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Icons for Windows Vienna. Design and construction.

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


Graphics, that are used in a recently released Windows Vienna are very similar to Windows Vista icons. They are created using identical construction and guidelines.

So, what is Vienna icon? Vienna icon - is an icon drawn in aero style (style of Windows Vienna GUI). Major alterations in icons' appearance can be seen in Windows Vista and Vienna interface at a glance. A typical feature of Windows Vista and Vienna interface is new icons, designed in a more strict but still and more beautiful way. Glass highlights and defined colours make icons pleasant for eyes, not annoying in continuous work and repeated viewing.

Key points of icons design. Description of style.
  • Objects used as metaphors are drawn in hi- tech style and appear more advanced.
  • Angle of turn and volume make image alive.
  • Objects' angles and borders are soft and smoothly round.
  • All items face a spotlight now (with extra diffused lightening all around)
  • Falling shadow gives contrast and volume.
  • Elements with borders are easily distinguished.
  • Gradients intensify the volume and provide stylish appearance.
What is updated in Vienna graphics?
  • Style is more realistic but still not photorealistic. Because icons are symbolic images and not pictures of certain items, in interface they fit even better than photos.
  • Overlayed images illustrate what software the object is related to.
  • Toolbar icons contain fewer details and appear more plain for neat look under smaller size.
  • Icons have biggest size 256 x 256 and it makes them suitable for high resolution screens. To display icons on such screens in proportional size, keeping the quality, big images are needed.
Size of Vienna - icons.

Typical icons in Windows Vienna consist of five sizes - 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 small symbols only, largest size is not required.
Microsoft Corporation suggests to create GUI icons for programs operating exclusively in Windows Vienna in the listed sizes:
  • 256 x 256 px
  • 32 x 32 px
  • 16 x 16 px
Microsoft affirm that interim sizes between 256 x 256 and 32 x 32 are not necessary 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 alterations of size deliver the image of bad quality, so another 16 x 16 image is required. Programs of resolution changes however are not flawless and its better to include 48x48 image into your icons to have less distortion.

If you need the icon to be fully compliant with not only Windows 7 but other Windows releases as well, you will need to create the icon including respective images (all - with three levels of colour depth).

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

We do not suggest to put 24 x 24 size into your icons (except toolbar), because this resolution is not necessary. Furthermore, the icon including this size, is difficult to be compatible with Windows 98 and Windows 2000.
If you need images for your toolbar, their resolution is the same 24 x 24 and 16 x 16 px.

Colour options of Vienna icons.

Windows Vienna understands 32-bits icons where 24 bits are dedicatedto picture and 8 bits by opacity channel.
This lets icons to have semitransparent details and smooth edges, regardless the background they are on.

Standard Windows Vienna graphics contain three levels 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 icons require 32-bit colour depth.

If you need your icons to be good all the time, in situation of video driver insufficiency for example, you will need 8-bit and 4-bit depths (with 256 or even 16 colours only).
An icon in various colour depth

If there are 16 colours shown by your monitor (this may happen in Windows XP and lower) but 4-bit option is not included in the icon, the colour pallet will be automatically shifted down to 16 colours, here you can get the way it will appear like:
A 32-bit icon displayed in 16 colours
This is a 32-bit icon displayed in 16 colours.

Vienna icons colour pallet.

Colours in Vienna graphics display material of an object or a signal (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 former releases, items in Windows Vienna are turned at 45 angle clockwise.
Angle -wise graphics are recommended for an application icon or to present the volume objects.

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

Flat or angled placement of additional image in the icon is determined on what both the item and the graphic mean. Its difficult to give more concrete suggestion in this case, you just need to be lead by the experience and study the way the icon is comprehended, also when it is in a group of icons.

Overlaying of objects - front and angled

Drop shadow in Vienna icons.

Drop shadow in Vienna icons is used to improve recognition and to potentiate the 3D effect. In 3D and plain icons the shadow looks different:

Drop shadow of volume and flat objects

Border of Vienna-icons.

Vienna-style icons often have a border. Its not so vividly visible as in XP-type and is not always used. Outline is required to make possible understanding of an image, regardless the background it is placed at. Border may take only a part of an image constantly matching the design of a picture securing its reality.

Various kinds of outline

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

Vienna-icons have two functional distinctions from XP-icons:
  • Vienna-icons contain an extra large picture 256x256
  • In typicall icons this large image has PNG extension
Use of PNG file is a key moment as it makes 256x256 image non-useable with Windows XP and previous releases (only compact resolution pictures will be shown).
PNG-compression is applied in icons for size 256x256 px only. The compression does not affect the quality and file size is reduced in almost 4 times while transparency channel is supported and picture is perfectly scale.

Compliance of Vista and Vienna-icons with Windows XP

To get the icon fully compliant with Windows XP, 256x256 resolution in the icon must be saved uncompressed. You may always include or discharge the compression, this will not affect the quality. Resolution of the icon with uncompressed images including all common formats will approximately be 400 Kb.

Why Vienna icons are recommended?

Professionally made Vienna type icons have the following benefits:
  • visual comprehension of program's interface is pleasant
  • program's features are more clearly presented
  • usage is more intuitive , simple search and identification of programs, items and actions
  • your program's interface is advanced , engaging and individual

To get a quality appearance of a program, Microsoft recommends you to change the look of your commonly viewed icons, with aero style. It is also recommended to make a new design of all icons presented 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 version style, in applications running under Windows Vienna.

Creation of single Vienna-icons.

Imaging your program with the most convenient GUI, in Vienna appearance, with unique icons that clearly present program's features and tasks thanks to appropriate metaphors, they make you to use the application just because it's a joy to see it. Graphics made in a style that will certainly be another world classic.
You may ask: "Where do I purchase these perfect graphics, at a reasonable 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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