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Icon Design

Icons for Windows Vienna. Appearance and construction.

The most significant design features of icons used in operating system Windows Vienna, construction differences of Vienna, Vista and XP icons, guidance to making Vienna type icons.


Graphics, that appear in a newly released Windows Vienna are mostly similar to Windows Vista icons. They are created using identical construction and guidelines.

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

Overview of icons design. Details of style.
  • Objects used for metaphors are made in hi- tech style and look more advanced.
  • Degree of rotation and volume make image alive.
  • Objects' angles and borders are soft and rounded.
  • 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 intensify the volume and gives stylish appearance.
What is updated in Vienna style icons?
  • Style is more realistic but still not completely realistic. Since icons are intuitive images and not illustrations of specific items, in interface they fit even better than photos.
  • Overlayed images show what applications the file is related to.
  • Toolbar icons have less details and look more flat for optimizing under smaller size.
  • Icons have maximal 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, big images are required.
Size of Vienna - icons.

Typical 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 menu, toolbar or compact pictograms only, biggest size is not needed.
Microsoft Corporation recommend to make GUI 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 states that interim 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 can be scaled with no distortion from 256 x 256 to 32 x 32. With more compact sizes, automatic alterations of resolution makes the image of bad quality, so another 16 x 16 image is required. Programs of resolution changes unfortunately are not perfect and its better to include 48x48 image into your icons to avoid perversion.

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

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

We do not suggest to include 24 x 24 resolution into your graphics (except toolbar), as this size is not required. Furthermore, the icon including 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 icons.

Windows Vienna reads 32-bits icons where 24 bits are reserved for image and 8 bits by transparency channel.
This allows icons to present semitransparent details and sleek edges, regardless 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 icons need 32-bit colour depth.

If you want your icons to be fine all the time, in case of video driver failure for instance, you will need 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 older) but 4-bit option is not available in the icon, the colour pallet will be automatically shifted down to 16 colours, here you can get the way it may 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 graphics display material of an object 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

Turn angle and objects combination.

Not like older releases, items in Windows Vienna are turned at 45 angle clockwise.
Angle -wise graphics are suggested for an application icon or to present the 3D items.

Some items look nicer if 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

Flat or angled overlaying of additional image in the icon is determined on what both the image and the icon mean. Its hard to give more concrete suggestion in this case, you just need to be guided 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

Drop shadow in Vienna graphics.

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

Drop shadow of volume and flat objects

Border of Vienna-icons.

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

Various kinds of outline

Overview of Vienna-icon architecture
Main differences of Vienna-icons and XP-icons

Vienna-icons contain two functional differences from XP-icons:
  • Vienna-icons have a grand picture 256x256
  • In original icons this large picture has PNG compression
Use of PNG file is a critical point as it makes 256x256 image non-compatible with Windows XP and earlier releases (only smaller size images will be shown).
PNG-compression is applied in icons for size 256x256 px only. The compression does not change the quality and file is reduced in almost 4 times while transparency channel is included and picture is perfectly scale.

Compatibility of Vista and Vienna-icons with Windows XP

To make the icon fully compliant with Windows XP, 256x256 resolution 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 non-compressed images containing all common formats will be about 400 Kb.

Why Vienna icons are better?

Professionally made Vienna style icons have the whole list of advantages:
  • visual recognition of program's interface is appealing
  • program's features are better presented
  • usage is more intuitive , easy search and identification of software, items and tasks
  • your aoolication's GUI is advanced , engaging and individual

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

Creation of single Vienna-icons.

Picture your software with the most convenient GUI, in Vienna style, with unique icons that clearly show program's features and tools due to appropriate metaphors, they get you to use the software just because it's a pleasure to see it. Icons made in a style that will definitely be another world standard.
You may ask: "Where do I purchase these flawless graphics, 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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