No matter if you design sites or application interfaces, you will always need icons. While you can always make your own icons, this usually takes too much time and it’s much better to get the icons ready made for you. Of course, with ready made icons you can never be sure the whole world is not using them but if you can live with the fact your icons might not be unique, then ready made icon sets are just fine.
When it comes to free icons, the choice is really huge. There are many categories of free icons and you can bet you will find icons for almost any niche – from popular ones, such as social sites, to weather and tech, to really niche ones. Unfortunately, I can’t include every single icon set I like. This is why I concentrated on icon sets that are more universal and that are likely to be of use to any designer. For niche icon sets, you’ll have to search on your own.
1. 4 Icon Megasets
When you start searching for free icons, one of the sites you can’t miss is flaticon. If you for some reason hate flat icons, you will not appreciate it but if you like them and would gladly use them, this site is a real treasure.
The site offers 600+ icon sets in various niches. “More than 50.000 free icons for both personal & commercial use. Available in SVG or EPS vector, PNG ,PSD files and Icon Font.”. You see, it’s not only the numbers, it’s also the file format diversity that makes flaticon one of the greatest places for free (flat) icons.
With so many icons to choose from, it’s hard to pick just a few. As I already mentioned, in this article I will focus on more general icon sets. This is why I’ve picked some more universal icon sets, or maybe it’s more correct to say megasets, because some of them contain thousands of icons.
The sets I’ve picked are:
Arrows. With its 2,702 icons of arrows this icon set is really impressive.
Signs. This is another megapack with 2,000+ icons of almost any sign imaginable.
Web. This pack might have only 400+ icons, which compared to some of the other packs is not much but 400+ icons are basically quite enough for most purposes.
Weather. This pack with about 900 icons isn’t as universal as the rest but since I liked it and the number of icons is impressive, not to mention they are cute, let’s include it here.
Technology. The Technology pack comes with close to 2,000 icons for many aspects of technology.
If there is one thing I find impractical about flaticon, it is that you have to download all the icons one by one. There isn’t a single archive file per category but with their number, it’s logical the authors decided to let you choose only the icons you want, not to create a huge archive with thousands of icons you won’t need.
2. Social Icons
Social icons are among the most commonly used types of icons, especially in Web design. Because of this, even if you don’t need them now, it won’t hurt to take a look at them, just to know what you can have when you need it. As you can expect, the diversity of social icons is huge and I don’t claim I’ve included the best ones.
The first pack of social icons looks pretty plain. In fact, it’s a black and white set and the icons are no frills. However, it comes in many formats – SVG, PNG, AI, CSH, ICO, and ICNS. Black and white might sound too ugly but very often you need a simple, no frills icon, not a masterpiece. For these cases, these icons are more than OK.
If you really hate black and white icons, then you might want to try this set. The icons are colorful but there are only 19 of them (compared to 99 in the first pack) and the worst is they come only in PNG.
3. Social Buttons
If you need social icons and you won’t settle for anything less than a masterpiece, check these 20 icons (or more precisely buttons). They are 3D and shiny and will add an artful touch to your design for sure. The downside is they come in PNG only at 256px. If you don’t need icons that big, you might want to resize them but be careful how you do it because I fear when resized too much, they won’t look as beautiful as they do at 256px.
4. Country Flags
If you have a multilingual site, most likely you will need icons to identify different languages. The most universal approach here is to use country flags. Here are 195 icons of country flags for you to enjoy. The icons are in PSD format, so if for any reason you need to edit them, this should be easy.
Symbols are frequently used in GUIs and Web pages. This symbols pack contains lots of symbols, though in my opinion not all icons fall into this category. For instance, the Save or Folder icons belong more to the Computers category but if you regard them as symbols of the specified activity (i.e. Save and Browse Folders), then you could call them symbols.
Anyway, no matter if you call all these icons symbols or not, the pack is good. It contains 100 Icons in PNG (128×128, 64×64, 32×32, 16×16) and ICO, ICNS (128x128px) formats. If you want the vectors for the icons, you need to buy them for $143.70. There is one more type of licenses, called Regular, so there are 3 types of licenses altogether (including a free one). Read what each license offers and pick the one that suits you most.
6. Credit/Debit Card and Payment Icons
If you design e-commerce sites, then you can’t do without payment icons. The list of icons you will need varies depending on the payment services you support but generally there are popular credit/debit card systems and other payment solutions almost any e-commerce site can’t do without.
These include Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Paypal, Google Checkout, 2Checkout, etc. If you are looking for icons for these payment systems, you might want to check this icon bundle, where you will find all these icons plus some more.
7. Micro Icon Set
Users love large icons because they are easier to click but if space is an issue for an application/site of yours, for instance if you design for mobiles (LINK), then tiny 16×16 icons come to the rescue. This icon set contains 110 icons in many niches – tech, general UI, symbols, etc. Even though the icons are 16×16 by default, they are vector icons, so if you really like them, you can enlarge them to any size you need.
8. 350 Pixel Perfect Icons
These 350 Pixel Perfect icons are one more universal set that covers many niches. It practically covers everything – from captions, to numbers, to weather, to tech, not what not. The icons are black and white. They come with a PSD file, so if you want to modify something, you can do it.
9. iOS Free Icons
Mobile design is an ever growing area of design and iOS is a major platform many designers target. If you are on iOS ship, you will probably appreciate a set of cute iOS tab bar icons. This is a huge pack with 2,300+ icons in it. There are basic icons for search, Home page, navigation, etc., as well as arrows, photo, video, and music, business, clothing, cultures, and some other topics.
The set comes in two license versions. The PNG version is free to download, but if you need the vector one, you have to purchase it.
10. Mobile Icon Set
The sequence of mobile icon sets continues with this megapack of over 10,000 icons for iPhone, Android, Windows 8 and iOS. Honestly, this is one of the biggest icon sets I’ve ever seen! What’s more important, the quality of these icons is superb and it’s worth downloading them even if you have no mobile design projects in sight.
There are icons in various sizes – from 20x20px to 512×512. Additionally, the bundle includes all the source files, so you can create your own variations. There are black and white icons, as well as full color ones. You can have a look at the screenshots to get an idea what’s in the pack but this could be somehow misleading because in the pack there are many, many more icons than can be shown here.
In case the 10,000 icons in the free set are not enough for you, you can always download the full mobile version that comes with +80,000 more icons. Now, this is huge and I bet you will need quite some time just to browse them all, not to mention use them at least once in a project.
11. Windows 8 Metro UI Icon Set
For all Windows 8 designers, this set of Windows 8 Metro UI icons is a must have. It includes 436 pretty icons for applications, social sites, Internet browsers, operating systems and manufacturers and many more. The icons are 256×256 and they come in .ico and .png format.
The icon sets I included in this article are diverse but there are dozens more I didn’t include. You will hardly use every single icon in every single set but it’s nice to have a choice. You probably know it anyway but nevertheless, I would like to remind you again that even though these icon sets are labeled as free by their creators, some of them come with strings attached, such as the requirement to link to the icon’s site. This is why it won’t hurt to check the license before you use them.