About Icons and Cursors


Icons are small images, which can be associated to file types, executables, to identify and recognize them easier. Double clicking an icon opens / executes the file. It helps to easily recognize files and applications. The difference between images and icons is that icons contain multiple images, and can also contain semitransparent images.

An icon contains more images in different size and format:

An icon can contain more image formats

Each image can contain a transparent area. Windows chooses the file format needed from the icon. If the icon does not contain the given format, Windows chooses an appropriate one and resize it. This can result in image loss. The file format is chosen based on the screen settings, and the size is chosen depending where the icon is displayed and the DPI setting of the screen:

Under Windows:

  • 16x16: Displayed on the task bar, lists and headers (at 96 DPI)
  • 32x32: Displayed on the desktop, control panel (at 96 DPI)
  • 48x48: Displayed in Explorer when thumbnail or titles view is selected (at 96 DPI)
  • 256x256: Windows Vista and above

Under Macintosh:

  • 16x16: Displayed on menus and lists
  • 32x32: Displayed on the desktop and toolbars
  • 48x48: Displayed on the desktop and windows
  • 128x128: Displayed on the desktop and the dockbar

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Windows Icons

With the introduction of XP the icon format changed, a new image format was placed inside the icon, a 32 bit image. This image format contains transparency information also known as alpha channel, or opacity. This allows that the background image can blend through the icon. With the help of this feature we can create shadow effects, semi transparent icons and more.

Semi transparent icon
Difference between semi-transparent and transparent icon

With Windows Vista another standard icon size was introduced 256x256. This would result in big icon-file size, so images with the size 256x256 and above can be compressed using PNG compression, resulting in smaller file size.

Image formats recommended for Windows icons:

  • 256x256 32 bits
  • 64x64 32 bits
  • 48x48 32 bits
  • 40x40 32 bits
  • 32x32 32 bits
  • 24x24 32 bits
  • 20x20 32 bits
  • 16x16 32 bits
  • 48x48 8 bits
  • 32x32 8 bits
  • 16x16 8 bits
  • 32x32 4 bits
  • 16x16 4 bits

The 256x256 formats are needed for Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8 and Windows 10. For Windows 10 it is recommended to additionally include following 32 bit (RGBA) sizes: 20x20, 24x24, 40x40 and 64x64 for high DPI screens.

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Macintosh Icons

Macintosh icons are designed for the Macintosh OSX operating system. The Macintosh icon file has a different file format than a Windows icon. Macintosh OS X 10.4 Tiger introduced a the image size of 256x256 and Macintosh OS X 10.5 Leopard introduced the image size of 512x512.These image formats are compressed with JPEG2000 of PNG compression. Starting from Macintosh OSX 10.7 yet another new format was introduced, a PNG compressed 1024x1024 image. IcoFX can handle all these new formats.

Image formats recommended for Macintosh icons:

  • 512x512 @2x
  • 512x512
  • 256x256 @2x
  • 256x256
  • 128x128 @2x
  • 128x128
  • 32x32 @2x
  • 32x32 - 32
  • 16x16 @2x
  • 16x16 - 32

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Cursors are small images, that represent your pointer. Windows uses two kind of cursors: static and animated. Animated cursors are usually used when your computer is busy. Cursors also have a hot spot. This point represents the tip of the cursor.

Static Cursors

A static cursor usually contains only one 32x32 image. It can have also other sizes, but the Windows operating system will automatically resize it.

Animated Cursors

Animated cursors contain more 32x32 images. These images (frames) are changed at a given frame rate resulting in an animation. Animated cursors also contain the author name and copyright information.

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If you have many icons or cursors then you can group them together in a library. This way it is easier to handle and redistribute your icons and cursors.

Icon Libraries

IcoFX can create 32 bit icon libraries (ICL files). Icon libraries are basically 32 bit dll files that contain only icon resources. Each icon in the library can have an icon name. You can add, delete and change icons in an existing icon library.

Cursor Libraries

IcoFX can create 32 bit cursor libraries (CUL files). At the moment only static cursors can be added to cursor libraries. You can associate a name to the cursors in the library.

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