How to create unique icons styles, through the art of combination

Line icon or "the mother of icons" converted into different basic styles which then combined to create the combo styles.

Unique brands are memorable. Undoubtedly, unique icons as well.

Icons with unique styles stick in your mind like iconic brands, and they stand out distinctively among the defaults. Creating a new style, though, can be tricky. Let alone making it unique.

But worry not, even with only basic styles, you have what it takes to create exceptional icons. Here’s how it’s done.

See icons as if they’re Lego

Instead of seeing each of them as a single vector object, notice that some icons are made of smaller individual parts. Think of those assembled parts as bricks that you can take apart into different pieces. Just like Lego.

Every icon style is built different. Thinking of them as Lego is a simple analogy that can be a good start to notice the way they're constructed.

Next step is to reassemble

Noticing that your icons are made of smaller pieces is just a first step.

The next is to figure out which parts you can use to build new icons. And then you can start using those parts and combine the styles to create a combo.

Once you notice that icons are made of smaller pieces, you’ll start to see that you can combine them to create something new.

The simplest thing you can do is to take one part from an icon and replace it with same parts from another. But since each icon style is built different, the process won’t always be the same. Necessarily, you may need to do some little tweak to adjust the icons to your own taste and preferences.

Beauty in contrast

Line-Flat combo

Line icons are made of strokes, it doesn’t have any flat shapes. Meanwhile, flat icons are made of flat shapes with no presence of strokes—at all.

It’s an unlikely combination. But a pair-up of those contrasting styles gives birth to an instant beauty.

The simplicity of thin strokes combined with the aesthetic of flat shapes give the icon a unique style that defies the basic look of any default.

Notion-ish aesthetic

Line-Solid combo

Notion’s visual branding combines the simplicity of line art with the boldness of solid shapes.

The black-and-white aesthetic gives out the impression of comic strip illustrations and vintage cartoons—remember the early version of Mickey Mouse or Charles Schulz’s Peanuts?

It’s a simple combo and an effective way to make icons more memorable. And there are three different ways to create it.

1. Pair up Line with Solid

It's the most straightforward way to create the combo. Although, in some cases, it's not the most effective—which is why we need the next two options.

2. Combine Line with Flat

Unlike Solid, Flat shapes are still intact—they're not cropped for gaps. As a result, they're still modifiable.

3. Fill Line icons with black

This can be the simplest way to create the combo. Just fill a shape with black, tweak a little, and that's that.

Similar but not the same

Line-Filled combo

Line and Filled icons share similar traits. Both have strokes, but only Filled icons has colored shapes as their ‘fillers’. And it’s those filler shapes that work as the main differentiator for this combo.

You can either remove one of their fillers or nudge them just a little bit from their outlines. The key is to expose the line without throwing away the fillers, highlighting the difference between both elements to redefine the style.

Due to similarity between Line and Filled icons, you can directly create the combo using only the Filled.

Balance of details and simplicity

Filled-Flat combo

Filled icons are detailed. Flat icons are simple. And this combo is about balance between two opposite ends of icon styles.

Only Filled icons have outlines, so that would be the key difference. Meanwhile, both Filled and Flat have colored shapes, and that would be the similarity that bind them together as a new style.

The distinctiveness of this combo lies heavily on the Filled's outline. That's why it's necessary to use contrasting filler and outline colors.

A blend of richness and solidity

Filled-Solid combo

This one is pretty much like the Line-Solid combo, except now the icons have colored filler shapes. It adds the richness of Filled icons with outlined and colored shapes to the solidity of black shapes from Solid icons.

Similar to Line-Solid version, you can create it in three different ways: 1) pairing up Filled with Solid, 2) combining Filled with Flat, and 3) turning some parts of Filled icon to solid.

1. Pair up Filled with Solid

Although thick strokes can also work as a nice outline, making them thinner will show more contrast and emphasize that the icon is made of two different styles.

2. Combine Filled with Flat

When the cropped solid shapes can no longer be recovered, flat shapes are here to save the day.

3. Turn some parts of Filled icon to solid

This trick could work especially if you have outlined shapes with closed path or an open one that can be easily closed.

Additionally, if you already made the Line-Solid combo, you can turn the icon into the Filled-Solid version simply by adding filler shapes.

Icons with similar elements share similar characteristics that can be useful in turning it into another style with just a simple tweak.

When boldness meets striking colors

Flat-Solid combo

What if colorful icons added to the solid black counterparts?

That’s what Flat-Solid combo is all about. The boldness of Solid icons paired up with the striking colors of Flat icons, resulting in a combo that’s not only more appealing but also more recognizable.

As Flat and Solid icons are both made up by flat shapes, it is enough to use only Flat to create the combo as the shapes are more modifiable.

Now, set them in action

The use cases for icons with combo styles vary from navigational interfaces to branding elements.

As a rule of thumb, simple icons are more flexible than the complex ones. The more minimal or muted icons, the more suitable they are for smaller scale than the detailed or vibrant versions.

The chart shows general use cases of icons from the smallest scale to the largest—it might vary and cover more areas.

For example, from the mini tutorials on the previous section, only Line-Solid combo will be suitable for small navigational buttons. The rest is either too detailed or too vibrant for the same use cases.

Different combo icons with different aesthetics that can be used for different purposes in design and branding projects.

Details won't be visible on small scale, and vibrant colors will be too distracting to other interface elements. And that's why only minimal or muted icons are suitable as small interface elements.

On the other hand, detailed and vibrant icons are ideal to catch attention. And that makes them more useful as branding or illustrative elements.

See more examples of combo icons in action 👇

Plump icons with Line-Solid combo style used on online course landing page.

Platinum icons modified to Line-Flat combo on a presentation.

Children book website using Line-Filled combo of Flex icons.

Filled-Solid combo created from Ultimate Colors used on a presentation.

Creative modification of Ultimate Light as a Filled-Flat combo on a podcast cover.

Flat-Solid combo of Core icons as illustrative elements on a chart.


Making icons unique can be done not only by turning them into combo. You can also tweak their colors to turn them from default to exceptional. And that's exactly what we're talking about in our previous article.

Find out different ways to use colors and gradients to live up your icons in this post 👉 Color play: Exploring icons beyond default palette.