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Icon Design

Graphics for Windows Vienna. Appearance and structure.

The most significant design features of icons appearing in operating system Windows Vienna, construction differences of Vienna, Vista and XP icons, recommendations to creation Vienna style icons.


Icons, which appear in a recently created Windows Vienna are very similar to Windows Vista graphics. They are designed using identical structure and schemes.

So, what is Vienna icon? Vienna icon - is an icon created in aero style (style of Windows Vienna GUI). Major changes in icons' design can be noticed in Windows Vista and Vienna interface even at first sight. A distinctive detail of Windows Vista and Vienna GUI is new icons, designed in a more rigorous rigorous and more beautiful way. Glass highlights and defined colours make icons pleasant for eyes, not irritating in constant work and repeated viewing.

Overview of icons design. Details of style.
  • Objects used for metaphors are crafted in hi- tech style and look more current.
  • Degree of rotation and volume bring life into images.
  • Items' angles and edges are soft and rounded.
  • All objects face a spotlight now (with additional lightning spread all around)
  • Drop shadow brings contrast and volume.
  • Outlined elements are better distinguished.
  • Gradients intensify the volume and provide stylish look.
What is updated in Vienna style icons?
  • Style is more realistic but still not photorealistic. Since icons are intuitive images and not illustrations of specific items, in GUI they fit even more appropriate than photos.
  • Overlayed images illustrate what applications the object 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 suitable for high resolution screens. To display icons on those screens in proportional size, saving the quality, large images are needed.
Size of Vienna - icons.

Standard icons in Windows Vienna contain five resolutions - 256 x 256, 48 x 48, 32 x 32, 24 x 24, and 16 x 16 px. If icons are applied for menu, toolbar or compact symbols only, largest size is not required.
Microsoft Corporation suggests to create GUI icons for software running only under 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 necessary for Windows Vienna or Windows Vista, because PNG format used in these icons can be scaled with no perversion from 256 x 256 to 32 x 32. With more compact sizes, program's alterations of resolution makes the picture of poor quality, so another 16 x 16 image is needed. Algorithms of resolution changes unfortunately are not perfect and its recommended to put 48x48 size into your icons to avoid distortion.

If you need the icon to be completely compatible with not only Windows 7 but other Windows versions also, you will need to create the icon including corresponding images (each - with three levels of colour depth).

Fully compliant (with Windows XP and previous versions) icon must have following resolutions: 256 x 256, 48 x 48, 32 x 32, 16 x 16

We do not recommend to put 24 x 24 size into your graphics (except toolbar), as this resolution is not necessary. Moreover, the icon including this size, is difficult 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 depth of Vienna icons.

Windows Vienna reads 32-bits icons in which 24 bits are dedicatedto image and 8 bits by opacity channel.
This lets icons to present semitransparent details and sleek edges, no matter of the background they are at.

Standard Windows Vienna graphics consist of three types of color options for backward compliance :
  • 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 look fine 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 available in the pictogram, the colour scheme will be automatically shifted down to 16 colours, below you can see 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 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 combination.

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

Some objects look nicer if 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

Flat or angled overlaying of a second item in the icon is determined on what both the item and the icon represent. Its hard to give more detailed recommendation in this situation, you just need to be guided by the trial and study the way the image is understood, also if it is in a group of icons.

Overlaying of objects - front and angled

Drop shadow in Vienna icons.

Falling shadow in Vienna icons is used to increase recognition and to intensify 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 an outline. Its not so clearly visible as in XP-style and is not always used. Outline is nesessery to ensure recognition of an image, no matter the background it is placed at. Outline may take only a part of an image constantly matching the design of a picture securing its style.

Various kinds of outline

Review of Vienna-icon architecture
Functional differences of Vienna-icons and XP-icons

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

Compliance of Vista and Vienna-icons with Windows XP

To make the icon fully compatible with Windows XP, 256x256 seize in the icon should be saved non-compressed. You may always add or cancel the compression, this will not affect the quality. Resolution of the icon with non-compressed images including all common formats will approximately be 400 Kb.

Why Vienna icons are better?

Professionally made Vienna type icons have the following advantages:
  • visual recognition of program's interface is appealing
  • program's abilities are more clearly presented
  • usage is more intuitive , easy search and identification of software, items and tasks
  • your aoolication's GUI is advanced , stylish and individual

To get an advanced appearance of an application, Microsoft suggests you to edit the design of your mostly viewed icons, using aero style. It is also recommended to make a modern design of all icons reflected in Start menu and Explorer (including icons showing file types). It is recommended not to apply any icons in Windows 9x and older release style, in applications running under Windows Vienna.

Making of individual Vienna-icons.

Imaging your application with the most convenient GUI, in Vienna style, with unique icons that clearly show program's functions and tools due to appropriate metaphors, they get you to use the program just because it's a joy to look at it. Graphics made in a style that will certainly be another world classic.
You may 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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