First choose an image. You want an image that's high quality (doesn't have to be perfect since we'll be scaling it down) and has a clean background. I found my image through Google Images, and it's preferable to use an image with just a simple, white background. When you have your image, copy and paste it into a new Photoshop document.
Next we want to create the background for our icon, so make a new document that's icon-sized (100x100 pixels) and flood fill it with a nice, bright color of your choice. I chose a light blue then duplicated my layer and set it to color burn for more contrast.
When I was satisfied with my now brighter blue backdrop, I set my foreground to white (#FFFFFF) and created a new Gradient Fill adjustment layer. (To do this, click on the two-toned circle at the bottom of your Layers palette then click on Gradient....)
In the Gradient Fill box, make sure your gradient is white to transparent (double-click the gradient to edit if it's not) and select Radial from the style drop-down menu. You may either keep the angle as is or mess around with it. I chose to play with it a bit and settled for 163 degrees. On scale, I decreased it to 92% so that it filled less of my icon area and became more concentrated. (By increasing the percentage, it thins out the white gradient to fill more of the box.) When done, press OK.
Gradient Fill Settings
Now, the reason you want an image with a white background is simply to make this next step less complicated. Since my image is a bit hazy, I made it a bit smaller as I'm going to use the Magic Wand Tool (located below the Move Tool, aka the cursor button) to essentially cut-out the object.
With this image, we want to keep the drop shadow the object has, so make the Tolerance on your Wand is not set too high. The higher the tolerance, the more the tool will select and vice versa. You may have to play around with it a bit to get a clean-cut (if you prefer, you can also use the Pen Tool or Magnetic Lasso for this). For this image, my Tolerance is set to 7. Click the background of the image then right click and select inverse from the drop-down menu. Copy and paste your selection into your icon-sized document.
Once your image is pasted, press Ctrl + T (or Edit >> Transform >> Scale) to scale your image to a smaller size. To keep your image proportionate, hold down the Shift key and use one of the corner anchors to scale back it back. When you are satisfied, press Enter/Return.
Since I knew I was going to add text later, I moved the Apple lower on the icon. If you don't plan to add text, this is one of the few instances an icon can look fabulous with a centered object. When it's positioned where you want, double click the layer to bring up the Layer Style box. Go to Stroke and add a white (#FFFFFF), one pixel stroke around your image. Set the Stroke's blending mode to soft light and lower the opacity to your liking. When you are finished, press OK.
At this point, I create a new layer and stamp visible. This takes all your visible layers and "stamps" them as one into the new layer, yet still allows you access to your other layers if you later wish to change any of the settings. To do this after creating the new layer, press Ctrl + Alt + Shift + E. I know that looks convoluted, but when you use it often it becomes like a sixth sense.
At this point, you can either call it complete or continue to add text and textures, adjust colors, etc. I opted to add some text and brighten it a bit.
I hope this was clear and easy to follow, maybe even gave a few tips for later icon endeavors. I would love to see everyone's results!
Other icons made using a similar style:
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