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Which graphic format to use for icons?

A bitmap icon (such as GIF, PNG, TIFF, etc.) contains only pixel-based image information. Pixels (abbreviation for "picture element") are those tiny little dots of color that make up your computer screen. A 24x24 pixel icon representing a plain red square would be composed of 576 individual pixels, each represented by small bits of binary data in an image file. A larger image will contain more pixels, leading to more binary information, and thus a greater file size.
A vector image file (such as EPS, SVG, etc.) consists of mathematical-based information. A vector file containing a red square sized to 24x24 pixels only contains binary datd describing the geometrical location of the fout corners of the square, information about the color of the square, and information defining the size of the square as 24x24 pixels on screen. That means our red square in vector format only needs about six tiny bits of information 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 understand the general idea: Changing the size of a vector image file from 24x24 to 48x48 only takes the editing of one bit of information (the dimensions). The math does the rest. But changing the size of a bitmap image file from 24x24 takes the addition of 1728 more pixels, resulting in a larger file size.
That means one vector file can represent it's content at numerous sizes, whereas a bitmap file may only clearly represent its single pre-set pixel size.
So if a vector image can change size to represent any dimensions it needs, why do the graphic desigers choose bitmap format for their creations?
If you look at the same icon, created in both bitmap and vector formats, you will notice that the bitmap one is clean and crisp, with all the lines sharply defined. While all the icons that had been scaled from the vector image look blurry.
This happens because, although vector images can be scaled to every size, there is a weakness in them This weakness is more apparent at small sizes. Especially sizes of less then 48x48 pixels. The weakness is that computer monitors still have pixel-based (that is to say, bitmap-based) displays.
When you take a vector file, originally sized at 24x24 and scale it down to 16x16, the relative proportions do not match. There's no chance you can evenly distribute 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 scale 24 pixels of data upwards into 32 pixels of space. The image blures once again.
Even more, if you have that same vector file, originally sized at 24x24 and scale it up to 48x48, you're now doubling the proportions. Now you don't have sharp 1-pixel lines. You have chunky 2-pixel lines. Size it up bigger (to 96x96, for instance) and those lines end up even thicker.
There are a few caveats: First, if you're creating larger icon sizes (for example, above 48x48) you're not going to notice the difference as much, and you may consider the results to be fine. Second, your mileage will vary as you design various types of icons. The less-detailed your image is, the less you have to worry about vector rescaling.

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