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Should the icons be created in bitmap or vector format?


A bitmap image file (like GIF, PNG, TIFF, etc.) contains only pixel-by-pixel image information. Pixels (abbreviation for "picture element") are those tiny little dots of color that your computer screen is made up of. An icon sized 24x24 pixels picturing a red square is actually composed of 576 individual pixels, each described by small bits of binary data in a graphic file. A larger image requires even more pixels, causing more binary information, and a larger file size as a resilt.
A vector icon file (like EPS, SVG, etc.) consists of geometric information. A vector image file picturing a red square scaled to 24x24 pixels only contains numeric datd regarding the geometrical position of the fout corners of the square, information about the color of the square, and information defining the size of the square as 24x24 pixels on screen. Basically our red square in vector format only requires about six tiny bits of information as opposed to our 576 bits of data required for our red square created in bitmap.
The explanation is actually a bit more complicated than this, but you understand the basics: Modifying the size of a vector graphic file from 24x24 to 48x48 only requires the editing of one bit of information (the size). The math does the rest. However, modifying the size of a bitmap image file from 24x24 takes the extra 1728 pixels, resulting in a larger file size.
Thus one vector file can represent it's image at multiple sizes, while a bitmap image may only clearly represent its only pre-set pixel size.
So if a vector file format can scale and shrink to represent any dimensions it so desires, why do the icon desigers choose bitmap format for their creations?
If you look at the same icon, crafted in both bitmap and vector formats, you will notice that the bitmap one is clear and sleek, with all the lines sharply defined. While all the images that had been scaled from the vector image look blurry.
This happens because, although vector files can be scaled to every size, there is a flaw in them This flaw is more apparent at toolbar sizes. Especially resolutions under 48x48 pixels. The weakness is that computer screens still have pixel-based (that is to say, bitmap-based) displays.
When you have a vector file, originally sized at 24x24 and shrink it down to 16x16, the relative proportions do not match. There's no chance you can evenly arrange 24 pixels of information into 16 pixels of space because, there's no such thing as half a pixel. So the image blurs.
There's also no chance you can evenly scale 24 pixels of data upwards into 32 pixels area. Again, the image blurs.
Furthermore, if you have that same vector file, initially sized at 24x24 and scale it up to 48x48, you're now doubling the proportions. You no longer have sharp 1-pixel details. You have messy 2-pixel lines. Scale it up larger (to 96x96, for instance) and the lines will become even thicker.
There are a few caveats: First, if you're working with larger icon sizes (for example, bigger then 48x48) you're not going to notice the difference as dramatically, and you may find the results acceptable. Second, your mileage will vary as you design various types of artwork. The less-detailed your linework is, the less you have to worry about this.



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Standard Toolbar Icons

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Science Toolbar Icons


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