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Should the icons be developed in bitmap or vector format?


A bitmap image (like GIF, PNG, TIFF, etc.) consists of pixel-based image information. Pixels (abbreviation for "picture element") are those smallest squares of color that make up your computer screen. A 24x24 pixel icon representing a plain red square would be composed of 576 separate pixels, each described by small bits of binary data in a graphic file. A bigger image will contain even more pixels, causing more numeric information, and thus a greater file size.
A vector image file (like EPS, SVG, etc.) contains mathematical-based information. A vector image file picturing a red square sized to 24x24 pixels would simply contain binary datd regarding the mathematical 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 the monitor. That means our red square in vector format only needs about six tiny bits of data as opposed to our 576 bits of data taken up by our bitmap red square.
The explanation is actually a bit more complex than this, but you understand the general idea: Modifying the size of a vector graphic file from 24x24 to 48x48 only requires the editing of one bit of data (the size). The math does the rest. But changing the dimensions of a bitmap image file from 24x24 requires the extra 1728 pixels, causing the file size to increase dramatically.
That means a single vector file can represent it's image at multiple sizes, while a bitmap file may only clearly represent its only pre-set pixel dimensions.
So if a vector file can be scaled to represent any size it so desires, why would the graphic desigers use bitmap format for their creations?
If you look at the same icon, crafted in both bitmap and vector formats, you will see that the bitmap one is clean and sleek, with even 1-pixel lines sharply defined. On the other hand all the images that had been scaled from the vector image look blurry.
This happens because, even though vector files can be scaled to every size, there is a flaw in them This flaw is more apparent at toolbar sizes. Especially sizes under 48x48 pixels. The flaw is that computer monitors still have pixel-based (that is to say, bitmap-based) displays.
When you have a vector image, originally sized at 24x24 and shrink it down to 16x16, the relative proportions do not match. There's no way you can evenly arrange 24 pixels of data into 16 pixels of space because, there's no such thing as half a pixel. So the image blurs.
There's also no way you can evenly resize 24 pixels of information upwards into 32 pixels area. Again, the image blurs.
Even more, if you have that same vector file, initially 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 (say to 96x96) 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're not going to see the difference as dramatically, and you may find the results acceptable. Second, your mileage will vary as you create different styles of icons. The less-detailed your linework is, the less you will need to worry about vector rescaling.



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Standard Toolbar Icons

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