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Should the icons be created in bitmap or vector format?


A bitmap image file (such as GIF, PNG, TIFF, etc.) contains a pixel-by-pixel image information. Pixels (constriction for "picture element") are those tiny little dots of light that make up your computer screen. An icon sized 24x24 pixels picturing a red square would be comprised of 576 separate pixels, each represented by little bits of binary data in a graphic file. A larger image will contain more pixels, leading to more binary information, and a greater file size as a resilt.
A vector graphic file (such as EPS, SVG, etc.) contains geometric information. A vector file picturing a red square sized to 24x24 pixels only contains binary information regarding the geometrical position of the fout corners of the square, information about the color the square is filled with, and information stationg the size of the square to be 24x24 pixels on screen. Basically our red square vector file only requires about six tiny bits of information as opposed to our 576 bits of information taken up by our bitmap red square.
The explanation is actually a bit more complicated than this, but you get the basics: Changing the size of a vector image file from 24x24 to 48x48 only requires the alteration of one bit of information (the size). The math does the rest. But modifying the dimensions of a bitmap image file from 24x24 takes the extra 1728 pixels, causing the file size to increase dramatically.
That means one single vector file can represent it's image at multiple sizes, whereas a bitmap file may only accurately represent its single pre-set pixel dimensions.
So if a vector file can change size to represent any size it so desires, why do the icon desigers use bitmap format for their creations?
If you look at the same icon, drawn in both bitmap and vector formats, you will see that the bitmap one is clear and sleek, with even the thinnest lines sharply defined. While all the images that had been scaled from the vector file look blurry.
This happens because, even though vector images can be resized, there is a flaw in them This flaw becomes more apparent at small sizes. Especially resolutions under 48x48 pixels. The flaw is that computer screens still consist of pixels, which means they ae bitmap-based.
When you have a vector file, initially sized at 24x24 and shrink it down to 16x16, the relative proportions do not match. There's no chance you can evenly distribute 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 resize 24 pixels of information upwards into 32 pixels of space. Again, the image blurs.
Even more, if you take that same vector file, originally sized at 24x24 and size it up to 48x48, you're now doubling the proportions. You no longer have crisp 1-pixel lines. You have chunky 2-pixel lines. Size it up bigger (to 96x96, for instance) and the lines will end up even thicker.
There are a few caveats: First, if you're working with larger icon sizes (for example, bigger then 48x48) you will not notice the difference as dramatically, and you may find the results acceptable. Second, your mileage will change as you create different styles of artwork. The less-detailed your linework is, the less you have to worry about vector rescaling.



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Standard Toolbar Icons

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