There are a few common questions usually asked by developers. Where should I use 32-bit icons with alpha-channel, and why pick them over traditional 8-bit icons? What development environments support translucent graphics, and what file formats should be used? Finally, which versions of stock icons to use for the various control elements? Let’s answer these questions one by one.
Picking 32-bit icons over their 8-bit versions seems logical. 32-bit icons feature an extra layer defining a semi-transparency mask. The layer is called alpha channel. Thanks to the alpha channel, icons with 32-bit color depth can blend nicely with any background, featuring smooth edges and looking great even if your background has a bright color, gradient, or has an image or pattern. In addition, the alpha channel makes shadows and reflections appear semi-transparent, making them look 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 a handful of situations – and cannot be used in others. If you’re making a Web site, then chances are that your user base already has a compatible browser installed that can display 32-bit graphics 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 would use 32-bit icons in PNG format. If maintaining support for legacy browsers is essential, you can fall back 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 displayed on the slowest mobile browsers. Note that GIF files don’t have a full alpha-channel support; instead, they feature a single-bit transparency mask. Again, you can render your 8-bit icons from 32-bit originals with IconLover, or use the GIF versions of icons supplied with your stock icon collection. The GIF icons provided with your set will look fine on any background, but you can produce your own versions if you have a busy or colourful background and want your images blend with it smoothly. Windows programs can typically only use one particular kind of file depending on which control you’re going to use it for. For example, ICO files are normally used as application icons. ICO files include the same image (or, sometimes, different images) in various sizes and color depths within a single file. The system will automatically choose the proper 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 versions stored in the ICO format; 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 integrating 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 the right icons for your projects or Web sites at www.aha-soft.com.