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Should the icons be crafted in bitmap or vector format?


A bitmap image (such as GIF, PNG, TIFF, etc.) contains only pixel-based graphic information. Pixels (abbreviation for "picture element") are those tiny little dots of light that make up your computer screen. An icon sized 24x24 pixels representing a red square would be comprised of 576 individual pixels, each represented by small bits of binary data in a graphic file. A larger image requires more pixels, leading to more numeric information, and thus a greater file size.
A vector graphic file (such as EPS, SVG, etc.) contains mathematical-based information. A vector file picturing a red square scaled to 24x24 pixels only contains numeric information regarding the geometrical position of the square's four corners, 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 vector file only needs about six tiny bits of information as opposed to our 576 bits of information required for our red square created in bitmap.
In reality, the explanation is a bit more complicated than this, but you understand the general idea: Changing the size of a vector graphic file from 24x24 to 48x48 only takes the editing of one bit of information (the size). The math does the rest. But changing the dimensions of a bitmap image file from 24x24 requires the addition of 1728 more pixels, resulting in a larger file size.
That means one vector file may be used to represent it's content at multiple sizes, while a bitmap file may only clearly represent its only pre-set pixel size.
So if a vector file format can be scaled to represent any dimensions it so desires, why would the graphic desigers use bitmap format for their creations?
If you look at the same icon, created in both bitmap and vector formats, you will see that the bitmap one is clean and crisp, with all the lines sharply defined. On the other hand all the images that had been resized from the vector file look blurry.
This happens because, even though vector images can be scaled to every size, there is a weakness in them This weakness 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 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 chance you can evenly resize 24 pixels of data upwards into 32 pixels of space. Again, the image blurs.
Even more, if you take that same vector image, initially sized at 24x24 and size it up to 48x48, you're now doubling the proportions. You no longer have sharp 1-pixel details. You have chunky 2-pixel lines. Size it up larger (say to 96x96) and those lines end up even thicker.
There are a few caveats: First, if you're working with larger icon sizes (for example, above 48x48) you will not notice the difference as much, and you may find the results acceptable. Second, your mileage will differ as you design different styles of icons. The less-detailed your linework is, the less you will need to worry about this.



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Standard Toolbar Icons

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