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Icon Design

Icons 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, recommendations to crafting Vienna type icons.


Icons, that are used in a newly created Windows Vienna are mostly similar to Windows Vista graphics. They are created using identical structure and schemes.

So, what is Vienna icon? Vienna icon - is an icon drawn in aero style (style of Windows Vienna GUI). Significant changes in icons' design can be noticed in Windows Vista and Vienna interface even at first sight. A distinctive detail of Windows Vista and Vienna GUI is new icons, created in a more strict rigorous and more beautiful way. Glass highlights and defined colours bring icons appealing for eyes, not annoying in continuous work and multiple viewing.

Overview of icons design. Description of style.
  • Items used for metaphors are made in hi- tech style and appear more advanced.
  • Angle of rotation and volume bring life into images.
  • Objects' angles and edges are neat and rounded.
  • All items face a source of light now (with extra diffused lightening all around)
  • Falling shadow gives contrast and volume.
  • Elements with borders are easily distinguished.
  • Gradients intensify the volume and provide stylish appearance.
What is updated in Vienna graphics?
  • Appearance is more realistic but still not photorealistic. Since icons are symbolic images and not images of certain items, in interface they fit even more appropriate than photos.
  • Overlayed images indicate what software the object is related to.
  • Buttons icons contain fewer details and appear more flat for optimizing under smaller size.
  • Icons have maximal size 256 x 256 and it makes them suitable for high resolution screens. To show icons on such screens in proportional size, saving the quality, large images are needed.
Size of Vienna - icons.

Standard 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 small pictograms only, maximal size is not required.
Microsoft Corporation suggests to create interface icons for applications running only under Windows Vienna in the listed sizes:
  • 256 x 256 px
  • 32 x 32 px
  • 16 x 16 px
Microsoft affirm that interim 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 can be scaled with no distortion from 256 x 256 to 32 x 32. With more compact sizes, automatic alterations of resolution deliver the image of bad quality, so a separate 16 x 16 image is required. Programs of size changes unfortunately are not perfect and its recommended to put 48x48 size into your icons to have less perversion.

If you need the icon to be completely compliant with not only Windows 7 but older Windows releases also, you will have to make the icon including corresponding images (each - with three levels of colour depth).

Completely 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 recommend to include 24 x 24 resolution into your graphics (except toolbar), because 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 in which 24 bits are occupied by picture and 8 bits by opacity channel.
This allows icons to present semitransparent details and sleek edges, regardless the background they are on.

Typical Windows Vienna graphics 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 images require 32-bit colour depth.

If you want your icons to be fine all the time, in situation of video driver insufficiency for example, 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 displayed by your screen (this may happen in Windows XP and older) but 4-bit option is not included in the icon, the colour pallet will be automatically shifted 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 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 versions, items in Windows Vienna are rotated at 45 angle clockwise.
Angle -wise images are suggested for a software icon or to show the volume items.

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

Flat or rotated placement of additional image in the icon is determined on what both the image and the graphic represent. Its hard to give more detailed suggestion in this situation, you just have to be lead by the experience and analyze the way the icon is comprehended, also if it is in a group of icons.

Overlaying of objects - front and angled

Drop shadow in Vienna icons.

Drop shadow in Vienna icons is used to increase recognition and to intensify the 3D effect. In 3D and plain icons the shadow is different:

Drop shadow of volume and flat objects

Border of Vienna-icons.

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

Various kinds of outline

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

Vienna-icons have two main distinctions from XP-icons:
  • Vienna-icons have an extra large image 256x256
  • In original icons this grand picture has PNG extension
Use of PNG compression is a critical moment as it makes 256x256 image non-compatible with Windows XP and previous versions (only smaller resolution pictures will be displayed).
PNG-algorithm is applied in icons for images 256x256 px only. The algorithm does not affect the quality and file size 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 fully compatible with Windows XP, 256x256 image in the icon should be saved non-compressed. You can always include or discharge the compression, this will not change the quality. Resolution of the icon with non-compressed images including all standard formats will approximately be 400 Kb.

Why Vienna icons are better?

Professionally made Vienna type icons have the whole list of advantages:
  • visual recognition of program's interface is pleasant
  • program's features are better presented
  • usage is more intuitive , simple search and identification of programs, objects and actions
  • your aoolication's interface is advanced , stylish and unique

To get an advanced appearance of a software, Microsoft recommends you to modify the design of your mostly displayed icons, using aero style. It is also suggested to make a modern design of all icons presented in Start menu and Explorer (including icons representing type of a file). It is suggested not to use any icons in Windows 9x and older version style, in programs operating under Windows Vienna.

Creation of individual Vienna-icons.

Imaging your program with the most intuitive interface, in Vienna appearance, with unique icons that completely present program's features and tools due to proper metaphors, they get you to use the program just because it's a pleasure to look at it. Graphics created in a style that will definitely be another world classic.
You could ask: "Where can I order these perfect 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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