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Icon Design

Graphics for Windows Vienna. Appearance and construction.

The most important design features of icons appearing in operating system Windows Vienna, construction differences of Vienna, Vista and XP graphics, guidance to creation Vienna style icons.


Graphics, which are used in a recently released Windows Vienna are very like Windows Vista icons. They are designed using identical construction and schemes.

So, what is Vienna icon? Vienna icon - is an icon created in aero style (style of Windows Vienna interface). Significant alterations in icons' appearance can be seen in Windows Vista and Vienna interface at a glance. A typical detail of Windows Vista and Vienna GUI is new icons, designed in a more rigorous but still and more fine way. Glass highlights and reserved colours bring icons pleasant for eyes, not annoying in continuous work and multiple viewing.

Overview of icons design. Details of style.
  • Items used for metaphors are crafted in hi- tech style and appear more current.
  • Degree of rotation and volume bring life into images.
  • Objects' angles and edges are soft and smoothly round.
  • All items face a spotlight now (with additional diffused lightening all around)
  • Falling shadow brings contrast and volume.
  • Outlined elements are easily distinguished.
  • Gradients intensify the volume and provide stylish appearance.
What is updated in Vienna graphics?
  • Style is more realistic but still not photorealistic. Because icons are symbolic images and not images of specific items, in GUI they fit even better than photos.
  • Overlayed images illustrate what program the file is assigned 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 display icons on those screens in scaled size, keeping 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 small symbols only, biggest size is not needed.
Microsoft Corporation recommend to make interface icons for software operating only under Windows Vienna in the following sizes:
  • 256 x 256 px
  • 32 x 32 px
  • 16 x 16 px
Microsoft states that intermediate sizes between 256 x 256 and 32 x 32 are not needed for Windows Vienna and Windows Vista, because PNG files used in these icons is scaled with no distortion from 256 x 256 to 32 x 32. With smaller sizes, program's alterations of resolution makes the image of poor quality, so another 16 x 16 picture is needed. Programs of resolution changes however are not flawless and its recommended to include 48x48 image into your icons to avoid distortion.

If you need the pictogram to be completely compliant with not only Windows Vienna but former Windows releases also, you will have to create the icon including respective images (each - with three levels of colour depth).

Completely compliant (with Windows XP and previous versions) icon should have following resolutions: 256 x 256, 48 x 48, 32 x 32, 16 x 16

We do not suggest to include 24 x 24 size into your icons (except toolbar), as this size is not necessary. Moreover, the icon including this size, is hard to be compatible 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 depth of Vienna graphics.

Windows Vienna understands 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 on.

Typical 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 icons require 32-bit colour depth.

If you need your icons to look fine all the time, in situation of video driver failure for instance, you will require 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 happen in Windows XP and older) but 4-bit option is not provided in the pictogram, the colour pallet will be automatically shifted down to 16 colours, here 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 graphics show 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 grouping.

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

Following items are better when displayed flat (like they are laying on a table and you look on them)
  • Files icons
  • Flat objects
  • 16 x 16 size icons
Icons for rotated and non -rotated objects

Front or angled placement of a second image in the icon depends on what both the image and the graphic represent. Its difficult to give more concrete recommendation in this situation, you just have to be guided by the experience and analyze the way the image is comprehended, also when it is in a combination of icons.

Overlaying of objects - front and angled

Drop shadow in Vienna icons.

Falling shadow in Vienna icons is applied to improve recognition and to potentiate the 3D effect. In 3D and flat icons the shade is different:

Drop shadow of volume and flat objects

Border of Vienna-icons.

Vienna-type icons usually have an outline. Its not so vividly visible as in XP-type and is not always used. Outline is nesessery to ensure recognition of an icon, no matter the background it is located at. Border may take only a part of an image always matching the design of a picture securing its reality.

Various kinds of outline

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

Vienna-icons contain two functional distinctions from XP-icons:
  • Vienna-icons contain an extra large picture 256x256
  • In original icons this large picture has PNG compression
Use of PNG file is a critical point as it brings 256x256 image non-useable with Windows XP and previous versions (only smaller size images will be shown).
PNG-algorithm is used in icons for size 256x256 px only. The algorithm does not affect the quality and file is smaller 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 completely compliant with Windows XP, 256x256 image in the icon should be saved uncompressed. You may always add or cancel the compression, this will not change the quality. Size of the icon with uncompressed images including all common formats will be about 400 Kb.

Why Vienna icons are recommended?

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

To get a quality appearance of a software, Microsoft suggests you to edit the look of your commonly displayed 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 type of a file). It is recommended not to use any icons in Windows 9x and earlier version style, in programs running under Windows Vienna.

Making of single Vienna-icons.

Picture your application with the most convenient GUI, in Vienna appearance, with individual icons that clearly show program's features and tasks due to appropriate metaphors, they make you to work with the program just because it's a pleasure to look at it. Graphics created in a style that will definitely be a new world classic.
You could ask: "Where can I purchase these perfect 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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