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Icons for Windows Vienna. Design and construction.

The most important design detail of icons appearing in operating system Windows Vienna, structural distinctions of Vienna, Vista and XP icons, guidance to making Vienna style icons.


Graphics, which are used in a newly released Windows Vienna are mostly like Windows Vista icons. They are designed with identical construction and guidelines.

First, what is Vienna icon? Vienna icon - is an icon drawn in aero style (style of Windows Vienna interface). Significant changes in icons' appearance can be seen in Windows Vista and Vienna GUI at a glance. A typical detail of Windows Vista and Vienna GUI is new icons, designed in a more rigorous rigorous and more fine way. Glass highlights and defined colours bring icons appealing for eyes, not annoying 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 appear more advanced.
  • Degree of turn and volume make image alive.
  • Items' angles and edges are neat and rounded.
  • All objects face a source of light now (with extra lightning spread all around)
  • Falling shadow brings contrast and volume.
  • Outlined elements are easily distinguished.
  • Gradients intensify the volume and provide stylish appearance.
What is updated in Vienna style icons?
  • Style is more realistic but still not photorealistic. Since icons are symbolic images and not images of certain items, in GUI they fit even more appropriate than photos.
  • Overlayed images illustrate what software the file is assigned to.
  • Buttons icons have less details and look more plain for neat look under smaller size.
  • Icons have maximal size 256 x 256 and it makes them useable for high resolution screens. To display icons on such screens in proportional size, keeping the quality, big images are required.
Size of Vienna - icons.

Typical 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 buttons, toolbar or small pictograms only, biggest size is not required.
Microsoft Corporation recommend to create GUI icons for programs running exclusively in Windows Vienna in the listed sizes:
  • 256 x 256 px
  • 32 x 32 px
  • 16 x 16 px
Microsoft affirm that intermediate sizes between 256 x 256 and 32 x 32 are not needed for Windows Vienna and 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 resolution deliver the picture of poor quality, so another 16 x 16 image is needed. Algorithms of size changes however are not perfect and its better to include 48x48 size into your icons to have less distortion.

If you want the pictogram to be completely compatible with not only Windows 7 but other Windows releases also, you will have to make the icon including corresponding images (each - with three types of colour depth).

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

We do not recommend to put 24 x 24 resolution into your icons (except toolbar), because this size is not necessary. Moreover, the icon containing this size, is hard to be compatible with Windows 98 and Windows 2000.
If you want icons for your toolbar, their resolution is the same 24 x 24 and 16 x 16 px.

Colour options of Vienna icons.

Windows Vienna reads 32-bits icons in which 24 bits are occupied by picture and 8 bits by opacity channel.
This allows icons to have semitransparent details and smooth edges, no matter of the background they are on.

Typical 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 require 32-bit colour depth.

If you want your icons to look good all the time, in case of video driver insufficiency for instance, 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 screen (this may happen in Windows XP and lower) but 4-bit option is not provided in the icon, the colour scheme will be automatically shifted 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 show material of an object 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

Turn angle and objects combination.

Unlike former versions, items in Windows Vienna are turned at 45 angle clockwise.
Angle -wise graphics are suggested for an application icon or to present the volume objects.

Some items are better if displayed non- rotated (like they are laying on a desk and you look over them)
  • Files icons
  • Flat objects
  • 16 x 16 size icons
Icons for rotated and non -rotated objects

Front or angled placement of additional image in the icon depends on what both the item and the icon represent. Its hard to give more detailed recommendation in this situation, you just have to be guided by the trial and analyze the way the icon is comprehended, also when it is in a combination of icons.

Overlaying of objects - front and angled

Drop shadow in Vienna graphics.

Drop shadow in Vienna icons is used to increase recognition and to intensify the volume. In volume and plain 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 clearly expressed as in XP-type and is not constantly used. Border is required to ensure recognition of an icon, no matter the background it is located at. Border may take only a part of an icon always following the design of a picture securing its style.

Various kinds of outline

Review of Vienna-icon structure
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 picture has PNG extension
Use of PNG file is a critical point as it makes 256x256 image non-compatible with Windows XP and previous versions (only smaller size pictures will be displayed).
PNG-compression is used in icons for size 256x256 px only. The algorithm does not change the quality and file size is reduced in almost 4 times while transparency channel is enabled and image is perfectly scale.

Compatibility of Vista and Vienna-icons with Windows XP

To make the icon completely compatible 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. Size of the icon with non-compressed images containing all standard formats will approximately be 400 Kb.

Why Vienna icons are better?

Professionally made Vienna style icons have the whole list of advantages:
  • visual comprehension of application's interface is appealing
  • program's features are more clearly displayed
  • usage is more convenient , simple navigation and identification of programs, items and actions
  • your program's GUI is advanced , engaging and unique

To get a professional appearance of a program, Microsoft suggests you to edit the design of your mostly viewed icons, with aero style. It is also suggested to make a modern design of all icons reflected in Start menu and Explorer (considering icons showing type of a file). It is suggested not to apply any icons in Windows 9x and older release 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 program's functions and tasks thanks to proper metaphors, they get you to use the software just because it's a pleasure to look at it. Icons created in a style that will definitely be a new world classic.
You may ask: "Where do I purchase these flawless icons, at a reasonable 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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