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Icon Design

Graphics for Windows Vienna. Design and construction.

The most significant design detail of icons used in operating system Windows Vienna, structural distinctions of Vienna, Vista and XP graphics, guidance to crafting Vienna type icons.


Graphics, that are used in a recently created Windows Vienna are mostly similar to Windows Vista icons. They are created with identical construction and schemes.

So, what is Vienna icon? Vienna icon - is an icon drawn 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 feature of Windows Vista and Vienna GUI is new icons, designed in a more strict rigorous and more beautiful way. Glass highlights and reserved colours bring icons pleasant for eyes, not annoying in continuous work and multiple viewing.

Overview of icons creation. Description of style.
  • Items used for metaphors are drawn in hi- tech style and look more advanced.
  • Degree of turn and volume bring life into images.
  • Items' angles and borders are soft and rounded.
  • All objects face a source of light now (with extra diffused lightening all around)
  • Drop shadow adds contrast and volume.
  • Outlined elements 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. Since icons are intuitive images and not illustrations of specific items, in interface they look even better than photos.
  • Overlayed images show what applications the object is related to.
  • Buttons icons contain fewer details and appear more plain 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 those screens in proportional size, saving the quality, big images are required.
Size of Vienna - icons.

Standard icons in Windows Vienna consist of five sizes - 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 symbols only, biggest size is not needed.
Microsoft Corporation recommend to create GUI icons for applications operating only 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 and Windows Vista, because PNG format used in these icons can be scaled with no distortion from 256 x 256 to 32 x 32. With more compact sizes, automatic change of resolution deliver the image of bad quality, so a separate 16 x 16 picture is required. Algorithms of size changes unfortunately are not flawless and its better to include 48x48 size into your icons to avoid perversion.

If you need the icon to be fully compliant with not only Windows Vienna but other Windows releases also, you will need to make the icon containing corresponding images (all - with three types of colour depth).

Completely compliant (with Windows XP and older versions) icon must contain following sizes: 256 x 256, 48 x 48, 32 x 32, 16 x 16

We do not recommend to include 24 x 24 resolution into your icons (except toolbar), as this size is not required. Furthermore, the icon including this size, is hard 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 uses 32-bits icons in which 24 bits are reserved for image and 8 bits by opacity channel.
This lets icons to have semitransparent elements and smooth edges, no matter of the background they are on.

Standard Windows Vienna graphics contain three types 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 need 32-bit colour depth.

If you want your icons to be good all the time, in situation of video driver insufficiency 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 shown by your monitor (this may occur in Windows XP and lower) but 4-bit depth is not included in the pictogram, 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 shown in 16 colours.

Vienna icons colour pallet.

Colours in Vienna icons 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

Rotation angle and objects grouping.

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

Some items are better if pictured flat (like they are laying on a desk 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 additional item in the icon is determined on what both the image and the icon mean. Its difficult to give more detailed recommendation in this case, you just have to be lead 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

Falling shadow in Vienna icons.

Falling shadow in Vienna icons is used to increase recognition and to intensify the volume. In volume and plain icons the shadow is different:

Drop shadow of volume and flat objects

Outline of Vienna-icons.

Vienna-type icons often have a border. Its not so vividly visible as in XP-type and is not always used. Border is nesessery to make possible understanding of an icon, regardless the background it is placed at. Outline may take only a part of an icon constantly matching the design of an image securing its style.

Various kinds of outline

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

Vienna-icons have two functional differences from XP-icons:
  • Vienna-icons have a grand image 256x256
  • In typicall icons this grand picture has PNG compression
Use of PNG compression is a critical moment as it brings 256x256 image non-compatible with Windows XP and earlier releases (only compact size images will be displayed).
PNG-algorithm is applied in icons for size 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 completely compliant with Windows XP, 256x256 resolution in the icon must be saved non-compressed. You may always add or cancel the compression, this will not change the quality. Resolution of the icon with non-compressed images including all common formats will be about 400 Kb.

Why Vienna icons are better?

Professionally made Vienna type icons have the whole list of advantages:
  • visual comprehension of program's interface is appealing
  • program's abilities are better presented
  • usage is more convenient , simple search and identification of software, objects and tasks
  • your aoolication's GUI is advanced , engaging and unique

To get an advanced appearance of an application, Microsoft recommends you to edit the design of your commonly viewed icons, using aero style. It is also suggested to make a modern design of all icons presented in Start menu and Explorer (considering icons representing type of a file). It is suggested not to use any icons in Windows 9x and older version style, in programs running under Windows Vienna.

Making of individual Vienna-icons.

Picture your application with the most convenient GUI, in Vienna style, with unique icons that completely present application's functions and tools due to appropriate metaphors, they make you to use the application just because it's a pleasure to see it. Icons made in a style that will definitely be another world classic.
You could ask: "Where do I order these flawless icons, at a competitive 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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