Using Ready-Made Images in Your Application
Getting the perfect set of stock icons was not an easy task. But you’ve made the choice, and have purchased the right set to use in your application. Now when you bought the images, what are you going to do with them? Do you know which file format should be used where, and what size, color depth or image style to embed into your project?
There are a few typical questions asked by developers. Where should I use 32-bit icons with alpha-channel, and why choose them over traditional 8-bit images? What development environments support 32-bit images, and what file formats should be used? Finally, which versions of stock icons to use for the various Windows control elements? Let’s answer these questions one by one.
Choosing 32-bit icons over their 256-color versions is logical. 32-bit icons feature an extra layer describing a translucency mask. The layer is called alpha channel. Thanks to the alpha channel, icons with 32-bit color depth can blend nicely with backgrounds of any color and complexity, having smooth edges and looking in place even if your background has a busy color, gradient, or has an image or pattern. In addition, the alpha channel can make shadows and reflections display translucent, making them appear natural and overall rendering extremely realistic.
So, 32-bit icons are just the right type to use. The real question is whether you will be able to use them in your project. In reality, 32-bit icons can be used in most situations – and cannot be used in others. If you’re designing a Web site, then chances are that your target audience already has compatible Web browsers that can display 32-bit images with full alpha-channel support. Exceptions are far and between, and include Internet Explorer 6 and earlier versions, really old builds of Mozilla, and a few resource-limited mobile browsers (although most mobile platforms can perfectly render 32-bit icons).
For Web use, you should use 32-bit icons in PNG format wherever possible. If maintaining support for really old browsers is essential, you can resort to 24-bit PNG icons, converting the original 32-bit images with an icon editing tool such as IconLover. 8-bit GIF files can be used for producing light Web sites to be used with the slowest mobile platforms. Note that GIF files don’t include a full alpha-channel support; instead, they offer a single-bit transparency mask. Again, you can convert your 8-bit icons from 32-bit originals with IconLover, or use the GIF versions of icons supplied with your icon set. The GIF icons supplied will look fine on most types of backgrounds, but you can produce your own versions if you have a bright, colourful background and want your images blend with it smoothly.
Windows programs can typically only use one particular type of file depending on which control you’re going to use it for. For example, ICO files can be used for application icons. ICO files contain the same image (or, rarely, different images) in various sizes and color depths within a single file. Windows will automatically choose the right size and color depth depending on the user’s screen settings and the location of the icon. It’s best to include all standard sizes and color resolutions in a single ICO file. Our stock icons already include all standard resolutions and color depths stored in the ICO files; if you want to build your own ICO, you can use IconLover.
There are dozens of other things we’d love to tell you about making the best use of your newly purchased stock icons. You can read a full version of this article covering the many Windows controls and development environments such as Java, C#, .NET and Visual Studio, at http://www.aha-soft.com/faq/integrating-icons-development-environments.htm. You can always get perfect icons for your projects or Web sites at www.aha-soft.com.