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Icon Design

Icons for Windows Vienna. Appearance and construction.

The most important design detail of icons appearing in operating system Windows Vienna, construction distinctions of Vienna, Vista and XP icons, recommendations to creation Vienna style icons.


Icons, that appear in a newly created Windows Vienna are very similar to Windows Vista graphics. They are created with identical structure and guidelines.

First, what is Vienna icon? Vienna icon - is an icon made in aero style (style of Windows Vienna GUI). Major alterations in icons' design can be noticed in Windows Vista and Vienna interface at a glance. A typical feature of Windows Vista and Vienna GUI is new icons, designed in a more rigorous rigorous and more fine way. Glass highlights and defined colours make icons pleasant for eyes, not annoying in constant work and repeated viewing.

Overview of icons design. Description of style.
  • Items used for metaphors are crafted in hi- tech style and look more current.
  • Degree of turn and volume make image alive.
  • Items' angles and edges are soft and smoothly round.
  • All items face a source of light now (with extra lightning spread all around)
  • Falling shadow brings contrast and volume.
  • Outlined elements are easily distinguished.
  • Gradients enchance the volume and provide stylish look.
What is updated in Vienna style icons?
  • Appearance is more realistic but still not photorealistic. Because icons are intuitive images and not pictures of specific items, in GUI they look even more appropriate than photos.
  • Overlayed images illustrate what software the object is related to.
  • Toolbar icons contain less details and appear more flat for optimizing under smaller size.
  • Icons have maximal size 256 x 256 and it makes them suitable for high dimension screens. To display icons on such screens in proportional size, keeping the quality, large images are required.
Size of Vienna - icons.

Standard icons in Windows Vienna contain five resolutions - 256 x 256, 48 x 48, 32 x 32, 24 x 24, and 16 x 16 px. If icons are used for buttons, toolbar or compact pictograms only, largest size is not required.
Microsoft Corporation suggests to create GUI icons for applications operating only under Windows Vienna in the following sizes:
  • 256 x 256 px
  • 32 x 32 px
  • 16 x 16 px
Microsoft states that intermediate sizes between 256 x 256 and 32 x 32 are not necessary for Windows Vienna or Windows Vista, because PNG format used in these icons is scaled with no perversion from 256 x 256 to 32 x 32. With smaller sizes, automatic change of size makes the image of poor quality, so another 16 x 16 picture is needed. Programs of resolution changes unfortunately are not flawless and its better to include 48x48 image into your icons to have less distortion.

If you want the pictogram to be completely compliant with not only Windows Vienna but older Windows versions as well, you will need to make the icon including respective images (each - with three levels of colour depth).

Completely compatible (with Windows XP and older releases) icon must have following resolutions: 256 x 256, 48 x 48, 32 x 32, 16 x 16

We do not recommend to include 24 x 24 size into your graphics (except toolbar), as this size is not required. Moreover, the icon containing this size, is hard to be compatible with Windows 98 and Windows 2000.
If you want images for your toolbar, their resolution is the same 24 x 24 and 16 x 16 px.

Colour depth of Vienna icons.

Windows Vienna uses 32-bits icons in which 24 bits are dedicatedto picture and 8 bits by transparency channel.
This lets icons to present semitransparent details and sleek edges, no matter of the background they are on.

Typical Windows Vienna icons contain three types of color depth for increased compliance :
  • 32- bit colour (24- bit colour ) plus 8-bit transparency channel
  • 8- bit colour (256 colours ) plus 1-bit transparency channel
  • 4- bit colour (16 colors) plus 1-bit transparency channel
Your images need 32-bit colour depth.

If you need your icons to look good all the time, in case of video driver failure for instance, you will require 8-bit and 4-bit images (with 256 or even 16 colours only).
An icon in various colour depth

If there are 16 colours displayed by your screen (this may occur in Windows XP and older) but 4-bit depth is not available in the pictogram, the colour pallet will be automatically reduced down to 16 colours, below you can see the way it will look like:
A 32-bit icon displayed in 16 colours
This is a 32-bit icon shown in 16 colours.

Vienna icons colour pallet.

Colours in Vienna graphics show material of a subject or a message (if used in symbols)

  • White - paper (documents )
  • Light grey - silvery plastic (computers and peripherals)
  • Dark blue - switched-on screen (displays and other screens)
  • Light ochre - carton (folders)
  • Blue - glass (basket, lens)
  • Emerald- green - transparent plastic (special folders)
Colours showing the material

  • Red - warning
  • Yellow - attention
  • Green - permission
  • Dark blue - information
Signal colours

Rotation angle and objects grouping.

Not like older versions, items in Windows Vienna are turned at 45 angle clockwise.
Rotated graphics are suggested for a software icon or to display the 3D items.

Some objects look better when displayed non- rotated (like they are down on a table and you look on them)
  • Files icons
  • Flat objects
  • 16 x 16 size icons
Icons for rotated and non -rotated objects

Flat or rotated placement of additional image in the icon depends on what both the item and the graphic mean. Its difficult to give more concrete recommendation in this situation, you just need to be guided by the trial and analyze the way the image is comprehended, also if it is in a group of icons.

Overlaying of objects - front and angled

Falling shadow in Vienna icons.

Drop shadow in Vienna icons is used to increase recognition and to intensify the volume. In 3D and plain icons the shadow is different:

Drop shadow of volume and flat objects

Border of Vienna-icons.

Vienna-type icons usually have a border. Its not so vividly expressed as in XP-type and is not constantly used. Outline is nesessery to ensure recognition of an image, regardless the background it is placed at. Outline may take only a part of an image always matching the design of an image securing its style.

Various kinds of outline

Review of Vienna-icon architecture
Main distinctions of Vienna-icons and XP-icons

Vienna-icons contain two main differences from XP-icons:
  • Vienna-icons have an extra large picture 256x256
  • In original icons this grand image has PNG extension
Use of PNG compression is a critical moment as it makes 256x256 image non-compatible with Windows XP and previous versions (only compact size images will be displayed).
PNG-compression is applied in icons for images 256x256 px only. The algorithm does not change the quality and file is reduced in about 4 times while transparency channel is supported and image is perfectly scale.

Compliance of Vista and Vienna-icons with Windows XP

To get the icon completely compatible with Windows XP, 256x256 resolution in the icon should be saved uncompressed. You can always add or discharge the compression, this will not change the quality. Resolution of the icon with uncompressed images containing all common formats will be about 400 Kb.

Why Vienna icons are better?

Quality Vienna type icons have the whole list of advantages:
  • visual comprehension of program's interface is appealing
  • program's features are more clearly presented
  • usage is more intuitive , easy navigation and identification of programs, items and tasks
  • your program's GUI is advanced , stylish and individual

To get a professional appearance of an application, Microsoft recommends you to change the look of your mostly displayed icons, with aero style. It is also suggested to make a modern design of all icons presented in Start menu and Explorer (including icons representing type of a file). It is recommended not to use any icons in Windows 9x and older release style, in programs running under Windows Vienna.

Making of individual Vienna-icons.

Picture your application with the most convenient GUI, in Vienna appearance, with unique icons that completely present application's functions and tasks thanks to proper metaphors, they make you to work with the application just because it's a pleasure to look at it. Graphics created in a style that will definitely be a new world standard.
You could ask: "Where can I order these perfect graphics, at a competitive price and not just similar ones but absolute Vienna icons?"

You can do it at: aha-soft.com, perfecticon.com, 777icons.com.

Microsoft, Windows, Windows XP and/or other Microsoft products mentioned above, are either trade marks or registered trade marks of Microsoft.

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