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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, structural differences of Vienna, Vista and XP icons, guidance to making Vienna style icons.


Icons, that are used in a newly released Windows Vienna are mostly like Windows Vista icons. They are designed with identical construction and schemes.

First, what is Vienna icon? Vienna icon - is an icon created in aero style (style of Windows Vienna interface). Significant changes in icons' appearance can be noticed in Windows Vista and Vienna interface even at first sight. A distinctive detail of Windows Vista and Vienna interface is new icons, created in a more strict rigorous and more fine way. Glass glares and defined colours bring icons appealing for eyes, not irritating in constant work and repeated viewing.

Overview of icons design. Description of style.
  • Items used as metaphors are drawn in hi- tech style and appear more current.
  • Angle of turn and volume bring life into images.
  • Objects' angles and borders are soft and smoothly round.
  • All items face a source of light now (with extra lightning spread all around)
  • Drop shadow gives contrast and volume.
  • Outlined elements are better distinguished.
  • Gradients enchance the volume and gives stylish look.
What is updated in Vienna graphics?
  • Appearance is more realistic but still not completely realistic. Since icons are symbolic images and not illustrations of specific items, in GUI they look even better than photos.
  • Overlayed images illustrate what applications the object is assigned to.
  • Buttons icons contain 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 resolution 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 used for buttons, toolbar or compact symbols only, biggest size is not needed.
Microsoft Corporation suggests to make GUI icons for applications running only in 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 needed 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 alterations of resolution makes the image of poor quality, so a separate 16 x 16 picture is needed. Programs of resolution changes however are not flawless and its better to include 48x48 image into your icons to avoid distortion.

If you need the pictogram to be fully compatible with not only Windows 7 but other Windows releases also, you will need to create the icon containing corresponding images (each - with three levels of colour depth).

Fully compliant (with Windows XP and older releases) icon must have following sizes: 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 size is not required. Moreover, the icon containing this size, is hard 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 options of Vienna graphics.

Windows Vienna support 32-bits icons in which 24 bits are reserved for image and 8 bits by transparency channel.
This enables icons to have semitransparent elements and smooth edges, no matter of the background they are on.

Typical Windows Vienna icons consist of three levels 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 icons require 32-bit colour depth.

If you need your icons to look good all the time, in situation of video driver failure for example, 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 shown by your screen (this may occur in Windows XP and older) but 4-bit option 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 look 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 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

Rotation angle and objects grouping.

Unlike older releases, objects in Windows Vienna are turned at 45 angle clockwise.
Rotated images are recommended for a software icon or to show the 3D items.

Some objects are better if pictured non- rotated (like they are laying on a desk and you look on them)
  • Files icons
  • Flat objects
  • 16 x 16 size icons
Icons for rotated and non -rotated objects

Plain or angled placement of additional image in the icon is determined on what both the image and the graphic represent. Its difficult to give more concrete suggestion in this case, you just need to be guided by the trial and study the way the icon is understood, also if it is in a group of icons.

Overlaying of objects - front and angled

Falling shadow in Vienna graphics.

Drop shadow in Vienna icons is applied to improve recognition and to intensify the volume. In 3D and flat icons the shade looks 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-style and is not always used. Border is required to ensure understanding of an image, regardless the background it is placed at. Outline may take only a part of an image always following the design of a picture securing its style.

Various kinds of outline

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

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

Compatibility of Vista and Vienna-icons with Windows XP

To make the icon fully compatible with Windows XP, 256x256 resolution in the icon should be saved uncompressed. You may always add or cancel the compression, this will not affect the quality. Resolution of the icon with non-compressed images including all standard formats will approximately be 400 Kb.

Why Vienna icons are recommended?

Professionally made Vienna style icons have the whole list of advantages:
  • visual comprehension of application's interface is appealing
  • program's features are more clearly displayed
  • usage is more convenient , easy navigation and identification of software, objects and tasks
  • your program's GUI is advanced , engaging and individual

To get an advanced appearance of a program, Microsoft suggests you to change the design of your commonly viewed icons, with aero style. It is also recommended to make a modern design of all icons presented in Start menu and Explorer (considering icons showing file types). It is recommended not to apply any icons in Windows 9x and older version style, in programs running under Windows Vienna.

Creation of individual Vienna-icons.

Picture your program with the most convenient interface, in Vienna appearance, with unique icons that completely present application's functions and tasks thanks to appropriate metaphors, they get you to use the application just because it's a pleasure to see it. Graphics made in a style that will certainly be another world classic.
You could ask: "Where do I purchase these flawless icons, 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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