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Icons for Windows Vista. Design and structure.

The most important design features of icons used in operating system Windows Vista, structural distinctions of Vista icons and XP icons, guidance to creation Vista style icons.


What is Vista icon? Vista icon - is an icon made in aero style (style of Windows Vista interface).
Major changes in icons' design can be noticed in Windows Vista interface even at first sight. A distinctive feature of Windows Vista interface is new icons, designed in a more strict but still more fine way. Glass glares and reserved colours make icons pleasant for eyes, not annoying in constant work and repeated viewing.

Overview of icons design. Description of style.
  • Items used as metaphors are made in hi- tech style and look more advanced.
  • Angle of rotation and volume make image alive.
  • Objects' angles and edges are soft and smoothly round.
  • All objects face a source of light now (with extra diffused lightening all around)
  • Drop shadow gives contrast and volume.
  • Outlined elements are better distinguished.
  • Gradients intensify the volume and gives stylish look.
What is new in Vista style icons?
  • Style is more realistic but still not photorealistic. Since icons are symbolic images and not images of certain items, in interface they look 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 such screens in proportional size, saving the quality, large images are required.
Size of Vista- icons.

Standard icons in Windows Vista contain five sizes - 256 x 256, 48 x 48, 32 x 32, 24 x 24, and 16 x 16 px. If icons are used for menu, toolbar or small symbols only, maximal size is not required.
Microsoft Corporation recommend to create interface icons for applications operating exclusively under Windows Vista in 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 Vista, because PNG format used in these icons is scaled with no distortion from 256 x 256 to 32 x 32. With smaller sizes, program's change of resolution makes the image of bad quality, so another 16 x 16 picture is needed. Algorithms of size changes however are not perfect and its better to put 48x48 size into your icons to have less distortion.

If you want the icon to be fully compatible with not only Windows Vista but other Windows versions also, you will have to make the icon containing respective images (each - with three types of colour depth).

Fully compatible (with Windows XP and previous versions) the 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 icons for your toolbar, their size is the same 24 x 24 and 16 x 16 px.

Colour depth of Vista icons.

Windows Vista support 32-bits icons where 24 bits are occupied by picture and 8 bits by transparency channel.
This allows icons to have semitransparent details and smooth edges, regardless the background they are at.

Standard Windows Vista icons contain three types of color depth 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 want your icons to look good all the time, in case of video driver failure for instance, 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 happen in Windows XP and lower) but 4-bit option is not available 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 displayed in 16 colours.

Vista icons colour pallet.

Colours in Vista icons show 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

Rotation angle and objects grouping

Unlike previous versions, objects in Windows Vista are rotated at 45 angle clockwise.
Angle -wise images are recommended for an application icon or to display the volume objects.

Following objects look better when displayed 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

Front or angled overlaying of a second image in the icon depends on what both the image and the icon mean. Its hard to give more detailed recommendation in this case, you just have to be guided by the experience and analyze they way the icon is comprehended, also when it is in a group of icons.

Overlaying of objects - front and angled

Drop shadow in Vista icons.

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

Drop shadow of volume and flat objects

Outline of Vista-icons.

Vista-style icons often have an outline. Its not so vividly expressed as in XP-style and is not always used. Outline is required to ensure recognition of an image, regardless the background it is located at. Outline may take only a part of an image always following the design of a picture securing its reality.

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

Various kinds of outline

Overview of Vista-icon structure
Functional distinctions of Vista-icons and XP-icons

Vista-icons have two functional distinctions from XP-icons:
  • Vista-icons have an extra large picture 256x256
  • In original icons this large picture has PNG compression
Use of PNG compression is a critical moment as it makes 256x256 image non-compatible with Windows XP and earlier versions (only smaller size pictures will be displayed).
PNG-compression is used in icons for images 256x256 px only. The compression does not affect the quality and file is reduced in about 4 times while transparency channel is supported and image is perfectly scale.

Compatibility of Vista-icons with Windows XP

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

Why Vista icons are better?

Professionally made Vista style icons have following advantages:
  • visual comprehension of program's interface is pleasant
  • program's abilities are better presented
  • usage is more convenient , easy search and identification of programs, objects and actions
  • your program's interface is advanced , stylish and individual

To get an advanced appearance of a program, Microsoft recommends you to change the design of your mostly viewed icons, using aero style. It is also recommended to make a new design of all icons reflected in Start menu and Explorer (including icons showing type of a file). It is recommended not use any icons in Windows 9x and earlier version style, in programs operating under Windows Vista.

Creation of individual Vista-icons.

Imaging your program with the most intuitive interface, in Vista style, with individual icons that clearly show program's functions and tasks thanks to proper metaphors, they make you to use the program just because it's a pleasure to look at it. Icons made in a style that will definitely be another world standard ("Vista" meaning a perspective is not an occasional name, it was chosen for the new version of Windows).
You may ask: "Where can I order these perfect icons, at a reasonable price and not just similar ones but real Vista 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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