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Icon Design

Graphics for Windows Vienna. Design and construction.

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


Icons, that appear in a recently created Windows Vienna are very similar to Windows Vista icons. They are designed with identical structure and schemes.

So, what is Vienna icon? Vienna icon - is an icon made in aero style (style of Windows Vienna interface). Major changes in icons' design can be noticed in Windows Vista and Vienna interface even at first sight. A distinctive feature of Windows Vista and Vienna interface is new icons, designed in a more rigorous but still and more fine way. Glass glares and defined colours bring icons appealing for eyes, not irritating in continuous work and repeated viewing.

Key points of icons creation. Details of style.
  • Items used for metaphors are crafted in hi- tech style and look more current.
  • Angle of rotation and volume bring life into images.
  • Objects' angles and edges are neat and rounded.
  • All items face a spotlight now (with extra diffused lightening all around)
  • Falling shadow brings contrast and volume.
  • Outlined elements are better distinguished.
  • Gradients enchance the volume and provide stylish appearance.
What is updated in Vienna graphics?
  • Style is more realistic but still not completely realistic. Since icons are intuitive images and not pictures of certain items, in GUI they fit even better than photos.
  • Overlayed images illustrate what program the file is related to.
  • Buttons 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 useable for high dimension screens. To display icons on such screens in scaled size, keeping the quality, big images are required.
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 used for menu, toolbar or compact pictograms only, maximal size is not required.
Microsoft Corporation suggests to make GUI icons for programs operating only 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 unneeded for Windows Vienna and Windows Vista, because PNG files 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 size deliver the picture of bad quality, so a separate 16 x 16 image is needed. Programs of resolution changes unfortunately are not perfect and its better to put 48x48 size into your icons to have less perversion.

If you need the icon to be completely compliant with not only Windows 7 but former Windows versions also, you will need to create the icon containing respective images (all - with three types of colour depth).

Fully compatible (with Windows XP and previous versions) icon should have 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 resolution is not required. Moreover, the icon including this size, is difficult to be compatible with Windows 98 and Windows 2000.
If you want images for your toolbar, their size is the same 24 x 24 and 16 x 16 px.

Colour depth of Vienna graphics.

Windows Vienna support 32-bits icons where 24 bits are reserved for image and 8 bits by opacity channel.
This enables icons to have semitransparent details and smooth edges, no matter of the background they are on.

Standard Windows Vienna graphics consist of three levels of color options 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 icons need 32-bit colour depth.

If you need your icons to look good all the time, in case of video driver failure for example, 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 displayed by your monitor (this may happen in Windows XP and older) but 4-bit depth is not available in the icon, the colour scheme will be automatically reduced down to 16 colours, here you can get the way it may appear 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

Turn angle and objects combination.

Unlike previous releases, items in Windows Vienna are turned at 45 angle clockwise.
Rotated images are recommended for an application icon or to display the 3D objects.

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

Flat or rotated overlaying of a second item in the icon depends on what both the image and the icon represent. Its difficult to give more detailed recommendation in this case, you just need to be guided by the experience and study the way the image is comprehended, also when it is in a group of icons.

Overlaying of objects - front and angled

Falling shadow in Vienna icons.

Falling 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-style icons usually have a border. Its not so vividly expressed as in XP-type and is not always used. Outline is required to make possible understanding of an icon, regardless the background it is located at. Outline may take only a part of an icon always matching the design of an icon securing its reality.

Various kinds of outline

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

Vienna-icons contain two functional differences from XP-icons:
  • Vienna-icons contain a grand picture 256x256
  • In typicall icons this grand image has PNG compression
Use of PNG file is a critical point as it makes 256x256 image non-useable with Windows XP and previous versions (only smaller resolution images will be displayed).
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 while transparency channel is supported and image is perfectly scale.

Compatibility of Vista and Vienna-icons with Windows XP

To make the icon fully compatible with Windows XP, 256x256 resolution in the icon must be saved uncompressed. You may always add or discharge the compression, this will not change the quality. Resolution of the icon with non-compressed images containing all standard formats will be about 400 Kb.

Why Vienna icons are better?

Professionally made Vienna style icons have the whole list of advantages:
  • visual recognition of program's interface is pleasant
  • program's features are better displayed
  • usage is more convenient , easy navigation and identification of software, items and tasks
  • your program's GUI is advanced , stylish and unique

To get an advanced appearance of a software, Microsoft suggests you to edit the design of your mostly displayed icons, with aero style. It is also recommended to make a modern design of all icons presented in Start menu and Explorer (including icons representing file types). It is recommended not to use any icons in Windows 9x and older version style, in programs operating under Windows Vienna.

Creation of single Vienna-icons.

Picture your software with the most intuitive interface, in Vienna appearance, with unique icons that clearly show application's functions and tasks thanks to proper metaphors, they get you to use the software just because it's a joy to see it. Icons made in a style that will certainly be another world standard.
You may ask: "Where can I purchase these flawless 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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