Using Stock Images in Your Project
Choosing the proper collection of stock images was not an easy task. But you have finally made the choice, and bought yourself a perfect set to use in your application. Now when you bought the images, what are you going to do with them? Do you know what file format goes where, and what size, color depth or image style to embed into your project?
There are a few typical questions usually asked by developers. Where would I use 32-bit icons with alpha-channel, and why choose them over traditional 256-color images? What development environments support 32-bit graphics, and what file formats should be used there? Finally, which versions of stock icons to use for the various Windows control elements? Let’s clear these questions one by one.
Picking 32-bit icons over their 256-color counterparts seems easy. 32-bit icons include an extra layer defining a translucency mask. This layer is called alpha channel. Thanks to that alpha channel, images with 32-bit color depth can integrate nicely with any background, having smooth edges and looking great even if your background has a busy color, gradient, or has an image or pattern. In addition, the alpha channel can make shadows and reflections display semi-transparent, making them appear natural and overall rendering extremely realistic.
So, 32-bit icons are the perfect type to use. The real question is whether you can use them in your project. In reality, 32-bit icons can be used in a handful of situations – and cannot be used in others. If you’re making a Web site, then chances are that your target audience already has compatible Web browsers that can display 32-bit images with full semi-translucency support. Exceptions are rare, and include Internet Explorer 6 and earlier versions, ancient builds of Mozilla, and a few resource-stranded mobile platforms (although most mobile browsers can perfectly show 32-bit icons).
For a Web site, you would use 32-bit icons in PNG format. If supporting really old browsers is important, you can resort to 24-bit PNG icons, converting the original 32-bit images with an icon editing tool such as IconLover. 8-bit GIF files can be used for building light Web sites to be used with the slowest mobile browsers. Note that GIF files don’t have a full alpha-channel support; instead, they offer a single-bit transparency mask. Again, you can convert your 8-bit images from 32-bit originals with IconLover, or use the GIF versions of icons supplied with your icon set. The GIF icons provided with your set will display nicely on most types of backgrounds, but you can produce your own versions if you need a busy or colourful background and want your images blend with it smoothly.
Windows programs can normally only use a single type of file depending on which control you’re going to use it for. For example, ICO files are normally used as application icons. ICO files pack the same image (or, sometimes, different images) in various sizes and color depths within a single file. Windows will automatically pick the right size and color depth depending on the user’s screen settings and the location of the icon. It’s best to include all standard sizes and color resolutions in an ICO file. Our stock icons already have all standard resolutions and color depths stored in the ICO files; if you want to build your own ICO files, you can use IconLover.
There are dozens of other things we’d love to tell you about making the best use of your newly purchased stock images. You can read an extended version of this article detailing the many Windows controls and development environments such as Java, C#, .NET and Visual Studio, at http://www.aha-soft.com/faq/integrating-icons-development-environments.htm. You can always get the right icons for your applications or Web sites at www.aha-soft.com.