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Icon Design

Graphics for Windows Vienna. Appearance and structure.

The most important design detail of icons used in operating system Windows Vienna, construction distinctions of Vienna, Vista and XP graphics, recommendations to crafting Vienna type icons.


Icons, which are used in a newly released Windows Vienna are very like Windows Vista graphics. They are designed using identical structure and schemes.

So, what is Vienna icon? Vienna icon - is an icon drawn in aero style (style of Windows Vienna GUI). Significant changes in icons' appearance can be noticed in Windows Vista and Vienna interface at a glance. A distinctive feature of Windows Vista and Vienna interface is new icons, designed in a more rigorous rigorous and more beautiful way. Glass highlights and defined colours bring icons appealing for eyes, not irritating in constant work and repeated viewing.

Overview of icons creation. Details of style.
  • Objects used as metaphors are made in hi- tech style and appear more advanced.
  • Angle of rotation and volume bring life into images.
  • Objects' angles and borders are neat and smoothly round.
  • All items face a source of light now (with extra lightning spread all around)
  • Falling shadow gives contrast and volume.
  • Elements with borders are better distinguished.
  • Gradients enchance the volume and gives stylish look.
What is new in Vienna graphics?
  • Style is more realistic but still not completely realistic. Because icons are symbolic images and not pictures of certain items, in interface they look even better than photos.
  • Overlayed images illustrate what software the file is assigned to.
  • Toolbar icons have less details and look more plain for neat look under smaller size.
  • Icons have biggest size 256 x 256 and it makes them useable for high resolution screens. To show icons on those screens in scaled size, keeping the quality, big images are required.
Size of Vienna - icons.

Standard 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 small pictograms only, maximal size is not required.
Microsoft Corporation recommend to make GUI icons for software running only 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 not necessary for Windows Vienna or Windows Vista, because PNG format used in these icons is scaled with no distortion from 256 x 256 to 32 x 32. With more compact sizes, program's alterations of resolution makes the picture of poor quality, so a separate 16 x 16 picture is needed. Algorithms of size changes unfortunately are not perfect and its recommended to put 48x48 size into your icons to have less distortion.

If you need the icon to be completely compliant with not only Windows 7 but other Windows versions as well, you will need to create the icon containing respective images (all - with three types of colour depth).

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

We do not recommend to include 24 x 24 size into your icons (except toolbar), as this resolution is not required. Furthermore, the icon including this size, is difficult to be compatible with Windows 98 and Windows 2000.
If you need images for your toolbar, their resolution is the same 24 x 24 and 16 x 16 px.

Colour depth of Vienna graphics.

Windows Vienna understands 32-bits icons where 24 bits are reserved for image and 8 bits by opacity channel.
This lets icons to have semitransparent details and smooth edges, no matter of the background they are at.

Standard Windows Vienna icons consist of three levels 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 images require 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 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 lower) but 4-bit option is not included in the icon, the colour pallet will be automatically shifted down to 16 colours, here you can see 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 graphics show 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 combination.

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

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

Front or angled placement of a second item in the icon depends on what both the item and the icon mean. Its difficult to give more concrete recommendation in this situation, you just need to be lead by the experience and analyze the way the icon is comprehended, also if it is in a group of icons.

Overlaying of objects - front and angled

Falling shadow in Vienna graphics.

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

Drop shadow of volume and flat objects

Outline of Vienna-icons.

Vienna-type icons often have a border. Its not so vividly expressed as in XP-style and is not always used. Outline is nesessery to make possible recognition of an image, regardless the background it is placed at. Border may take only a part of an image constantly following the design of a picture securing its style.

Various kinds of outline

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

Vienna-icons contain two functional differences from XP-icons:
  • Vienna-icons contain an extra large picture 256x256
  • In original icons this grand image has PNG extension
Use of PNG file is a key moment as it makes 256x256 image non-compatible with Windows XP and previous releases (only smaller size pictures will be shown).
PNG-algorithm is used in icons for images 256x256 px only. The algorithm does not change the quality and file is smaller in about 4 times while transparency channel is supported and picture is perfectly scale.

Compatibility of Vista and Vienna-icons with Windows XP

To make the icon completely compliant with Windows XP, 256x256 seize in the icon should be saved uncompressed. You can always add or cancel the compression, this will not affect the quality. Resolution of the icon with uncompressed images including all common formats will be about 400 Kb.

Why Vienna icons are better?

Quality Vienna type icons have the following advantages:
  • visual recognition of application's interface is pleasant
  • program's abilities are better presented
  • usage is more convenient , easy navigation and identification of programs, objects and actions
  • your aoolication's interface is advanced , stylish and individual

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

Creation of individual Vienna-icons.

Picture your application with the most intuitive interface, in Vienna appearance, with individual icons that clearly show application's functions and tools due to appropriate metaphors, they get you to use the program just because it's a pleasure to look at it. Icons created in a style that will definitely be a new world standard.
You could ask: "Where do I order these perfect graphics, at a competitive 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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