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Icon Design

Graphics for Windows Vienna. Design 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 making Vienna style icons.


Graphics, that are used in a newly created Windows Vienna are very like Windows Vista icons. They are designed using the same structure and schemes.

First, what is Vienna icon? Vienna icon - is an icon made in aero style (style of Windows Vienna interface). Major changes in icons' appearance can be seen in Windows Vista and Vienna interface even at first sight. A typical feature of Windows Vista and Vienna interface is new icons, designed in a more rigorous but still and more beautiful way. Glass glares and defined colours bring icons appealing for eyes, not irritating in constant work and repeated viewing.

Overview of icons creation. Details of style.
  • Items used as metaphors are drawn in hi- tech style and look more advanced.
  • Degree of rotation and volume bring life into images.
  • Items' angles and edges are soft and smoothly round.
  • All objects face a source of light now (with additional diffused lightening all around)
  • Falling shadow adds contrast and volume.
  • Elements with borders 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. Since icons are intuitive images and not pictures of specific items, in interface they fit even better than photos.
  • Overlayed images illustrate what program the file is related to.
  • Toolbar icons have less details and appear more flat for optimizing under smaller size.
  • Icons have biggest size 256 x 256 and it makes them useable for high dimension screens. To show icons on those screens in scaled size, saving the quality, big images are needed.
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 applied for buttons, toolbar or compact pictograms only, maximal size is not needed.
Microsoft Corporation recommend to create interface icons for software running exclusively under Windows Vienna in the following 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 format used in these icons is scaled with no perversion from 256 x 256 to 32 x 32. With smaller sizes, program's change of size deliver the image of poor quality, so a separate 16 x 16 picture is required. Programs of size changes unfortunately are not perfect and its recommended to include 48x48 image into your icons to have less distortion.

If you want the pictogram to be fully compatible with not only Windows 7 but former Windows releases as well, you will need to make the icon including corresponding images (each - with three types of colour depth).

Completely compatible (with Windows XP and older versions) icon should contain following resolutions: 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 required. Moreover, the icon including this size, is difficult to be compliant with Windows 98 and Windows 2000.
If you need icons 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 where 24 bits are dedicatedto picture and 8 bits by opacity channel.
This lets icons to present semitransparent elements and smooth edges, regardless the background they are on.

Typical Windows Vienna graphics contain three levels of color depth for increased 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 need 32-bit colour depth.

If you need your icons to be good all the time, in case of video driver insufficiency 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 displayed by your monitor (this may happen in Windows XP and older) but 4-bit option is not available in the icon, the colour pallet 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 graphics 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 older versions, items in Windows Vienna are rotated at 45 angle clockwise.
Rotated images are recommended for a software icon or to show the 3D objects.

Some items look better when displayed flat (like they are laying on a table 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 item in the icon is determined on what both the item and the icon mean. Its difficult to give more detailed recommendation in this case, you just have to be guided by the trial and study the way the icon is comprehended, also when it is in a combination of icons.

Overlaying of objects - front and angled

Drop shadow in Vienna icons.

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

Drop shadow of volume and flat objects

Border of Vienna-icons.

Vienna-type icons often have a border. Its not so clearly visible as in XP-type and is not constantly used. Outline is nesessery to ensure understanding of an image, regardless the background it is placed at. Outline may be used only a part of an image constantly following the design of an image securing its style.

Various kinds of outline

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

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

Compatibility of Vista and Vienna-icons with Windows XP

To get the icon completely compatible with Windows XP, 256x256 seize in the icon should be saved uncompressed. You can always include or discharge the compression, this will not change the quality. Size of the icon with uncompressed images including all standard formats will be about 400 Kb.

Why Vienna icons are better?

Quality Vienna type icons have the following benefits:
  • visual recognition of program's interface is pleasant
  • program's abilities are more clearly presented
  • usage is more convenient , easy search and identification of programs, items and tasks
  • your program's interface is advanced , engaging and unique

To get a professional appearance of a program, Microsoft suggests you to change the look of your mostly viewed icons, with aero style. It is also recommended to make a new design of all icons reflected in Start menu and Explorer (considering icons showing file types). It is suggested not to use any icons in Windows 9x and older release style, in applications operating under Windows Vienna.

Creation of single Vienna-icons.

Picture your application with the most convenient GUI, in Vienna appearance, with unique icons that completely show application's features and tools due to appropriate metaphors, they get you to work with the application just because it's a joy to see it. Icons created in a style that will definitely be another world classic.
You may ask: "Where can I order 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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