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Icon Design

Icons for Windows Vienna. Appearance and construction.

The most important design detail of icons used in operating system Windows Vienna, construction differences of Vienna, Vista and XP graphics, recommendations to making Vienna style icons.


Icons, which are used in a recently created Windows Vienna are mostly like Windows Vista icons. They are designed with identical construction and guidelines.

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

Overview of icons design. Details of style.
  • Items used for metaphors are drawn in hi- tech style and appear more current.
  • Angle of rotation and volume bring life into images.
  • Objects' angles and borders are soft and rounded.
  • All objects face a spotlight now (with extra lightning spread all around)
  • Falling shadow gives contrast and volume.
  • Outlined elements are better distinguished.
  • Gradients intensify the volume and gives stylish look.
What is new in Vienna graphics?
  • Appearance 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 applications the object is related to.
  • Toolbar icons have fewer details and appear more flat for neat look under smaller size.
  • Icons have biggest size 256 x 256 and it makes them useable for high dimension screens. To display icons on those screens in scaled size, saving the quality, large images are required.
Size of Vienna - icons.

Typical 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 used for buttons, toolbar or small pictograms only, maximal size is not needed.
Microsoft Corporation suggests to create interface icons for software operating exclusively in Windows Vienna in the following sizes:
  • 256 x 256 px
  • 32 x 32 px
  • 16 x 16 px
Microsoft states that interim sizes between 256 x 256 and 32 x 32 are not needed for Windows Vienna or Windows Vista, because PNG files used in these icons can be scaled with no distortion from 256 x 256 to 32 x 32. With smaller sizes, program's alterations of resolution deliver the picture of poor quality, so a separate 16 x 16 image is needed. Programs of resolution changes however are not flawless and its better to put 48x48 image into your icons to avoid distortion.

If you want the pictogram to be completely compliant with not only Windows Vienna but other Windows versions also, you will need to create the icon containing corresponding images (each - with three types of colour depth).

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

We do not recommend to put 24 x 24 size into your icons (except toolbar), because this size is not necessary. Furthermore, the icon containing this size, is hard to be compliant 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 support 32-bits icons in which 24 bits are occupied by image and 8 bits by opacity channel.
This lets icons to present semitransparent details and smooth edges, regardless the background they are on.

Standard Windows Vienna icons consist of three levels of color depth for backward 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 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 need 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 option is not included in the icon, the colour pallet will be automatically shifted 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 icons show 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

Turn angle and objects combination.

Not like previous versions, items in Windows Vienna are turned at 45 angle clockwise.
Angle -wise images are suggested for a software icon or to present the 3D items.

Following items look better when pictured non- rotated (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

Flat or rotated overlaying of a second image in the icon is determined on what both the image and the graphic mean. Its difficult to give more concrete suggestion in this situation, 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 volume and flat icons the shadow looks different:

Drop shadow of volume and flat objects

Outline of Vienna-icons.

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

Various kinds of outline

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

Vienna-icons have two functional differences from XP-icons:
  • Vienna-icons have a grand picture 256x256
  • In original icons this grand picture has PNG compression
Use of PNG compression is a critical moment as it makes 256x256 image non-useable with Windows XP and previous versions (only compact resolution pictures will be displayed).
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 enabled and picture is perfectly scale.

Compatibility of Vista and Vienna-icons with Windows XP

To get the icon completely compliant with Windows XP, 256x256 seize in the icon should be saved non-compressed. You can always include or cancel the compression, this will not change the quality. Resolution of the icon with uncompressed images including all standard formats will approximately be 400 Kb.

Why Vienna icons are recommended?

Quality Vienna style icons have the whole list of advantages:
  • visual recognition of program's interface is pleasant
  • program's features are better presented
  • usage is more convenient , simple navigation and identification of programs, objects and tasks
  • your program's GUI is advanced , engaging and individual

To get a professional appearance of a software, Microsoft suggests you to change the design of your commonly displayed icons, with aero style. It is also suggested to make a new design of all icons presented in Start menu and Explorer (considering icons representing file types). It is suggested not to use any icons in Windows 9x and earlier version style, in programs operating under Windows Vienna.

Creation of single Vienna-icons.

Imaging your application with the most convenient interface, in Vienna style, with unique icons that clearly present application's features and tools thanks to proper metaphors, they get you to work with the program just because it's a pleasure to look at it. Graphics made in a style that will definitely be another world standard.
You may ask: "Where do I purchase these perfect graphics, at a reasonable 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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