Custom Emoji Design

Custom Emoji Design

If you can draw, you can design engaging emojis. While illustration rules are sometimes better broken, there are proven methods that will produce effective emojis.

I enjoy receiving emoji and sticker requests. At Home Brew Agency, I’ve created artwork for major entertainment properties, including Pokémon: Detective Pikachu, The Curse of La Llorona, Blockers, Mama Mia!, The Croods: A New Age, The Animaniacs, The Suicide Squad, SCOOB!, The Conners, 2019 CMA Awards, Trolls World Tour, and Abominable, to name a few. Let’s talk about what it takes to build a solid design that is ready to go live.


Anyone may submit a proposal for a new emoji to the Unicode Consortium. However, only a small percentage of these submissions will be encoded.

Don’t allow yourself to be discouraged. Believing in your potential is essential. Equally important is the ability to weather rejection. That is an inevitable part of following any creative career path.

Fortunately, there isn’t only one platform by which emojis enter the world. Great clients may call upon you to illustrate emojis for exciting properties. The marketing departments of major films and TV shows love to feature their characters as custom Twitter emojis, Facebook stickers, GIPHY stickers, and Apple Store sticker packs.

Don’t have a client base yet? Then this is the perfect time to build a portfolio. Or, upload your set to a creative market site to offer your indie designs and build up your fan base. Just keep going.


Many clients and platforms will have strict specs for you to follow. The client may provide a document detailing the nuts and bolts of what they’ll need. Dimensions, file format, vector vs. bitmap, style, etc. If they don’t present a set of specs, ask for one.

It doesn’t hurt to do a little research first. Then you’ll be able to ask informed questions such as “Would you like this to be delivered as a 1x1 transparent PNG at 72dpi?” or “Will the platform requires that we deliver the original vector file?” Twitter will require you to submit vector files with a 1x1 aspect ratio. GIPHY stickers, however, have slightly different requirements. Ignore this at your peril. If you don’t design the file correctly, you will likely face building it over again. Don’t waste your time (and the client’s time). Do it right from the start. You’ll probably need that time to handle the client’s design revisions.


Emojis are a bit like contemporary hieroglyphics. This medium is all about communication. What is your emoji’s intended message? Make sure your design’s message is abundantly clear. Of course, we all know certain emojis have double meanings (particular fruit come to mind). But even in that case, make sure the drawing of your eggplant reads as an eggplant, not as a random oblong object. It is helpful to check out Emojipedia. Not only will you be able to study the wide variety of styles created to differentiate between brands, but the meaning of each emoji is listed.


If you approach emojis like a logo designer tackles a new icon, you’re on the right track. Designing impactful, legible illustrations that register at a small size is your primary goal.

Twitter emojis always work best when they are simple. For most characters, stick with a head shot. Clients will want a distinctive representation of their character. The tendency is to yearn for detail. But remember, this isn’t a portrait painting. Do your best to use as little information as possible while still achieving a good likeness. Once you add shoulders and limbs, you’re in sticker territory.

Stickers are a unique category. You may view the Wonder Woman stickers ©2017 Warner Bros. Ent. All Rights Reserved TM & © DC Comics that I illustrated at Home Brew Agency at the Apple Store:

As you can see, stickers provide more real estate for detail and depicting action. When you submit a figurative drawing that is complex, the face will probably become too small to read within a line of text. If a hand or other extra detail is required to express a specific emotion or action, enlarge the head (think cartoon proportions) to accommodate. Too many details will become a muddy mess once the emoji is live. Bold and concise is best.


As with all illustration projects, a few minutes of thumbnail sketches in the beginning, will save you hours in the end. Work out the kinks and discover the design challenges now, before you take the time to build out a polished finish.

Show your favorite concepts to the client. They’ll have ideas from there. Entering the second round of sketching is still faster than repeatedly editing a finished illustration. Thumbnails don’t need to be perfect. This is the stage when you and the client get to experiment with concepts.

If this is a personal project, ask some friends what they think of your thumbnails. There are also online design hubs like Dribbble, where you may get feedback from other artists and professionals. You will become a stronger artist and more resilient to critique.


Have I ever gone straight to a finish (without a sketch)? In a few cases, when a client’s request was unambiguous, and the turnaround was ultra-tight, yes. Entertainment advertising deadlines are no joke. I fondly call these assignments emoji emergencies.

However, rushing will often lead to mistakes. Mistakes cost money. I wouldn’t recommend skipping the sketch phase or blasting through a finish if you can help it. Don’t be afraid to communicate this to the client, either. You’re the artist. You know your capabilities.

Time yourself on a trial run if you aren’t sure. Does it take you less than an hour to build a representation of a flower or a symbol, but triple that amount of time to draw a face? How long does it take you to create a collage of three celebrity likenesses? Be open about your production timeline with the client. Why not share a sample chart with your work and how long each piece took you to create? This way, everyone involved can plan adequately.


If you aren’t already in love with the magical world of infinite scalability, get comfortable using a vector-based illustration program now. Specific platforms (such as Twitter) will require it. When you scale a vector image file, there will be no loss of quality. Due to the need for responsive artwork capable of adapting to varying screen sizes, vector files are necessary for modern design.

I recommend that you build vector art from scratch. Should you chose to skip ahead by using image trace, be prepared to do clean up work. Diligently remove any excess information you don’t genuinely need. The fewer points you use, the smoother your curves will be. As for texture, you can produce a lot of incredible imagery and depth within a program such as Adobe Illustrator. A quick google search will fill in your knowledge gaps. Just remember to economical with your choices early on so that future edits will be a breeze.


Now that your polished emoji is ready for its debut — test it. Consider mocking up your emoji in a line of text for your chosen platform to avoid any mishaps. That way, both you and the client will know how well it will work in reality. Share a sharp, full-size preview of your working file with your audience as well. Though it will appear significantly smaller when live, we are here to make beautiful representations of characters and emotions.


Emoji development is a rewarding challenge. Enjoy the sense of accomplishment and share your work with the world. I look forward to seeing your creations go live!

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