Using Ready-Made Images in Your Development Environment
Choosing the perfect collection of stock images was not quick or easy. But you have finally made your mind, and have purchased a perfect set to use in your application. Now when you bought the icons, how are you going to integrate them with your project? Do you know what 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 usually asked by developers. Where should I use 32-bit icons with alpha-channel, and why choose them over traditional 256-color images? What development environments support translucent graphics, and what file formats should be used there? Finally, which versions of stock icons to use for the many control elements? Let’s answer these questions one by one.
Picking 32-bit icons over their 8-bit versions seems easy. 32-bit icons include an extra layer defining a translucency mask. This layer is called alpha channel. Thanks to that alpha channel, images with 32-bit color depth can blend nicely with backgrounds of any color and complexity, featuring smooth edges and looking great even if your background has a busy 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 if you will be able to use them for your project. In reality, 32-bit graphics can be used in most situations – and cannot be used in others. If you’re making a Web site, then chances are that your target audience already has a compatible browser installed that can display 32-bit icons with full alpha-channel support. Exceptions are rare, and include Internet Explorer 6 and earlier versions, ancient builds of Mozilla, and a few resource-limited mobile browsers (although most mobile platforms can perfectly show 32-bit images).
For Web use, you should use 32-bit icons in PNG format. If maintaining support for really old browsers is important, 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 platforms. Note that GIF files don’t have a full alpha-channel support; instead, they feature 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 provided with your set will look fine on most types of backgrounds, but you can produce your own versions if you need a busy or colourful background and want your icons blend with it.
Windows applications can normally only use a specific kind of file depending on what exactly you’re going to use it for. For example, ICO files are normally used as application icons. ICO files pack the same image (or, sometimes, different images) in a number of sizes and color depths within a single file. Windows will automatically choose the appropriate 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 an ICO file. Our stock icons already have all standard resolutions and color depths 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 making the best use of your newly purchased stock images. 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 programs or Web sites at www.aha-soft.com.