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Icon Design

Graphics for Windows Vienna. Design and construction.

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


Graphics, which appear in a recently created Windows Vienna are mostly similar to Windows Vista graphics. They are designed using identical construction and guidelines.

First, what is Vienna icon? Vienna icon - is an icon made in aero style (style of Windows Vienna interface). Significant alterations in icons' appearance can be noticed in Windows Vista and Vienna interface even at first sight. A typical feature of Windows Vista and Vienna GUI is new icons, designed in a more rigorous but still and more fine way. Glass glares and reserved colours bring icons pleasant for eyes, not irritating in continuous work and repeated viewing.

Overview of icons design. Description of style.
  • Items used as metaphors are made in hi- tech style and appear more current.
  • Angle of rotation and volume make image alive.
  • Items' angles and edges are soft and smoothly round.
  • All objects face a source of light now (with extra diffused lightening all around)
  • Drop shadow brings contrast and volume.
  • Elements with borders are easily distinguished.
  • Gradients intensify the volume and provide stylish look.
What is updated in Vienna graphics?
  • Appearance is more realistic but still not completely realistic. Because icons are intuitive images and not illustrations of certain items, in GUI they look even more appropriate than photos.
  • Overlayed images show what program the object is assigned to.
  • Toolbar icons have less details and look 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 those screens in proportional size, keeping the quality, large images are required.
Size of Vienna - icons.

Standard icons in Windows Vienna contain five sizes - 256 x 256, 48 x 48, 32 x 32, 24 x 24, and 16 x 16 px. If icons are used for menu, toolbar or small symbols only, maximal size is not needed.
Microsoft Corporation suggests to make interface icons for applications running exclusively 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 needed for Windows Vienna or Windows Vista, because PNG format used in these icons can be scaled with no perversion from 256 x 256 to 32 x 32. With more compact sizes, program's change of resolution deliver the picture of poor quality, so another 16 x 16 image is required. Algorithms of resolution changes unfortunately are not flawless and its better to include 48x48 image into your icons to avoid perversion.

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

Fully compatible (with Windows XP and older versions) 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 size into your icons (except toolbar), as this size is not necessary. Furthermore, the icon containing this size, is difficult to be compliant with Windows 98 and Windows 2000.
If you want icons for your toolbar, their resolution is the same 24 x 24 and 16 x 16 px.

Colour depth of Vienna graphics.

Windows Vienna support 32-bits icons in which 24 bits are reserved for picture and 8 bits by opacity channel.
This enables icons to have semitransparent details and sleek edges, regardless the background they are on.

Typical Windows Vienna icons contain three types of color depth for backward 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 images need 32-bit colour depth.

If you need your icons to look fine all the time, in situation of video driver failure for example, 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 screen (this may happen in Windows XP and older) but 4-bit depth is not included in the icon, the colour pallet will be automatically shifted down to 16 colours, below you can get the way it may 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 show 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

Turn angle and objects grouping.

Unlike former releases, objects in Windows Vienna are turned at 45 angle clockwise.
Angle -wise images are suggested for an application icon or to display the 3D items.

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

Plain or angled placement of a second item in the icon depends on what both the image and the graphic mean. Its difficult to give more detailed recommendation in this case, you just have to be lead by the experience 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 icons.

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

Drop shadow of volume and flat objects

Border of Vienna-icons.

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

Various kinds of outline

Review of Vienna-icon structure
Main differences of Vienna-icons and XP-icons

Vienna-icons contain two main differences from XP-icons:
  • Vienna-icons contain an extra large picture 256x256
  • In original icons this grand image has PNG extension
Use of PNG file is a key point as it brings 256x256 image non-compatible with Windows XP and earlier versions (only compact size images will be shown).
PNG-algorithm 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 supported and picture 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 non-compressed. You can always include or discharge the compression, this will not affect the quality. Size 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 abilities are better displayed
  • usage is more convenient , simple navigation and identification of programs, items and tasks
  • your program's interface is advanced , stylish and unique

To get a professional appearance of a software, Microsoft suggests you to edit the design of your mostly viewed icons, using aero style. It is also recommended to make a new design of all icons presented in Start menu and Explorer (including icons showing file types). It is recommended not to use any icons in Windows 9x and older release style, in applications running under Windows Vienna.

Creation of individual Vienna-icons.

Imaging your program with the most intuitive interface, in Vienna style, with unique icons that clearly show application's features and tasks due to appropriate metaphors, they make you to work with the software just because it's a joy to look at it. Icons created in a style that will definitely be a new world classic.
You could ask: "Where do I order these perfect icons, at a reasonable price and not just like 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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