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Icon Design

Graphics for Windows Vienna. Appearance and structure.

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


Icons, which appear in a recently created Windows Vienna are very similar to Windows Vista icons. They are designed using the same construction and guidelines.

So, what is Vienna icon? Vienna icon - is an icon drawn in aero style (style of Windows Vienna interface). Significant alterations in icons' design can be noticed in Windows Vista and Vienna GUI at a glance. A distinctive feature of Windows Vista and Vienna interface is new icons, created in a more strict rigorous and more beautiful way. Glass glares and defined colours bring icons pleasant for eyes, not annoying in constant work and multiple viewing.

Overview of icons design. Details of style.
  • Objects used as metaphors are drawn in hi- tech style and look more advanced.
  • Degree of turn and volume bring life into images.
  • Objects' angles and edges are neat and smoothly round.
  • All objects face a source of light now (with additional lightning spread all around)
  • Falling shadow adds contrast and volume.
  • Elements with borders are easily distinguished.
  • Gradients intensify the volume and gives stylish look.
What is new in Vienna graphics?
  • Appearance is more realistic but still not completely realistic. Because icons are symbolic images and not images of specific items, in GUI they look even better than photos.
  • Overlayed images indicate what program the object is related to.
  • Toolbar icons have less details and appear more flat for neat look under smaller size.
  • Icons have maximal size 256 x 256 and it makes them suitable for high resolution screens. To show icons on those screens in proportional size, saving the quality, big images are needed.
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 applied for buttons, toolbar or compact symbols only, maximal size is not required.
Microsoft Corporation suggests to make interface icons for software operating exclusively in Windows Vienna in the following 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 files used in these icons can be scaled with no perversion from 256 x 256 to 32 x 32. With smaller sizes, program's alterations of resolution makes the picture of poor quality, so another 16 x 16 image is required. Programs of size changes however are not perfect and its recommended to put 48x48 image into your icons to avoid distortion.

If you need the icon to be fully compatible with not only Windows Vienna but older Windows releases as well, you will need to make the icon including corresponding images (all - with three types of colour depth).

Fully compatible (with Windows XP and former versions) icon should contain following sizes: 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 resolution is not required. Furthermore, the icon containing this size, is hard to be compliant 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 options of Vienna icons.

Windows Vienna support 32-bits icons in which 24 bits are dedicatedto image and 8 bits by transparency channel.
This lets icons to have semitransparent details and smooth edges, no matter of the background they are at.

Standard Windows Vienna icons contain 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 require 32-bit colour depth.

If you want your icons to be fine all the time, in case of video driver insufficiency 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 displayed by your screen (this may happen in Windows XP and older) but 4-bit depth is not available in the pictogram, the colour scheme will be automatically reduced down to 16 colours, here you can get the way it may appear 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 icons 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

Turn angle and objects grouping.

Not like former versions, items in Windows Vienna are turned at 45 angle clockwise.
Rotated images are suggested for an application icon or to present the volume objects.

Following objects look nicer when pictured non- rotated (like they are down on a desk and you look on them)
  • Files icons
  • Flat objects
  • 16 x 16 size icons
Icons for rotated and non -rotated objects

Plain or rotated overlaying of a second image in the icon is determined on what both the image and the icon represent. Its hard to give more detailed recommendation in this situation, you just have to be lead by the experience and analyze the way the image is comprehended, also when it is in a group of icons.

Overlaying of objects - front and angled

Falling shadow in Vienna icons.

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

Drop shadow of volume and flat objects

Outline of Vienna-icons.

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

Various kinds of outline

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

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

Compliance of Vista and Vienna-icons with Windows XP

To make the icon fully compatible with Windows XP, 256x256 resolution in the icon should be saved uncompressed. You may always add or cancel the compression, this will not change the quality. Size of the icon with non-compressed images including all standard formats will be about 400 Kb.

Why Vienna icons are better?

Professionally made Vienna style icons have the whole list of benefits:
  • visual recognition of application's interface is appealing
  • program's abilities are more clearly presented
  • usage is more convenient , easy search and identification of programs, objects and tasks
  • your aoolication's GUI is advanced , stylish and unique

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

Creation of single Vienna-icons.

Imaging your software with the most intuitive interface, in Vienna appearance, with unique icons that completely present application's functions and tasks due to appropriate metaphors, they make you to use the program just because it's a joy to see it. Graphics made in a style that will definitely be another world classic.
You may ask: "Where can I purchase these perfect icons, at a reasonable price and not just like 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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