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Icon Design

Icons for Windows Vienna. Appearance and construction.

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


Graphics, that are used in a newly created Windows Vienna are very similar to Windows Vista icons. They are created with identical construction and guidelines.

So, what is Vienna icon? Vienna icon - is an icon created in aero style (style of Windows Vienna interface). Significant alterations in icons' design can be noticed in Windows Vista and Vienna GUI even at first sight. A distinctive feature of Windows Vista and Vienna GUI is new icons, created in a more strict but still and more beautiful way. Glass glares and reserved colours bring icons pleasant for eyes, not irritating in constant work and repeated viewing.

Overview of icons design. Description of style.
  • Objects used for metaphors are made in hi- tech style and appear more current.
  • Angle of rotation and volume bring life into images.
  • Objects' angles and edges are neat and rounded.
  • All items face a source of light now (with extra diffused lightening all around)
  • Drop shadow brings contrast and volume.
  • Elements with borders are better distinguished.
  • Gradients enchance the volume and provide stylish look.
What is new in Vienna style icons?
  • Appearance is more realistic but still not photorealistic. Since icons are intuitive images and not images of specific items, in interface they fit even better than photos.
  • Overlayed images illustrate what applications the object is related to.
  • Buttons icons contain fewer details and look more flat for neat look 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 scaled size, saving the quality, big 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 compact pictograms only, maximal size is not required.
Microsoft Corporation suggests to make interface icons for applications operating exclusively in 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 unneeded for Windows Vienna or Windows Vista, because PNG files used in these icons can be scaled with no distortion from 256 x 256 to 32 x 32. With smaller sizes, automatic alterations of size makes the picture of poor quality, so a separate 16 x 16 picture is needed. Algorithms of size changes however are not perfect and its recommended to put 48x48 image into your icons to avoid perversion.

If you need the icon to be completely compliant with not only Windows Vienna but other Windows versions as well, you will have to create the icon containing respective images (all - with three levels of colour depth).

Completely compliant (with Windows XP and former versions) icon must have 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 necessary. Furthermore, the icon including this size, is hard to be compliant with Windows 98 and Windows 2000.
If you need images for your toolbar, their size is the same 24 x 24 and 16 x 16 px.

Colour options of Vienna icons.

Windows Vienna uses 32-bits icons in which 24 bits are occupied by picture and 8 bits by transparency channel.
This enables icons to present semitransparent elements and sleek edges, regardless the background they are on.

Standard Windows Vienna icons 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 images need 32-bit colour depth.

If you want your icons to look fine all the time, in case of video driver insufficiency 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 monitor (this may occur in Windows XP and lower) but 4-bit depth is not included in the icon, the colour pallet will be automatically reduced down to 16 colours, below you can see 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 display material of a subject 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 previous versions, objects in Windows Vienna are turned at 45 angle clockwise.
Angle -wise graphics are recommended for a software icon or to present the 3D items.

Some items are nicer when displayed non- rotated (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

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

Overlaying of objects - front and angled

Falling shadow in Vienna icons.

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

Drop shadow of volume and flat objects

Border of Vienna-icons.

Vienna-type icons usually have a border. Its not so clearly expressed as in XP-type and is not constantly used. Outline is nesessery to ensure understanding of an image, no matter the background it is located at. Outline may be used only a part of an image constantly matching the design of a picture securing its style.

Various kinds of outline

Overview of Vienna-icon structure
Functional differences of Vienna-icons and XP-icons

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

Compliance 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 discharge the compression, this will not affect the quality. Resolution of the icon with uncompressed images containing all common formats will be about 400 Kb.

Why Vienna icons are better?

Quality Vienna type icons have the following advantages:
  • visual recognition of program's interface is appealing
  • program's abilities are more clearly displayed
  • usage is more convenient , easy navigation and identification of programs, items and tasks
  • your aoolication's GUI is advanced , stylish and individual

To get a quality appearance of a program, Microsoft recommends you to edit the look of your mostly displayed icons, with aero style. It is also suggested to make a new design of all icons reflected in Start menu and Explorer (considering icons showing file types). It is suggested not to apply any icons in Windows 9x and earlier version style, in applications operating under Windows Vienna.

Creation of single Vienna-icons.

Imaging your program with the most intuitive GUI, in Vienna appearance, with individual icons that completely present application's functions and tools due to proper metaphors, they get you to work with the program just because it's a pleasure to see it. Graphics made in a style that will certainly be a new world standard.
You may ask: "Where can I order these flawless icons, 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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