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Icon Design

Graphics for Windows Vienna. Design and construction.

The most significant design features of icons appearing in operating system Windows Vienna, construction distinctions of Vienna, Vista and XP graphics, guidance to making Vienna style icons.


Icons, which appear in a recently released Windows Vienna are mostly like Windows Vista graphics. They are designed with identical structure and schemes.

First, what is Vienna icon? Vienna icon - is an icon made in aero style (style of Windows Vienna GUI). Major changes in icons' appearance can be noticed in Windows Vista and Vienna GUI even at first sight. A distinctive detail of Windows Vista and Vienna interface is new icons, designed in a more strict rigorous and more fine way. Glass highlights and reserved colours make icons appealing for eyes, not irritating in continuous work and repeated viewing.

Overview of icons design. Description of style.
  • Objects used as metaphors are crafted in hi- tech style and look more current.
  • Angle of rotation and volume make image alive.
  • Objects' angles and edges are neat and smoothly round.
  • All objects face a spotlight now (with extra diffused lightening all around)
  • Falling shadow adds contrast and volume.
  • Outlined elements are better distinguished.
  • Gradients enchance the volume and provide stylish look.
What is updated in Vienna graphics?
  • Style is more realistic but still not completely realistic. Because icons are intuitive images and not pictures of specific items, in interface they look even more appropriate than photos.
  • Overlayed images show what program the file is assigned to.
  • Toolbar icons have fewer 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 dimension screens. To show icons on such screens in scaled size, keeping the quality, big images are required.
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 used for menu, toolbar or small symbols only, largest size is not needed.
Microsoft Corporation suggests to make interface icons for software 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 unneeded for Windows Vienna or Windows Vista, because PNG files 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 size changes however are not perfect and its better to include 48x48 image into your icons to avoid perversion.

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

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

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

Colour options of Vienna graphics.

Windows Vienna reads 32-bits icons where 24 bits are dedicatedto image and 8 bits by transparency channel.
This lets icons to have semitransparent details and sleek edges, regardless the background they are at.

Typical Windows Vienna icons consist of three types of color options for increased 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 images need 32-bit colour depth.

If you want your icons to be fine all the time, in case of video driver failure for example, you will require 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 occur in Windows XP and lower) but 4-bit depth is not available in the icon, the colour scheme will be automatically reduced down to 16 colours, below you can get the way it will 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 show material of an object 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

Rotation angle and objects combination.

Unlike previous releases, items in Windows Vienna are turned at 45 angle clockwise.
Angle -wise images are recommended for an application icon or to present the volume items.

Following items are better if displayed flat (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

Plain or angled overlaying of additional image in the icon depends on what both the image and the icon mean. Its hard to give more concrete recommendation in this situation, you just have to be lead by the trial and analyze the way the image is comprehended, also when it is in a combination of icons.

Overlaying of objects - front and angled

Falling shadow in Vienna graphics.

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

Drop shadow of volume and flat objects

Outline of Vienna-icons.

Vienna-style icons usually have a border. Its not so vividly expressed as in XP-type and is not constantly used. Border is required to ensure recognition of an image, no matter the background it is placed at. Outline may be used only a part of an icon constantly following the design of an image securing its style.

Various kinds of outline

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

Vienna-icons contain two main distinctions from XP-icons:
  • Vienna-icons contain a grand picture 256x256
  • In original icons this large picture has PNG extension
Use of PNG compression is a critical moment as it makes 256x256 image non-useable with Windows XP and earlier versions (only compact resolution pictures will be displayed).
PNG-algorithm is used in icons for images 256x256 px only. The algorithm does not affect the quality and file size is reduced in about 4 times when transparency channel is included 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 should be saved uncompressed. You may always include or cancel the compression, this will not change the quality. Resolution of the icon with uncompressed images containing all common formats will approximately be 400 Kb.

Why Vienna icons are better?

Professionally made Vienna type icons have the whole list of benefits:
  • visual comprehension of program's interface is appealing
  • program's abilities are more clearly displayed
  • usage is more convenient , simple search and identification of programs, objects and actions
  • your aoolication's GUI is advanced , stylish and individual

To get a professional appearance of an application, Microsoft suggests you to modify the look of your mostly displayed 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 suggested not to use any icons in Windows 9x and earlier version style, in programs running under Windows Vienna.

Creation of single Vienna-icons.

Imaging your software with the most intuitive interface, in Vienna appearance, with unique icons that clearly show application's functions and tools due to appropriate metaphors, they make you to work with the software just because it's a joy to see it. Graphics created in a style that will certainly be another world classic.
You may ask: "Where do I purchase these perfect icons, at a competitive price and not just similar 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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