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Which graphic format to use for icons?

A bitmap icon (such as GIF, PNG, TIFF, etc.) contains a pixel-based image information. Pixels (constriction for "picture element") are the smallest dots of light that your computer screen is made up of. A 24x24 pixel icon picturing a plain red square would be composed of 576 individual pixels, each represented by little bits of binary data in an image file. A larger image will contain more pixels, leading to more binary information, and a larger file size as a resilt.
A vector graphic file (like EPS, SVG, etc.) consists of mathematical-based information. A vector image file containing a red square scaled to 24x24 pixels would simply contain numeric information describing the mathematical position of the square's four corners, information about the color of the square, and information stationg the size of the square to be 24x24 pixels on screen. That means our red square vector file only needs about six little bits of data as opposed to our 576 bits of data required for our bitmap red square.
In reality, the explanation is a bit more complex than this, but you get the idea: Changing 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 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 numerous sizes, while a bitmap image may only clearly represent its single pre-determined pixel size.
So if a vector image can scale and shrink 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, drawn in both bitmap and vector formats, you will see that the bitmap one is clear and smooth, with even 1-pixel lines sharply defined. On the other hand all the images that had been scaled from the vector file look blurry.
This happens because, although vector images can be scaled to every size, there is a flaw in them This flaw becomes more obvious at small sizes. Especially sizes under 48x48 pixels. The weakness is that computer monitors 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 change. 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. That's why the image blurs.
There's also no chance you can evenly resize 24 pixels of information upwards into 32 pixels area. The image blures once again.
Even more, if you take that same vector file, initially sized at 24x24 and size it up to 48x48, you're now doubling the proportions. You no longer have sharp 1-pixel lines. You have chunky 2-pixel lines. Size it up bigger (say to 96x96) and the lines will become even thicker.
There are a few caveats: First, if you're creating larger icon sizes (for example, above 48x48) you're not going to see the difference as dramatically, and you may consider the results to be fine. Second, your mileage will differ as you create 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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