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Icon sizes: 256x256, 48x48, 32x32, 24x24, 16x16, 512x512
File formats: ICO, GIF, PNG, BMP

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What Are Icons?

Numerous independent vendors are providing custom icons in sizes and resolutions standard to certain systems. The article explains what icons are, how they are used and implemented in various platforms, and what standards are defined for Windows icons, Mac icons, and PNG icons.

Computer icons are an integral part of any modern GUI. Icons are small pictograms of standard resolutions that depict objects, actions, and symbols. In window-based systems, icons are used as a faster, more intuitive way to communicate with the user. Icons representing typical elements of a user interface are better visible than text, can be recognized faster, and are easier for new computer users.

Originally introduced in 1970 by the Xerox Research Center and widely deployed by the Apple Macintosh and Microsoft Windows platforms, icons make new users feel more comfortable with operating systems, learn faster and work more efficiently. Icons can be employed to replace or supplement text commands. Commonly used in menus, toolbars, on buttons and in the latest ribbon-type user interfaces, icons have come a long way from the original concept.

There are several file formats for storing icons. The Windows systems store Windows icons in the platform-specific ICO format. Mac OS computers use Mac icons in their specific formats, while Unix-based systems employ PNG icons for most applications. As such, icon software is generally available for the Windows and Apple platforms, while Unix users can design PNG icons with any graphic editor.

As a rule of thumb, icons are square pictures that come in a variety of standard sizes and color resolutions. Most platforms support icon sizes of 16x16 to 128x128 pixels, while some platforms readily accept icon images as large as 512x512 pixels. The high-resolution 512x512 pixel icons were first employed in Mac OS Leopard.

Pixel resolutions of all icons are operating system dependent. For example, Windows icons are specified as images in 16 and 256-color gammas as well as True Color images with alpha channel. Windows icons are supplied in standard sizes of 16x16, 32x32, and 48x48 pixels. Windows Vista implements new standards for Windows icons, including icons in resolutions of up to 256x256 pixels in True Color only. Optionally, images of 128x128 and 512x512 pixels are supported. Interestingly, the higher resolution versions of Windows Vista icons are stored in compressed PNG format instead of Windows ICO used in previous versions of Windows and for lower resolution icons. Other platforms such as Windows Mobile can use standard icons of other sizes, e.g. 24x24 pixels.

Many independent designers are offering custom icons. Aha-Soft offers a wide selection of Windows icons, Mac icons, and PNG icons in all sizes and resolutions standard to those systems. The company sells royalty-free icons individually and in matching sets that include icons drawn a common style or theme.

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You can buy individual icons to suit your needs. Each icon is $1 when purchased individually.

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People Icons for Vista People Icons for Vista depict people of different jobs, groups and family status. They are crafted in Vista style and are available with or without shadows. Icons are provided in various formats and sizes.

24x24 Free Toolbar Icons 24x24 Free Toolbar Icons set has all the images that are required for your web page or application toolbar.

Perfect Science Icons Labaratory application and Web-site developers will certainly appreciate this hard-to-find set of scientific icons. Presenting nuerous symbols and objects used in all the areas of science and engineering, Perfect Science Icons are a great value.

Program Toolbar Icons Add beautifully designed toolbar icons to your software projects. Program Toolbar Icons are readily available, royalty-free images of items, tasks and symbols that are commonly used in application toolbars.

Standard Business Icons Standard Business Icons is a collection of great-looking royalty-free icons for use in software and on websites. Icons come in such categories as Transport, Money, Business, Reports and Finances.