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General principles of icon design

1. Look at Icon Design Holistically
Icons act inside the graphic interfaces. Whether they are designed for desktop applications or Web pages, an icon is one of many graphic elements that need to work together harmoniously. Remember this logic when you work icon packs as well. Icons can be appreciated for their original visual appearance, but they don't function alone. Judge your icons in relation to the graphic interface you're applying them to. Make sure that each icon differs from it's neighboring images, while still acting in union as a whole.

2. Consider Your Audience
You will have different considerations if you're creating an intranet for a private company, rather then fora product that may be sold worldwide. When developing icons, cultural details are important. Images may differ for common objects you may use in your designs.

3. Design for the Size the Icon will be Used At
If you go vector and draw your icon in Illustrator, there is strong temptation to scale the design, and try to use it at all the sizes. This can't be done with icons. An image that looks good at 512px looks like a blurry smear at 16px. Icons should have a general idea that is used as a starting point, but each output size needs to contain its own optimized design.

4. Keep Icons Simple and Iconic
With all the new OS now promoting icons that can be resized to large sizes (512px by 512px is extra large for an icon), the temptation grows to get illustrative with your icon designs. While a certain level of realism can add interest to your image, it should not restrict its ability to function simply and effectively.

5. Use Consistent [Lighting, Reflections, and Shadows]
It's obvious that the realism you add to your designs all function in the same way. If you apply a spot light coming from one corner you should stick with it. Or you will loose the consistent design of your icons. Also consider the light arrangements of the design your icons will be used in. If the light source of the icons is contradictory with the Web page or application design you're placing them in, then the whole picture will appear amateurish.

6. Utilize a Limited Perspective
The range of perspective within your icon design set should work together. If you have icons being looked at from directly above then stick with that. If you rotate one at a certain angle, then be sure all the other icons will look good at that angle also. Imagine a camera being placed at a constant vantage point and looking at all the items with the same perspective. This helps to maintain consistency in your icon designs.

7. Create Similar Icon Set Styles
Lighting and Perspective definitely take part in styling of an icon, but there are lots other things to consider also. If you're trying to fit your icon into a grunge-style Web site design, you'll probably be applying texture to the style of the icon's design.

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Standard Toolbar Icons

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Science Toolbar Icons

ArtIcons allows you to find, create, edit, import and export icons and manage icon libraries. ZDNet
Use this powerful utility to find, create, edit, import and export icons and manage icon libraries. With it you can create and edit icons in either standard or custom sizes, in color depths up to 16 million colors. ArtIcons contains various graphic tools including enhanced gradient and chess fill. You can import icons from image, cursor and library files and even from executables. ArtIcons allows you to scan files and folders for icons, delete identical icons and arrange icons into libraries.
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ArtCursors allows you to edit, find, import and export cursors and manage cursor libraries. ZDNet
Use ArtCursors to find, create, edit, import and export cursors and manage cursor libraries. With it you can create and edit cursors in color depths up to 16 million colors. ArtCursors contains many different paint tools including enhanced gradient fills. You can import cursors from image and library files and from executables. Aha-Soft ArtCursors lets you scan files and folders for cursors, delete identical cursors and arrange cursors in libraries.
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Icon to Any can convert icons and cursors into BMP, GIF, JPEG and other formats. ZDNet
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This wizard allows you to convert Windows icons and cursors into Windows bitmaps, JPEG, GIF, PNG images, Windows icons and cursors and Resource Compiler (RC) files. It can easily process multiple files at once. You can find icons and make images for use on Web pages.

Any to Icon can convert images into icons and extract icons from folders and libraries. New!
Any to Icon converts BMP, JPEG, GIF, PNG, WMF and CUR formats into Windows icons. You can add files and folders from Windows Explorer or other file shells using drag and drop, and you can split icon libraries into individual icons. You can change color depth and size to create customized icons. Any to Icon allows you to extract icons from folders and libraries. It's easy to process multiple files at once.
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