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Icon Design

Graphics for Windows Vienna. Appearance and construction.

The most important design features of icons used in operating system Windows Vienna, structural differences of Vienna, Vista and XP icons, recommendations to crafting Vienna type icons.


Icons, which are used in a newly released Windows Vienna are mostly similar to Windows Vista icons. They are created with the same construction and guidelines.

So, what is Vienna icon? Vienna icon - is an icon drawn in aero style (style of Windows Vienna GUI). Significant alterations in icons' appearance can be seen in Windows Vista and Vienna interface even at first sight. A typical feature of Windows Vista and Vienna GUI is new icons, created in a more rigorous rigorous and more fine way. Glass glares and reserved colours make icons pleasant for eyes, not annoying in continuous work and repeated viewing.

Key points of icons creation. Details of style.
  • Objects used as metaphors are drawn in hi- tech style and appear more advanced.
  • Degree of rotation and volume bring life into images.
  • Objects' angles and edges are soft and smoothly round.
  • All objects face a spotlight now (with extra lightning spread all around)
  • Drop shadow gives 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 photorealistic. Because icons are intuitive images and not pictures of certain items, in GUI they look even better than photos.
  • Overlayed images illustrate what software the object is related to.
  • Toolbar icons have fewer details and appear more flat for optimizing under smaller size.
  • Icons have biggest size 256 x 256 and it makes them suitable for high dimension screens. To show icons on such screens in scaled size, saving the quality, big images are required.
Size of Vienna - icons.

Standard icons in Windows Vienna consist of five sizes - 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 small pictograms only, maximal size is not needed.
Microsoft Corporation suggests to make interface icons for programs 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 not necessary for Windows Vienna or Windows Vista, because PNG files used in these icons is scaled with no perversion from 256 x 256 to 32 x 32. With more compact sizes, program's alterations of size makes the image of bad quality, so another 16 x 16 picture is required. Programs of resolution changes however are not flawless and its better 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 versions as well, you will have to make the icon including corresponding images (each - with three levels of colour depth).

Fully compatible (with Windows XP and older releases) icon should contain following sizes: 256 x 256, 48 x 48, 32 x 32, 16 x 16

We do not suggest to put 24 x 24 resolution into your graphics (except toolbar), as this resolution is not necessary. Furthermore, the icon containing this size, is hard to be compliant with Windows 98 and Windows 2000.
If you want icons for your toolbar, their resolution is the same 24 x 24 and 16 x 16 px.

Colour depth of Vienna graphics.

Windows Vienna reads 32-bits icons in which 24 bits are occupied by image and 8 bits by transparency channel.
This enables icons to have semitransparent elements and smooth edges, regardless the background they are on.

Standard Windows Vienna icons consist of three types of color options 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 images require 32-bit colour depth.

If you need your icons to look good all the time, in case of video driver failure 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 depth is not included in the icon, the colour pallet will be automatically reduced 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 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

Rotation angle and objects combination.

Unlike previous releases, objects in Windows Vienna are turned at 45 angle clockwise.
Angle -wise graphics are suggested for a software icon or to present the volume items.

Following objects are nicer if displayed flat (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

Flat or rotated overlaying of additional item in the icon is determined on what both the item and the graphic represent. Its difficult to give more detailed recommendation in this case, you just have to be lead by the experience and analyze the way the icon is understood, also when it is in a group of icons.

Overlaying of objects - front and angled

Drop shadow in Vienna graphics.

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

Drop shadow of volume and flat objects

Outline of Vienna-icons.

Vienna-type icons often have a border. Its not so clearly visible as in XP-type and is not constantly used. Border is required to make possible understanding of an icon, regardless the background it is located at. Border may take only a part of an icon always following the design of an image securing its reality.

Various kinds of outline

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

Vienna-icons have two main differences from XP-icons:
  • Vienna-icons have an extra large image 256x256
  • In typicall icons this grand image has PNG compression
Use of PNG file is a critical point as it brings 256x256 image non-useable with Windows XP and earlier releases (only compact size images will be displayed).
PNG-algorithm is applied in icons for images 256x256 px only. The algorithm does not change the quality and file size is smaller in almost 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 completely compliant with Windows XP, 256x256 resolution in the icon should be saved uncompressed. You may always add or discharge the compression, this will not affect the quality. Size of the icon with uncompressed images containing all standard formats will approximately be 400 Kb.

Why Vienna icons are better?

Quality Vienna style icons have the following advantages:
  • visual comprehension of application's interface is appealing
  • program's features are better displayed
  • usage is more intuitive , simple navigation and identification of programs, items and actions
  • your aoolication's GUI is advanced , engaging and individual

To get an advanced appearance of a software, Microsoft suggests you to modify the look of your commonly viewed icons, using aero style. It is also recommended to make a modern design of all icons presented in Start menu and Explorer (considering icons representing type of a file). It is recommended not to use any icons in Windows 9x and older version style, in applications running under Windows Vienna.

Making of individual Vienna-icons.

Picture your program with the most convenient GUI, in Vienna style, with individual icons that completely show program's functions and tools due to appropriate metaphors, they get you to work with the software just because it's a joy to see it. Graphics made in a style that will certainly be a new world classic.
You could ask: "Where do I purchase 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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