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Icon Design

Graphics for Windows Vienna. Design and structure.

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


Graphics, that appear in a newly created Windows Vienna are mostly similar to Windows Vista icons. They are created using identical construction and schemes.

First, what is Vienna icon? Vienna icon - is an icon created in aero style (style of Windows Vienna interface). Significant changes in icons' appearance can be noticed in Windows Vista and Vienna GUI at a glance. A typical feature of Windows Vista and Vienna GUI is new icons, created in a more rigorous rigorous and more fine way. Glass highlights and defined colours bring icons appealing for eyes, not irritating in constant work and repeated viewing.

Key points of icons design. Details of style.
  • Objects used for metaphors are drawn in hi- tech style and look more current.
  • Angle of turn and volume bring life into images.
  • Objects' angles and edges are soft and smoothly round.
  • All items face a spotlight now (with additional diffused lightening all around)
  • Falling shadow adds contrast and volume.
  • Elements with borders are easily distinguished.
  • Gradients enchance the volume and provide stylish appearance.
What is updated in Vienna style icons?
  • Style is more realistic but still not completely realistic. Since icons are intuitive images and not images of certain items, in GUI they fit even better than photos.
  • Overlayed images indicate what applications the file is assigned to.
  • Toolbar icons contain less details and look more flat 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 those screens in scaled size, keeping the quality, big images are needed.
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 compact pictograms only, maximal size is not needed.
Microsoft Corporation recommend to make GUI icons for software operating exclusively under 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 needed for Windows Vienna or Windows Vista, because PNG files used in these icons is scaled with no distortion from 256 x 256 to 32 x 32. With smaller sizes, automatic change of size deliver the image of poor quality, so another 16 x 16 image is required. Algorithms of resolution changes unfortunately are not flawless and its better to put 48x48 size into your icons to have less distortion.

If you want the pictogram to be fully compliant with not only Windows Vienna but older Windows releases as well, you will need to make the icon containing corresponding images (all - with three levels of colour depth).

Completely compatible (with Windows XP and former versions) 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), as this size is not necessary. Furthermore, the icon including this size, is difficult to be compliant 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 depth of Vienna graphics.

Windows Vienna support 32-bits icons in which 24 bits are reserved for image and 8 bits by opacity channel.
This allows icons to present semitransparent elements and smooth edges, regardless the background they are at.

Typical Windows Vienna icons contain three types 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 want your icons to look 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 displayed by your screen (this may occur in Windows XP and lower) but 4-bit depth is not included in the icon, the colour scheme will be automatically reduced down to 16 colours, here you can get the way it may 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 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 grouping.

Not like older releases, objects in Windows Vienna are turned at 45 angle clockwise.
Angle -wise images are suggested for a software icon or to display the volume objects.

Some objects are better when pictured non- rotated (like they are down on a desk 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 additional image in the icon depends on what both the image and the icon represent. Its hard to give more concrete suggestion in this case, you just have to be lead by the trial and analyze the way the image is comprehended, also if it is in a group of icons.

Overlaying of objects - front and angled

Falling shadow in Vienna graphics.

Falling shadow in Vienna icons is used to increase recognition and to potentiate the volume. In 3D and plain icons the shade looks different:

Drop shadow of volume and flat objects

Border of Vienna-icons.

Vienna-type icons usually have an outline. Its not so clearly expressed as in XP-type and is not constantly used. Outline is required to ensure recognition of an icon, no matter the background it is placed at. Outline may take only a part of an image always matching the design of an image securing its style.

Various kinds of outline

Review of Vienna-icon structure
Functional differences 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 extension
Use of PNG file is a key moment as it makes 256x256 image non-useable with Windows XP and previous versions (only smaller size pictures will be shown).
PNG-algorithm is used in icons for size 256x256 px only. The algorithm does not affect the quality and file is smaller in almost 4 times while transparency channel is included and picture is perfectly scale.

Compliance of Vista and Vienna-icons with Windows XP

To make the icon fully compatible with Windows XP, 256x256 image in the icon should be saved uncompressed. You may always add or cancel the compression, this will not change the quality. Size of the icon with uncompressed images containing all common formats will approximately be 400 Kb.

Why Vienna icons are recommended?

Quality Vienna type icons have the following benefits:
  • visual recognition of program's interface is pleasant
  • program's abilities are better presented
  • usage is more intuitive , simple navigation and identification of software, objects and actions
  • your program's interface is advanced , stylish and individual

To get a professional appearance of a program, Microsoft recommends you to modify the design of your commonly 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 type of a file). It is recommended not to apply any icons in Windows 9x and older release style, in programs running under Windows Vienna.

Creation of single Vienna-icons.

Imaging your application with the most intuitive interface, in Vienna appearance, with unique icons that clearly show 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. Icons created in a style that will definitely be another world standard.
You may ask: "Where do I purchase these perfect icons, at a reasonable price and not just like 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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