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Icon Design

Icons for Windows Vienna. Appearance and structure.

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


Icons, which are used in a newly created Windows Vienna are very similar to Windows Vista graphics. They are designed using the same structure and schemes.

So, what is Vienna icon? Vienna icon - is an icon made in aero style (style of Windows Vienna GUI). Major changes in icons' design can be seen in Windows Vista and Vienna GUI even at first sight. A typical feature of Windows Vista and Vienna GUI is new icons, created in a more rigorous but still and more beautiful way. Glass highlights and defined colours make icons appealing for eyes, not annoying in constant work and multiple viewing.

Key points of icons creation. Details of style.
  • Items used as metaphors are drawn in hi- tech style and appear more current.
  • Degree of rotation and volume bring life into images.
  • Objects' angles and borders are soft and smoothly round.
  • All items face a source of light now (with extra lightning spread all around)
  • Falling shadow adds contrast and volume.
  • Elements with borders are better distinguished.
  • Gradients intensify the volume and provide stylish appearance.
What is new in Vienna graphics?
  • Appearance is more realistic but still not completely realistic. Since icons are symbolic images and not illustrations of specific items, in interface they fit even better than photos.
  • Overlayed images show what software the object is assigned to.
  • Buttons icons contain less 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 required.
Size of Vienna - icons.

Typical 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 used for buttons, toolbar or compact pictograms only, biggest size is not needed.
Microsoft Corporation suggests to make interface icons for programs running only in Windows Vienna in the listed 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 and 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 change of resolution makes the image of bad quality, so another 16 x 16 image is needed. Programs of size changes however are not flawless and its recommended to include 48x48 size into your icons to avoid perversion.

If you want the icon to be completely compliant with not only Windows 7 but older Windows versions as well, you will have to make the icon containing respective images (all - with three levels of colour depth).

Completely compliant (with Windows XP and older 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), because this resolution is not necessary. Moreover, the icon containing this size, is hard 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 depth of Vienna graphics.

Windows Vienna support 32-bits icons in which 24 bits are reserved for picture and 8 bits by opacity channel.
This enables icons to present semitransparent details and smooth edges, regardless the background they are on.

Typical Windows Vienna graphics consist of three types of color depth 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 require 32-bit colour depth.

If you need 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 monitor (this may happen in Windows XP and older) but 4-bit depth is not included in the icon, the colour scheme will be automatically shifted down to 16 colours, here you can get the way it will 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 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 grouping.

Unlike former versions, objects in Windows Vienna are turned at 45 angle clockwise.
Rotated graphics are suggested for a software icon or to display the volume objects.

Some objects look better when pictured 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 angled overlaying of additional item in the icon depends on what both the item and the graphic represent. Its difficult to give more concrete suggestion in this situation, you just have to be lead by the experience and study the way the image is comprehended, also if it is in a group of icons.

Overlaying of objects - front and angled

Falling shadow in Vienna icons.

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

Drop shadow of volume and flat objects

Outline of Vienna-icons.

Vienna-type icons usually have an outline. Its not so vividly visible as in XP-style and is not always used. Outline is nesessery to ensure understanding of an image, regardless the background it is located at. Border 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 structure
Main differences of Vienna-icons and XP-icons

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

Compliance of Vista and Vienna-icons with Windows XP

To make the icon fully compatible with Windows XP, 256x256 image in the icon must be saved non-compressed. You can always add or discharge the compression, this will not affect the quality. Resolution of the icon with non-compressed images including all common formats will be about 400 Kb.

Why Vienna icons are recommended?

Quality Vienna type icons have the following advantages:
  • visual comprehension of application's interface is pleasant
  • program's features are more clearly presented
  • usage is more intuitive , simple search and identification of software, objects and actions
  • your program's interface is advanced , stylish and unique

To get a quality appearance of a program, Microsoft suggests you to edit the design of your commonly displayed icons, using aero style. It is also recommended to make a modern design of all icons reflected in Start menu and Explorer (including icons representing type of a file). It is suggested not to apply any icons in Windows 9x and earlier release style, in programs operating under Windows Vienna.

Making of single Vienna-icons.

Picture your software with the most intuitive interface, in Vienna style, with unique icons that clearly show program's functions and tools thanks to proper metaphors, they make you to use the software just because it's a joy to see it. Graphics created in a style that will certainly be another world classic.
You could ask: "Where do I purchase these flawless graphics, 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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