24 Best Free Icon Sites to Supercharge Your Digital Experiences in 2023

Icons are the unsung heroes of digital product design. They may be tiny in stature, but don‘t underestimate their power to make or break a user experience. When done right, icons are worth a thousand words—they transcend language barriers, simplify complex actions down to a single tap, and add visual flair that brings an interface to life.

But like any design element, icon design is both art and science. Slapping random icons around your app or website without a strategic approach is a recipe for confusion and frustration. Wielding icons effectively requires an understanding of core usability principles, brand identity guidelines, and emerging design trends.

That‘s where this in-depth guide comes in. We‘ve scoured the web for the best free icon resources available today and compiled them here with tips and best practices for getting the most out of them. Whether you‘re a seasoned designer looking to uplevel your icon game or a non-designer looking for plug-and-play visuals, you‘ll find everything you need here to harness the power of icons in your digital experiences.

Why Icons are Essential in Modern Digital Product Design

Before we dive into the tactical how-to, let‘s zoom out and examine why investing in effective icon design is so crucial today:

1. Icons enhance usability and learnability

Well-designed icons give users quick, recognizable shorthand for navigating an interface and accomplishing their goals. Rather than hunting through menus and text labels, users can rely on familiar icons to point the way—a magnifying glass for search, a speech bubble for chat, a gear or slider for settings.

This instant recognition accelerates task completion and makes an interface more intuitive to learn. In a study by the Nielsen Norman Group, sites with clear, conventional icons performed much better in user testing than those with vague, idiosyncratic ones. As one user put it, "I didn‘t have to read anything—I could just look at the pictures and know where I needed to go."

2. Icons bridge gaps across cultures and abilities

Icons are a universal language that can communicate core concepts across linguistic and cultural divides. While certain symbols can carry culturally-specific meanings, many icons have become standardized through widespread adoption.

For instance, the "hamburger" icon (three horizontal lines) is now universally recognizable as a menu button, transcending its American diner origins. Using such conventional icons makes your digital experience more approachable and intuitive to a global audience.

Icons are also essential for inclusive design, providing a non-textual alternative for conveying information to users with visual impairments or reading difficulties. When combined with text labels and alt attributes, icons give all users multiple ways to understand and navigate an experience.

3. Icons make the most of small screens and short attention spans

In the battle for users‘ fragmented attention, icons are a UX designer‘s secret weapon. Our brains process visuals 60,000 times faster than text, making icons an instant communication channel amid the noise.

This is especially crucial in the mobile-first era, where limited screen real estate necessitates ruthless editing and distillation of content. Icons allow you to communicate key information and actions without overwhelming users with dense text.

For example, travel booking app Hopper uses clear icons in its search results to convey key details like flight duration, layovers, and inflight amenities, allowing users to scan and compare options quickly. By replacing text with icons, Hopper keeps its UI clean and focused while still providing relevant context.

4. Icons infuse your brand with personality and style

Beyond their utilitarian value, icons are a powerful tool for expressing your unique brand voice and personality. Like any other design choice, the style, color, and application of your icons telegraphs volumes about your brand identity and values.

Playful, organic icon shapes can convey a friendly, approachable vibe, while sleek, minimalist icons speak to sophistication and cutting-edge technology. Clever, unexpected icon choices can inject moments of delight and whimsy that differentiate your experience from staid, generic competitors.

Investing in a bespoke icon set tailored to your brand also creates a proprietary design language that makes your product more memorable and ownable. Users will come to associate your unique icon style with your brand, fostering recognition and loyalty over time.

Top Free Icon Resources for Digital Designers

Now that we‘ve established the immense value of effective icon design, you‘re probably raring to go elevate your product‘s icon game. But crafting pixel-perfect icons from scratch is a huge lift, and purchasing premium icon sets can quickly eat up a design budget.

Luckily, there‘s a wealth of high-quality, free icon sets out there if you know where to look. We‘ve rounded up the best of the best for you here, from genre-spanning mega libraries to niche icon collections for specific use cases.

General Purpose Icon Megasets

These massive, wide-ranging icon libraries are your go-to resource for all your general icon needs. With thousands of icons across every conceivable category, you‘re sure to find what you‘re looking for.

  1. Material Design Icons – Google‘s official open source icon collection, featuring 2,000+ sleek, highly recognizable icons across five categories. Offers convenient web font and SVG sprite implementations.

  2. Font Awesome – The web‘s most popular icon set and toolkit, with 1,500+ icons available as web fonts, SVGs, and more. Fully customizable and easy to use via CSS. The free version includes a huge selection of essential icons.

  3. Ionicons – A beautifully crafted set of open source icons from the Ionic Framework, with 1,100+ icons designed for maximum legibility across devices. Available as web fonts or SVGs in iOS, Material Design and flat styles.

  4. Streamline – A staggering library of over 100,000 icons, illustrations, and emoji, all in a clean, consistent style. The free version includes access to 30,000 icons. Offers a convenient Mac app for browsing and customizing icons.

  5. Iconscout – Another massive icon repository with over 2 million assets, including a huge selection of free icon sets. Features handy integrations with design tools like Figma, Sketch and Adobe XD.

