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Icon Design

Graphics for Windows Vienna. Design and construction.

The most important design features of icons appearing in operating system Windows Vienna, structural differences of Vienna, Vista and XP graphics, guidance to crafting Vienna style icons.


Icons, which appear in a recently created Windows Vienna are very like Windows Vista icons. They are designed with the same 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 noticed in Windows Vista and Vienna interface at a glance. A distinctive feature of Windows Vista and Vienna GUI is new icons, designed in a more rigorous rigorous and more fine way. Glass highlights and reserved colours make icons pleasant for eyes, not irritating in constant work and repeated viewing.

Key points of icons design. Details of style.
  • Items used for metaphors are drawn in hi- tech style and appear more advanced.
  • Degree of rotation and volume make image alive.
  • Objects' angles and edges are soft and smoothly round.
  • All items face a spotlight now (with additional lightning spread all around)
  • Falling shadow brings contrast and volume.
  • Elements with borders are easily distinguished.
  • Gradients intensify the volume and gives stylish look.
What is updated in Vienna style icons?
  • Appearance is more realistic but still not photorealistic. Because icons are intuitive images and not images of specific items, in interface they look even better than photos.
  • Overlayed images show what software the object is related to.
  • Buttons icons contain fewer details and look 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 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 buttons, toolbar or compact symbols only, biggest size is not required.
Microsoft Corporation recommend to create interface icons for applications running only in Windows Vienna in the following 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 format used in these icons is scaled with no distortion from 256 x 256 to 32 x 32. With smaller sizes, automatic alterations of resolution deliver the picture of poor quality, so another 16 x 16 picture is needed. Programs of resolution changes unfortunately are not perfect and its better to put 48x48 size into your icons to avoid perversion.

If you want the icon to be fully compatible with not only Windows 7 but older Windows releases also, you will have to create the icon containing corresponding images (all - with three levels of colour depth).

Fully compatible (with Windows XP and former versions) icon should have following sizes: 256 x 256, 48 x 48, 32 x 32, 16 x 16

We do not suggest to include 24 x 24 resolution into your icons (except toolbar), as this resolution is not required. Furthermore, the icon including this size, is difficult 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 options of Vienna graphics.

Windows Vienna uses 32-bits icons where 24 bits are occupied by 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 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 icons need 32-bit colour depth.

If you need your icons to look good all the time, in situation of video driver failure for instance, you will require 8-bit and 4-bit depths (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 option is not provided in the pictogram, the colour pallet will be automatically reduced down to 16 colours, here you can see the way it will 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 graphics 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 former releases, items in Windows Vienna are turned at 45 angle clockwise.
Rotated graphics are suggested for an application icon or to present the 3D items.

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

Plain or rotated placement of a second item in the icon is determined on what both the item and the graphic mean. Its difficult to give more detailed recommendation in this situation, you just have to be guided by the experience and analyze the way the icon is understood, also when it is in a combination of icons.

Overlaying of objects - front and angled

Falling shadow in Vienna icons.

Falling shadow in Vienna icons is applied to increase recognition and to intensify the 3D effect. 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 clearly visible as in XP-type and is not always used. Outline is nesessery to make possible understanding of an icon, regardless the background it is located at. Border may be used only a part of an icon always following the design of a picture securing its reality.

Various kinds of outline

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

Vienna-icons contain two functional differences from XP-icons:
  • Vienna-icons have an extra large image 256x256
  • In typicall icons this large picture has PNG compression
Use of PNG file is a key moment as it makes 256x256 image non-useable with Windows XP and earlier versions (only compact resolution images will be displayed).
PNG-compression is used in icons for size 256x256 px only. The algorithm does not affect the quality and file size is smaller in about 4 times when transparency channel is enabled and picture is perfectly scale.

Compatibility of Vista and Vienna-icons with Windows XP

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

Why Vienna icons are recommended?

Quality Vienna style icons have the whole list of benefits:
  • visual recognition of application's interface is pleasant
  • program's features are better displayed
  • usage is more convenient , easy search and identification of programs, items and actions
  • your aoolication's GUI is advanced , stylish and individual

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

Making of single Vienna-icons.

Picture your program with the most convenient GUI, in Vienna appearance, with individual icons that completely present application's features and tasks due to proper metaphors, they get you to work with the program just because it's a joy to look at it. Icons made in a style that will certainly be a new world standard.
You could ask: "Where can I order these flawless icons, at a competitive price and not just similar 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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