Axialis have recently released version 6.62 of their excellent ‘Icon Workshop‘ Icon Design software so I thought it was a good enough excuse to talk about the software and how I use it.
Icon Workshop What does it do?
Icon workshop has been around for a number of years now, prior to which there weren’t really any dedicated icon maker software that handled ICO format files really well. For a long time Microangelo was the only ‘good’ application out there. So when Icon Workshop arrived it was something of a revelation and whilst I believe Microangelo has now caught up a lot functionality-wise, I am a die-hard Axialis fan now.
Icon Workshop is an Icon Design and Authoring tool with a number of useful features:
- Raster based illustration tools
- Import of multiple file formats
- Processing of images into common icon sizes and formats
- Includes size and bit depth templates for Win7 ICO, iOS, iPad, iPhone, Android, etc.
- Ability to create custom file sizes
- Batch image processing tools
- Export Plugins for Adobe Photoshop & Illustrator
- Includes large library of customisable icons
Having grown up with Macromedia and Adobe design products, I wasn’t about to drop them for any new design software just because it was more focused on icon design. But Icon Workshop does provide many useful tools that Adobe haven’t addressed and, of those it has, Icon Workshop just does better. Further, Axialis have included some useful shortcuts by developing plugins for Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator allowing you to export illustrations directly into Icon Workshop. Shame they didn’t bother with Fireworks, which is in my opinion the best suited Adobe product for icon design.
The main benefit of Icon Workshop is its complete focus on icons. And because it is built with Icon Design in mind, the whole process is much smoother with less hoops to jump through. A good example of this is the ‘Icon project from several images’ feature. As I generally work in Adobe products and use Icon Workshop for rendering ICO files, I create the Icon Assets I need for the final file in 32bit PNG format, usually from Fireworks. I then launch Icon Workshop and select the ‘Icon project from several images’ command which can be accessed via the ‘File > New’ menu or via the ‘New’ button on the main Toolbar.
Use CTRL to select the images you want to import.
You then have the option to choose the file format; most of the time for me this will be the first option ‘New Icon Project for Microsoft Windows’.
Icon workshop then creates your ‘Icon File’ and displays all the sizes and colour bit depths on the left.
A common task at this point for a Windows 7 compliant ICO file, would be to add the additional colour depths required to fully support older software environments and operating systems. We do come across situations where 8bit images and 1bit transparency must be supported, so the ability to automatically render these additional colour depths is a big time saver. To do this click on the ‘Add several new image formats’ on the secondary menu (Green plus atop several overlaid pictures) button. You will be presented with a selection of common image sizes and colour bit depths to choose from.
In this example, I have selected all the standard file types for a Windows7 compliant ICO file, including 8 and 4bit options. The actual renders for 8bit are usually pretty good and require only minor tweaking which can be done using the inbuilt raster illustration controls. 4bit can be produced with or without dithering and generally need a fair bit of tweaking to get them presentable. But it is actually very rare that they are needed so I usually go with the dithered version. I leave this variant out altogether unless the client specifically requires it.
From here all that is left is to save the ICO file and you are done. The ‘X’ Icon from this example can be downloaded along with the rest of our free icons here: Free Windows Icons For more useful tips on Icon Workshop please check back next week when I will be looking at some of the other cool features. Cheers, Adam 🙂