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Icon Design

Graphics for Windows Vienna. Design and construction.

The most significant design features of icons used in operating system Windows Vienna, construction differences of Vienna, Vista and XP graphics, guidance to creation Vienna type icons.


Graphics, that appear in a newly created Windows Vienna are very like Windows Vista icons. They are designed using the same structure and guidelines.

So, what is Vienna icon? Vienna icon - is an icon created in aero style (style of Windows Vienna interface). Significant alterations in icons' appearance can be noticed in Windows Vista and Vienna GUI even at first sight. A typical detail of Windows Vista and Vienna GUI is new icons, designed in a more rigorous but still and more beautiful way. Glass highlights and defined colours bring icons appealing for eyes, not annoying in constant work and multiple viewing.

Key points of icons design. Details of style.
  • Objects used for metaphors are made in hi- tech style and appear more advanced.
  • Angle of turn and volume make image alive.
  • Objects' angles and borders are soft and rounded.
  • All items face a source of light now (with extra lightning spread all around)
  • Drop shadow gives contrast and volume.
  • Elements with borders are better distinguished.
  • Gradients intensify the volume and gives stylish look.
What is updated in Vienna graphics?
  • Style is more realistic but still not photorealistic. Because icons are intuitive images and not pictures of specific items, in GUI they look even better than photos.
  • Overlayed images show what program the object is assigned to.
  • Toolbar icons have fewer 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 show icons on such screens in scaled size, saving the quality, large images are needed.
Size of Vienna - icons.

Standard icons in Windows Vienna consist of 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 required.
Microsoft Corporation suggests to create GUI icons for applications running exclusively under Windows Vienna in the listed 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 files used in these icons is scaled with no perversion from 256 x 256 to 32 x 32. With more compact sizes, automatic change of size deliver the picture of bad quality, so a separate 16 x 16 picture is required. Algorithms of size changes however are not flawless and its better to put 48x48 size into your icons to have less perversion.

If you want the icon to be completely compliant with not only Windows 7 but former Windows versions as well, you will need to make the icon containing corresponding images (each - with three levels of colour depth).

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

We do not suggest to include 24 x 24 size into your icons (except toolbar), because this resolution is not required. Moreover, the icon including this size, is hard to be compliant with Windows 98 and Windows 2000.
If you need images for your toolbar, their size is the same 24 x 24 and 16 x 16 px.

Colour depth of Vienna graphics.

Windows Vienna reads 32-bits icons where 24 bits are reserved for image and 8 bits by transparency channel.
This allows icons to present semitransparent elements and sleek edges, regardless the background they are at.

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

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

If there are 16 colours displayed by your monitor (this may occur in Windows XP and older) but 4-bit depth is not available in the pictogram, the colour scheme will be automatically reduced down to 16 colours, below you can get the way it will look 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 a subject 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.

Unlike former releases, items in Windows Vienna are turned at 45 angle clockwise.
Angle -wise graphics are suggested for a software icon or to present the 3D objects.

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

Plain or angled placement of a second image in the icon is determined on what both the image and the graphic represent. Its hard to give more concrete recommendation in this situation, you just have to be guided by the trial and study the way the icon is understood, also if it is in a combination of icons.

Overlaying of objects - front and angled

Drop shadow in Vienna graphics.

Falling shadow in Vienna icons is applied to improve recognition and to intensify the 3D effect. In 3D and plain icons the shadow is different:

Drop shadow of volume and flat objects

Outline of Vienna-icons.

Vienna-type icons often have an outline. Its not so vividly expressed as in XP-type and is not constantly used. Outline is nesessery to ensure understanding of an image, no matter the background it is located at. Border may take only a part of an image always matching the design of an icon securing its reality.

Various kinds of outline

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

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

Compliance of Vista and Vienna-icons with Windows XP

To make the icon completely compliant with Windows XP, 256x256 seize in the icon should be saved non-compressed. You may always add or discharge the compression, this will not affect the quality. Resolution of the icon with uncompressed images including all common formats will be about 400 Kb.

Why Vienna icons are better?

Quality Vienna type icons have the whole list of benefits:
  • visual comprehension of application's interface is appealing
  • program's features are better displayed
  • usage is more intuitive , simple search and identification of programs, items and actions
  • your program's interface is advanced , engaging and unique

To get a quality appearance of a software, Microsoft recommends you to modify the look of your mostly viewed icons, with aero style. It is also recommended to make a modern design of all icons reflected in Start menu and Explorer (including icons showing file types). It is suggested not to apply any icons in Windows 9x and earlier version style, in applications operating under Windows Vienna.

Creation of individual Vienna-icons.

Picture your program with the most convenient interface, in Vienna appearance, with unique icons that clearly show program's features and tasks due to appropriate metaphors, they make you to work with the software just because it's a pleasure to look at it. Graphics created in a style that will certainly be a new world standard.
You may ask: "Where do I purchase these flawless graphics, at a competitive price and not just similar ones but real 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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