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This Will Make You a Sketch Layer Merging Pro

Todays industry standard for icons export file types is of course SVG (or transparent PNG). Although the main incentive to use SVG’s are probably the scalability, the file size and the freedom of editing SVG are also awesome because of their transparency options. That means we, (icon) designers, have the opportunity/obligation to create icons that look good on various background colors.

This means our icons ought to contain layers that make up the icon and don’t contain any quick fix simulated negative spaces. In this tutorial we’ll lower the complexity of the icon as a shape (and final exported SVG) and make sure any negative space is an actual negative space (cut-out) and not a simulated one (a shape that has the background color overlaying an element, thus making it dependent of the background color). All in Sketch.

A couple of the things we’ll learn:

The first thing we’ll do is convert the Oval layers, that have multiple strokes mimicking the cutout effect, to outlines. We do so by selecting the layers and choosing Layer > Convert to Outline from the menu bar (or using keyboard combination ⇧⌘O).

Turning the layers with two strokes into fill layers the appearance of the icon will change and our layers will look like this ☝️

As the shapes had both a fill as well as two strokes, converting them to outlines has turned each Oval layer into two separate (combined shape) layers. That’s because an outline stroke is a combined path that exists of two shapes. One that determines the outer boundaries, whereas the the other determines the inner boundaries, creating the appearance of a stroke. In this case we don’t need the inner boundaries. We can get rid of the sublayer that is inside of the combined shape. Make sure you delete the right sublayer. It’s the bottom one within the combined shape layer. This is because Sketch automatically uses this sublayer order for strokes turned to outlines.

Converting the slider knob shapes to outlines has caused the very outer stroke (the cutout) to be placed above the inner stroke (the actual slider knob). That means a larger oval with the fill color you used for the outer stroke earlier will overlay the layer that was generated from the inner stroke.

Once we have removed the inside of the outer stroke our icon may look a strange due to layer ordering.
Draggin the Oval layer onto the Rectangle layer.

What we’ll do now is take the layers that made up the outer stroke (the cutout) and merge it with the first rectangle by dragging the first cutout layer onto the topmost Rectangle (slider).

You can also select both the oval layer and the rectangle layer (slider) and choose the ‘Union’ Combine type, by choosing ‘Layer > Combine > Union’ from the menu bar (or using key combo ⌥⌘U). However, for the sake of truly understanding every single step in the process.

After having merged the first Oval (cutout) and the Rectangle (the slider) your icon will look something like this ☝️

Now that we’ve merged the first slider and the first cutout together we can repeat Step 3 for the second and third slider as well.

We’ve now merged the outer strokes (cutouts) with their respective slider the slider knob seems invisible. Don’t worry, that’s just because it has the same fill color as the slider.

Sketch will use the Union combine type by default when you drag a layer on top of another layer. This means the dragged shape will be added to the destination shape as if it were an extention to that shape.

What we need to do now is subtract it from the slider, as that was the reason we used an outer border in the first place. To turn the shape that’s set to Union into a cutout we need to change the Combine type to Subtract. There are three ways to do this:

Clicking on the small combine-type icon on the right side of the layer name shows all five options.

We can now repeat Step 5 for the two remaining sliders.

All three sliders now have the cutout subtracted from the rectangle slider shape.

The next step is to add the inner strokes (the actual slider knob) –we generated along with the outer stroke (the cutout) in step 1– to their respective slider. The best way in my opinion to really have full control over what happens upon merge is to drag the inner stroke onto the slider.

In case the destination combined shaped layer is collapsed, Sketch will automatically order the added layer and it’s sublayers on top of the list.

I do suggest expanding the sublayers of the slider. This way you’ll have full control as to where the sublayers are placed within the slider sublayer list.

Having the combined shape ‘Rectangle’ expanded will make it easy to see the sublayer order.

Now that we know how to add the inner stroke (slider knob) we can repeat this step for the second and third slider as well.

After having hadded the all slider knobs to their respective sliders the layers will look like this ☝️

Now we can move on to merging the three sliders into one single-shaped layer. There are two ways to do this.

Method 1
The easy way is to drag the first slider onto the second slider, and subsequently drag the third full slider onto that single-shaped layer (first and second slider combined). This will create the exact result you want without any further adjustments.

Method 2
Although we get exactly what we want by using method 1 there is another way to achieve the same result. Although it takes some more time I suggest doing it this way to learn about layer order and Combine types. We select the three merged-shaped layers and choose ‘Layer > Combine > Union’ from the menu bar (or using keyboard combination ⌥⌘U).

After merging the three full sliders into one single Combined Shape, your icon will look like this ☝️

You will notice how some of the subtractions that were there before have now disappeared. Let’s move on to Step 10 to fix this.

We just saw how merging three single-shaped layers into one using Combine > Union disregards quite a few actions we’ve done before. No worries, this can be fixed quite easily.

We can either re-arrange the order of sublayers and then change the Combine type, or we can do it the other way around. Again, for the sake of understanding what we’re exactly doing, let’s start by changing the Combine type where necessary.

Changing the Combine type doesn’t necessarily immediately show the result you want. That’s because it works in conjunction with layer order.

We boxed our way through the steps and we got the title belt: An icon that has actual negative space, instead of overlaying shapes or layer stylesto simulate the negative space. You’ll notice the icon no longer depends on having one set background color. Yay!

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