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What Are PNG Icons?

Computer icons are an integral part of any modern GUI. Icons are small pictures of standardized sizes that visually represent objects, actions, and symbols. In window-based systems, icons are used as a quicker, more intuitive way to communicate with the user. Icons depicting common elements of a user interface are better visible than text, can be recognized faster, and are certainly easier on the eyes.

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 computer systems, learn faster and interact more efficiently. Icons can be employed to replace or supplement text messages. Commonly used in menus, toolbars, on buttons and in new ribbon-style user interfaces, icons have come a long way from the original concept.

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

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

Pixel resolutions of all icons are platform dependent. For example, Windows icons are defined as pictures in 16 and 256-color gammas as well as True Color images with alpha channel. Windows icons are supplied in standard resolutions 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 older versions of Windows and for lower resolution images. Other systems such as Windows Mobile can use standard icons of other sizes, such as 24x24 pixels.

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

Icon Articles

Popular XP Icon editors
Icon ArtIcons Pro is our pick. It enables professional and amateur artists to design and edit all kinds of icons. It supports ICO, BMP, PNG, GIF, ICPR, PSD, XPM, XBM, WBMP, CUR, ANI formats. German interface is available.

Icon IconLover allows you to design and edit all kinds of graphics required in the software development cycle, including icons, static and animated cursors and interface elements - all these kinds of graphics can now be designed in a single application.

Icon ArtCursors allows you to find, create, edit, import and export cursors and manage cursor libraries. It supports static and animated cursors.

Icon Any to Icon converts BMP, JPG, PNG, GIF, ICO, CUR and other formats into XP icons. This wizard can correct problem icons.