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Icon Design

Icons for Windows Vienna. Appearance and construction.

The most significant design features of icons used in operating system Windows Vienna, structural differences of Vienna, Vista and XP icons, recommendations to crafting Vienna type icons.


Graphics, that appear in a recently created Windows Vienna are very like Windows Vista icons. They are designed with identical structure and schemes.

First, what is Vienna icon? Vienna icon - is an icon drawn in aero style (style of Windows Vienna GUI). Significant changes in icons' appearance can be seen in Windows Vista and Vienna GUI at a glance. A typical detail of Windows Vista and Vienna GUI is new icons, created in a more rigorous rigorous and more beautiful way. Glass highlights and defined colours bring icons pleasant for eyes, not irritating in continuous work and multiple viewing.

Overview of icons design. Description of style.
  • Items used as metaphors are crafted in hi- tech style and look more current.
  • Angle of turn and volume bring life into images.
  • Objects' angles and borders are neat and rounded.
  • All items face a source of light now (with extra diffused lightening all around)
  • Falling shadow gives contrast and volume.
  • Outlined elements are better distinguished.
  • Gradients intensify the volume and gives stylish look.
What is updated in Vienna graphics?
  • Style is more realistic but still not completely realistic. Since icons are intuitive images and not images of specific items, in interface they fit even more appropriate than photos.
  • Overlayed images illustrate what software the file is assigned to.
  • Buttons icons have less details and look more plain 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 those screens in scaled size, keeping the quality, large images are required.
Size of Vienna - icons.

Typical 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 applied for buttons, toolbar or compact pictograms only, biggest size is not needed.
Microsoft Corporation recommend to create GUI icons for programs operating only in Windows Vienna in the listed sizes:
  • 256 x 256 px
  • 32 x 32 px
  • 16 x 16 px
Microsoft affirm that intermediate sizes between 256 x 256 and 32 x 32 are unneeded for Windows Vienna or Windows Vista, because PNG files used in these icons is scaled with no perversion from 256 x 256 to 32 x 32. With smaller sizes, program's change of resolution deliver the image of poor quality, so another 16 x 16 picture is needed. Programs of size changes unfortunately are not perfect and its recommended to put 48x48 size into your icons to have less perversion.

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

Fully compliant (with Windows XP and older releases) icon must contain following resolutions: 256 x 256, 48 x 48, 32 x 32, 16 x 16

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

Colour depth of Vienna graphics.

Windows Vienna understands 32-bits icons where 24 bits are reserved for image and 8 bits by transparency channel.
This enables icons to have semitransparent elements and sleek edges, no matter of the background they are at.

Typical Windows Vienna icons consist of three levels of color options for increased compatibility :
  • 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 icons need 32-bit colour depth.

If you need your icons to be 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 shown by your monitor (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, here 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 display material of an object 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 combination.

Unlike former versions, objects in Windows Vienna are turned at 45 angle clockwise.
Angle -wise images are suggested for an application icon or to present the volume objects.

Following objects are nicer when displayed flat (like they are laying on a desk and you look over them)
  • Files icons
  • Flat objects
  • 16 x 16 size icons
Icons for rotated and non -rotated objects

Plain or rotated overlaying of additional image in the icon depends on what both the image and the graphic mean. Its difficult to give more concrete suggestion in this case, you just have to be lead by the trial and study the way the image is understood, also if it is in a group of icons.

Overlaying of objects - front and angled

Drop shadow in Vienna graphics.

Drop shadow in Vienna icons is used to improve recognition and to intensify the volume. In 3D and flat icons the shade looks different:

Drop shadow of volume and flat objects

Border of Vienna-icons.

Vienna-type icons usually have a border. Its not so vividly visible as in XP-type and is not always used. Outline is nesessery to make possible recognition of an image, no matter the background it is placed at. Border may take only a part of an image always following the design of a picture securing its reality.

Various kinds of outline

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

Vienna-icons contain two functional distinctions from XP-icons:
  • Vienna-icons contain a grand image 256x256
  • In original icons this grand picture has PNG compression
Use of PNG file is a critical point as it brings 256x256 image non-useable with Windows XP and earlier releases (only compact size images will be shown).
PNG-algorithm is used in icons for size 256x256 px only. The compression does not change the quality and file is reduced in almost 4 times when transparency channel is enabled and image is perfectly scale.

Compliance of Vista and Vienna-icons with Windows XP

To get the icon fully compatible with Windows XP, 256x256 seize in the icon must be saved uncompressed. You may always add or cancel the compression, this will not affect the quality. Size of the icon with uncompressed images including all common formats will approximately be 400 Kb.

Why Vienna icons are better?

Quality Vienna type icons have the whole list of advantages:
  • visual comprehension of application's interface is appealing
  • program's features are more clearly presented
  • usage is more convenient , easy navigation and identification of programs, objects and actions
  • your program's GUI is advanced , engaging and unique

To get a quality appearance of a program, Microsoft recommends you to change the look of your commonly viewed icons, using aero style. It is also suggested to make a new design of all icons reflected in Start menu and Explorer (considering icons showing type of a file). It is suggested not to apply any icons in Windows 9x and earlier release style, in applications operating under Windows Vienna.

Making of single Vienna-icons.

Imaging your program with the most convenient interface, in Vienna appearance, with unique icons that completely present application's features and tasks due to appropriate metaphors, they get you to use the software just because it's a pleasure to see it. Graphics made in a style that will certainly be a new world classic.
You may ask: "Where do 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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