Using Stock Icons in Your Development Environment

There are several 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. Ready-made icon files for development Picking 32-bit icons over their 256-color versions seems easy. 32-bit icons include an extra layer defining a translucency mask. The layer is called alpha channel. Thanks to the alpha channel, images with 32-bit color depth can integrate nicely with any background, showing smooth edges and looking great even if your background has a bright color, gradient, or shows an image or pattern. In addition, the alpha channel can make shadows and reflections display semi-transparent, making them appear natural and overall rendering extremely pleasing. So, 32-bit icons are just the right type to use. The real question is whether you can use them for your project. In reality, 32-bit graphics can be used in a handful of situations – and cannot be used in others. If you’re designing a Web site, the chances are that your target audience already has compatible Web browsers that can show 32-bit graphics with full semi-translucency 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 browsers can perfectly show 32-bit icons). For a Web site, you should use 32-bit icons in PNG format. If supporting really old 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 building light Web sites to be used with 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 icon set. The GIF icons supplied will display nicely on most types of backgrounds, but you can render your own versions if you have a bright, colourful background and want your images blend with it smoothly. Windows applications can normally only use a single 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 include the same image (or, sometimes, different images) in a number of sizes and color depths within a single file. Windows will automatically pick the appropriate size and color depth depending on the user’s display 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 files; if you want to build your own ICO files, 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 an extended version of this article detailing the many Windows controls and development environments such as Java, C#, .NET and Visual Studio, at You can always get perfect icons for your projects or Web sites at

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