with a requirement to cite the source if used commercially, which is easy enough to do by including some text and a URL in the description field of the web resource. The free collection of icons at FatCows has some good quality icons and useful ideas (downloadable individually or as a big zip file) amongst lots which seem far too “fun” for a serious application like CRM.

Another good source of icons is the CRM 2011 SDK which contains all the icons used in the application in the folders \resources\images\formentity and \resources\images\imagestrips n particular. Very often you can repurpose an icon from an entity you are not using, with a bit of lateral thinking. Modifying and reusing for commercial projects is probably not strictly allowed since these icons are Microsoft’s.

Draw your own or customise from a close starting point

Occasionally I get creative enough to draw simple icons from scratch, or at least to modify other icons to suit my needs more closely (if the original allows for derivative works, of course). Sometimes you find a great icon at 32 pixels and need to do a resize down to 16 (or vice versa) and then hand-retouch it to get the best effect – a resize alone is almost never a good finish.

Go beyond a simple resize

Don’t assume a large and small version of the exact same picture is the best combination anyway – sometimes a much simpler image is a better choice at 16 pixels, and at 32 you can add more detail. Below are some examples of icons I have created in the past where this seemed to be the best approach. In the case of the “ticket” icon especially they are nothing like each other – I used this one for a custom “Attendance” entity  created as a manual N:N link entity between Contact and Event. The calendar one on the right (used for an Event in the same solution) has a nice bit of semi-transparent reflection and shadow to fit the usual CRM “feel”.

Trial_16 Trial_32    Project_16 Project_32    Attendance_16 Attendance_32    Event_16 Event_32

Image editing tools

Whether drawing from scratch or retouching an existing image I usually turn to a good old-fashioned image editing program like JASC PaintShopPro 7 (I prefer this to later versions which focussed too much on photo-retouching than simple pixel-poking). This allows me to edit right down to individual pixel precision very easily and provides simple tools such as anti-aliasing, and being able to layer colour on or remove it at less than 100% opacity to get nice blends and smooth transitions between colours or to transparent areas (for example to get almost-see-through little reflection effects below an image as seen in some examples above).

You might prefer to use the simplicity of Paint, an open-source tool like GIMP or Paint.Net, or a full-blown copy of Photoshop. Choose whatever tool you are most comfortable with to get the job done.

Hopefully this gives you some ideas to get started. If you have any other useful sources of good quality business icons (that are available in 32 and 16 pixel png format in particular), please share in the comments.

2 Responses to Creating icons for Custom Entities for CRM 2011

  1. Adam Vero says:

    Twitter just told me that Jason Lattimer has also published a post about creating custom entity icons today:

  2. Adam Vero says:

    Another great post about choosing and creating icons for CRM, using existing libraries and specialised tools to customise or combine them:

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