Specialized and Stylized Icon Sets

In addition to the big general purpose libraries, there are a number of smaller, more specialized free icon sets out there. These are great for adding a particular stylistic flair or finding hyper-niche icons for specific industries and use cases.

  1. Feather Icons – A set of 280+ open source icons with a delightfully minimalist, geometric aesthetic. Designed on a crisp 24×24 grid, they‘re perfect for smaller UI elements.

  2. Heroicons – A free, open source icon set from the makers of Tailwind CSS, featuring 450+ icons in outline and solid styles. The outline versions are great for low-contrast applications, while the solid ones really pop.

  3. Basicons – 300+ playful, brightly colored icons in three distinct styles: outline, solid, and bold. Perfect for injecting some whimsy and personality into a design.

  4. Styled Icons – A thoughtfully curated collection of popular open source icon sets like Feather, Material Design, and Font Awesome, all in one place as easy-to-use React components.

  5. Health Icons – The definitive set of 1,500+ open source icons for health projects, created by resolve to save lives. Includes everything from anatomy to medical procedures to pandemic-related icons.

Animated and Interactive Icon Sets

While static icons are the workhorses of digital product design, animated icons are having a moment in 2023. Used sparingly and purposefully, animated icons add a layer of polish, personality, and micro-interactions to an experience.

  1. Animated Icons – A fun collection of 1000+ playful animated emojis, stickers, and icon animations in JSON format, ready to integrate into any project.

  2. useAnimations – A clean, minimal set of customizable animated icons as Lottie, GIF, and After Effects files. The free version includes access to over 100 animations.

  3. Lordicon – 50 free animated icons in a fun, cartoonish style, available to customize and download from an easy browser app. Over 1,000 more available with a premium subscription.

  4. IconHoverEffects – A handy collection of stylish, CSS-powered hover and click effects that can be applied to any font icon to add subtle interactivity.

  5. Vivid – 100+ customizable, hand-drawn animated SVG icons and illustrations that add warmth and character to any experience.

Tips for Choosing and Customizing the Perfect Icons for Your Project

With so many incredible free icon resources out there, it can be tempting to just grab a bunch and start throwing them into your designs willy nilly. But to get the most out of icons, it‘s crucial to be strategic and intentional about how you select and implement them.

Define Your Icon Aesthetic

Before you start searching for icons, take some time to define the overall aesthetic you‘re going for. Do you want slim, minimalist icons or chunky, bold ones? Sharp geometric shapes or friendlier organic curves? Monochromatic or multicolor?

Refer back to your brand‘s visual identity guidelines and overall design language to ensure your icon style will be in harmony. If you don‘t have clear guidelines yet, look to other brands you admire for inspiration.

Prioritize Clarity and Recognizability

The most important quality of an effective icon is that it clearly communicates its intended meaning to users. When evaluating icon options, ask yourself:

  • Is the symbol easily recognizable and unambiguous?
  • Does it follow established conventions for this particular action or concept?
  • Could it be misinterpreted or confused for something else?

When in doubt, favor simplicity and directness over cleverness or artistic flair. A beautiful but cryptic icon will only frustrate users.

Establish a Consistent Icon System

Once you‘ve landed on an icon style, establish a consistent system for using them across your experience. This means standardizing the size, color, placement, and behavior of icons in different contexts.

For example, you might decide that all clickable icons will be 24x24px with a subtle hover state, while non-interactive indicator icons will be 16x16px. Or you might assign specific colors to different categories of icons, like green for positive actions and red for destructive ones.

Document these rules in a centralized design system or style guide so that everyone on your team can reference and apply them consistently.

Optimize for Accessibility

As with all aspects of digital design, accessibility should be a top consideration when implementing icons. Some key things to keep in mind:

  • Always pair icons with text labels, and never rely on icons alone to communicate essential information.
  • Provide text-based alternatives for screen readers via alt attributes or aria-labels.
  • Ensure sufficient color contrast between icons and their backgrounds, and avoid using color alone to convey meaning.
  • Provide large enough touch targets for mobile users, at least 44x44px.

Test and Iterate

Like any design decision, icon choices should be tested with real users to validate their effectiveness. Conduct usability testing or A/B testing to see how users interpret and interact with your icons, and iterate based on their feedback.

Pay particular attention to any instances of confusion or hesitation—these are signs that an icon may not be pulling its weight. Don‘t be afraid to experiment with different icon variations to find the combination that best resonates with your users.

Conclusion: Harness the Power of Iconic Design

We‘ve covered a lot of ground in this guide, from the key benefits of icon usage to where to find the best free icon sets to how to implement them like a pro. By now, you should be well equipped to elevate your digital experiences with the power of well-crafted icons.

But the learning doesn‘t stop here. The world of icon design is constantly evolving, with new styles, techniques, and use cases emerging all the time. To stay ahead of the curve, make a habit of studying icon usage in the wild and seeking out new icon resources to add to your toolkit.

Most importantly, always keep the end user at the center of your icon design decisions. No matter how beautiful or clever an icon may be, if it doesn‘t serve the user‘s needs, it‘s not doing its job. By combining the principles of usability, accessibility, and aesthetic appeal, you can harness the power of icons to create digital experiences that are both effective and delightful.

Now go forth and iconify your world!

Further Reading and Resources