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Electronic Iconography

Icons - small pictographs which became an integral part of graphic interfaces - appeared in 1983, where Apple released their first personal computer with graphic interface. This model has been named Lisa, featured compact size and stylish (for that time) design. The undertakings of the apple company were approved by the general public, which resulted in sales boom. The competitors of Apple were quick to use the new trends: IBM and Microsoft presented their own developments; first Windows version appear but there is still much time before graphic interfaces completely defeat the command line. Lisa also presented a new computer device "Mouse" which were used to work with the icon interface of the operating system for this computer.

Two decades have passed: Microsoft became leading operating system for personal computers leaving the creators of Lisa behind. For most users, computer icons are strongly associated with the Windows graphic interface; however new operating systems by Apple (Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X) push the computer iconography to the new level. Utilities which change the appearance of the desktop and allow the user to create new graphic interfaces become popular. Especially popular are various imitations of alternative operating system (Mac OS, BeOS, Linux etc.) interfaces. Though, Microsoft designers don't surrender their positions: Windows XP is packed with the maximum number of beautifications which sometimes even make work harder.

A new direction appears in computer graphics: digital miniature; creating and designing of graphic interfaces becomes a separate area of designer art. Beginner artists will find the little essay "How to draw Aqua (MacOS X) buttons?".

Which tool must the computer icon painter master? Which program will help the beginner artist to master this art? Strictly speaking, a simple graphic editor like "Paint" is enough to draw icons. Moreover, any 24-bit bmp picture can be converted into an icon simply by changing the file extension to ico. Of course, in this case don't hope to immediately get good results, though it makes sense to play with pictures to have an example of some peculiarities of pixel graphics. Specialized icon editors also exist.

The Aha-Soft company presents an entire series of software products for working with icons: professional icon and cursor editors, converters, viewers and everything you might need for working with icons.

Let's start our review with two simple converter utilities: Any to Icon and Icon to Any. As their names suggest, the first program converts graphic images to icons and the second one does the opposite: converts Windows icons and cursors into usual images. These programs are extremely simple to use: drag the file containing icon or image into the program window and then specify the properties of the final file and its location. When converting graphic images into icons, specify the sizes (16x16, 64x64, Custom etc) and color palette (Monochrome, 256 colors etc.). When converting icons into normal images you should specify only the destination format. An advantage of these utilities is the possibility to convert several files at once. In addition, you can use the special filter to select only files with specific properties (e.g. only 72x72 True Color icons) from the list.

The next program IconLover is a professional tool for creating icons. If you want to draw an icon from scratch, you should first specify its size and color palette. You can draw in the special area, which represent the future icon multiplied in several times. For you convenience, there is a one-pixel wide grid.

icon editor

All changes are automatically reflected in the special "view area" and you can always see the picture in its real scale. The drawing tools include "pencil", "fill", various "brushes" and "airbrushes". You can insert text using the "text" tool. When creating 24-bit and 32-bit icons, special effects are available ("drop shadow", "smooth" and "transparency") which simplify the process of drawing of complex icons). Articons Pro allows you to edit existing icons as well as to work with icon libraries and extract icons from files. It would be very useful for beginner artists to view professional works heavily zoomed in. Moreover, using Articons Pro you can easily change all standard icons of the Windows operating system. In the "View" menu, select "Windows settings" and a special dialog window appears which will allow you to change the boring icons to newly created masterpieces.

Aha-Soft has created more than ten various utilities for working with icons, which can be, downloaded from the company website. Unfortunately the size of this article doesn't allow us to review each of them in details. The IconUtils package combines several programs (IconLover, Any to Icon, Icon to Any, AhaView) and is one of the best icon editors.

All programs, which have been mentioned above are distributed as shareware. 30-day trial versions can be downloaded from the website. You can register them at the Aha-Soft website and pay using your credit card.

In the end of our review, I'd like to mention that the quality of the icon doesn't depend a lot on the graphic editor used. The professional can use even Paint. However, nothing prevents us from choosing the most suitable tool.

Icon information

Individual Ready Icons

You can buy individual icons to suit your needs. Each icon is $1 when purchased individually.

 Icon Usage Agreement

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