An icon is an image—a small picture used to represent a command, a program, a file, a link to a webpage and more. Even if you have only casually used a computer, you likely noticed the small images on the Windows task bar or the tiny printer in Word, these are icons. Often icons are "active" or hyperlinked, so that when you mouse over or left click on them the icon becomes animated or a link is activated.
Icons make using programs easy and intuitive, but those who create icons need to understand a little bit more.
Icons differ from general computer images because they require standard sizes and color resolutions called formats. Standard sizes are measured in pixels and include the following 16x16, 24x24, 48x48 and 128x128. Some icon design software packages enable you to create icons with more size options than those just listed. Color options include monochrome, 16 colors, 256 colors, true color and true color + alpha also known as XP Alpha. The most unique thing about an icon is its ability to be transparent-meaning you can see the screen background through the transparent parts of your icon image.
When creating icons, it is important to include several formats so that your icons will be compatible with different systems and screen configurations. For example, Windows XP requires three different image formats: 48x48 displays in the explorer lists, 32x32 displays on the background desktop and 16x16 for task bar. Each platform requires different image formats in order to display them correctly.
According to www.axialis.com, the makers of IconWorkshop, the following formats are required for Windows and Mac OS:
Windows® Icon Image Sizes
- 16x16: Used in task bar, windows upper-left corner, detailed lists ...
- 24x24: Windows 2000/XP – menus (optional)
- 32x32: Desktop, lists...
- 48x48: Windows XP or higher only – Desktop, Explorer and System lists...
- 128x128: Optional – Used by some desktop enhancers
- 256x256: Windows Vista? only – compressed format
Macintosh® Icon Image Sizes
- 16x12: Menus on OS 8 and 9, rarely used
- 16x16: Menu, lists
- 32x32: OSX 8/9 Desktop, Toolbars...
- 48x48: Desktop, windows.
- 128x128: Used on OSX Desktop and Dock bar
Icon color is also an important aspect. With true color + alpha or XP Alpha you can create smoother transparency in your icon images as well as drop shadows for 3D effects. This is a new feature required for the stylish Windows XP icons as well as the Windows Vista and MacOSX. When looking for a software package, make sure you find a product that has this new color scheme available as well as the various formats to create innovative icons yourself.
Axialis Software Team, (2005, October 7). What is an Icon?. Retrieved June 14, 2006, from Axialis Software Web site: http://www.axialis.com/tutorials/tutorial-whatsanicon.html
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