A Quick & Easy guide to Microsoft Windows Icon Size

There is sometimes a little confusion over the different sizes required to create a Windows 7 Application Icon file. This is in some way brought about by the flexibility of the ICO format and its ability to ‘contain’ many image sizes and colour depths but is also not helped by Microsoft’s own quite poor documentation on Windows Icon Size, see here.

Windows Icon Size
Standard Windows Icon Sizes shown in Axialis Icon Workshop

If you want to create an Windows 7 Compliant ‘Application Icon’, to be used as a short-cut, a file type, or embedded in an executable file, it must contain the minimum following icon sizes:

Standard Windows Icon Size for ICO format

  • 256 x 256 pixels  – 32bit (24bit colour, 8bit transparency)
  • 48 x 48 pixels  – 32bit (24bit colour, 8bit transparency)
  • 32 x 32 pixels  – 32bit (24bit colour, 8bit transparency)
  • 16 x 16 pixels  – 32bit (24bit colour, 8bit transparency)

To allow for backwards compatibility with Windows operating systems of software with a limited colour palette, you can also include the above icon sizes in 8bit (256 colours, 1bit colour transparency) and if you really wish to cover all eventualities in your icon design, 4bit (16 colours, 1bit transparency). This last colour depth is very rarely of use and as a rule I don’t tend to include it unless requested specifically by the client as it just uses up unnecessary space. In fact, more often than not, 32bit ICO files are fine for most projects but I recommend you test in the final application before making this decision.

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Additional Common Windows Icon Sizes

There are other additional Icon sizes supported by Windows Icons but they are rarely used. However, I will list them here for completion.

Extra Icon Sizes

  • 128 x 128 pixels
  • 96 x 96 pixels
  • 180 x 180 pixels
  • 72 x 72 pixels
  • 64 x 64 pixels
  • 24 x 24 pixels

The size most commonly used size on this list is ’24 x 24′ as it is a standard size for menus within Windows 7 and 3rd-party software. When creating ICO files specifically for menus, rather than app icons, 16 x 16, 24 x 24 & 32 x 32 are the three most common sizes used.

Testing your Windows 7 Icon

The easiest way to test the compatibility of your Windows 7 ICO files is in a standard ‘Window’.

Save your ICO files into a folder and then use the ‘View’ drop down to select the view or size of icon you wish to see.

Windows 7 Icon Sizes
Standard Windows Icon Sizes shown in Axialis Icon Workshop

Windows 7 automatically scales the icons as you move between the sizes you have created. You can test this by moving the slider up and down.

The actual sizes displayed at each of the headings are as follows:

  • Extra Large Icons – 256 x 256 pixels
  • Large Icons – 96 x 96 pixels (Automatically rendered by Windows from 256 version)
  • Medium Icons – 48 x 48 pixels
  • Small Icons – 16 x 16 pixels
  • List – 16 x 16 pixels
  • Details – 16 x 16  pixels
  • Tiles – 48 x 48 pixels
  • Content – 32 x 32  pixels

Windows Icon Size Oddities

ICO files can also be used as overlays within Windows 7, a prime example is the small curved arrow used as a short-cut symbol on ‘Shortcut’ icons. Windows overlays a transparent ICO file with a small offset graphic within the bottom left corner, on top of the standard Application ICO file. Annotations is another case applying to the bottom right hand side but I have never come across a request from a client to create icons of this description in the 15 or so years I have been an icon designer, so it is not something I would lose any sleep over.

I hope you found this overview useful.

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Adam Parrish

Owner and creative director at Creative Freedom Ltd. Unbelievably cool icon design expert, husband, and father of two awesome girls. A proper decent chappy and thoroughly fab to work with. Ok, so I wrote my own bio…

35 thoughts on “Windows Icon Size Guide (Win 7 ICO Format)”

  1. Ovaltine says:

    And because Microsoft documentation on this is rather vague, like you so attentively noted, I found your post re this subject and had a read, low and behold something came alive.

    I have some interest in the overlay portion for icons for an app, the problem is that some of these overlays are bound to the notification tray so end up creating icons with the overlay included because documentation is nonsense and trying to make it work is easier and faster including overlays.
    I have of course had requests for this type of icon and its the customers job to implement the icons in the application which doesn’t always go as planned.

    Good read.

  2. Dusty says:

    Clearest of many articles I’ve read. Thank you.

    In the Windows Explorer details view how is it that WinZip, for example, gets the full 16×16 treatment but Notepad and my file types get shrunk to 8×8 inside some gratuitous frame? I want my full 16×16 allocation.

  3. Hi Dusty,

    Thanks for the reply. I must admit I have not seen the behaviour you mention in Windows 7 or 8.

    I wonder if you may have some 3rd party software that is affecting how your icons are displayed?

    Can you provide a link to a screenshot?

    Adam

  4. Bruno says:

    Estou com duvida sobre o tamanho do ícone da área de notificação do Windows.

    Obs: Fiz alguns teste e todos apresentaram que a imagem da barra de tarefas e da área de notificação são do mesmo tamanho: 32×32. Nos testes crie um ícone com varios tamanhos de imagem (16×16 … 48×48, e outros tamanhos nesse intervalo), cada tamanho coloquei uma cor na imagem diferente.

    Sendo que na teoria as imagem da barra de tarefas e da área de notificação são de tamanhos diferentes.

    Voce sabe me dizer o porque disso?

    Desde já agradeço!

    Translated from Portuguese:

    I have doubts about the size of the icon in the notification area of Windows.
    Note: I did some testing and all showed that the image of the taskbar notification area and are the same size: 32 × 32. In tests create an icon with several image sizes (16 × 16 … 48 × 48, and other sizes in this range), each size put a different color in the image.
    Since in theory the image of the taskbar notification area and are of different sizes.
    You can tell me why that is?
    I thank you!

  5. Ahmed Mounir says:

    thanks Adam, very helpful article.

    i’ve a question too:
    i made an icon contains a 96×96 image, but windows shows a resized 256 (or 128) instead when i chose “large icons” view, have you ever experienced omething like this?

    here is a screenshot:
    https://plus.google.com/photos/110827855872696691083/albums/5901616909407620497/5929779829815032098?banner=pwa&authkey=CPC_q_fY-5qFxAE&pid=5929779829815032098&oid=110827855872696691083

    https://plus.google.com/photos/110827855872696691083/albums/5901616909407620497/5929779348651856386?banner=pwa&authkey=CPC_q_fY-5qFxAE&pid=5929779348651856386&oid=110827855872696691083

    you can see the difference

  6. Hi Ahmed,

    I hope I understand your question correctly.

    Windows only displays the 256 x 256 pixel version if you select the ‘extra large’ icon size. I never include a 96 x 96 pixel version as it is an optional size and as you mention Windows scales the 256 x 256 down as required. Including a 96 x 96 size just adds to the file size and unless you have a specific requirement for this size within some application, it shouldn’t be necessary.

    Cheers,

    Adam

  7. Hi Bruno,

    I am sorry I missed your reply.

    Could you please provide a screen capture to explain what you mean?

    Thank you.

    Adam 🙂

  8. Ahmed Mounir says:

    aha! thanks for the fat reply 🙂

  9. xpclient says:

    Well here’s another one more oddity in the way Windows handles overlays. Overlay icons for 256×256 size must not be in the lower left corner of the icon, and must not be already smaller to perfectly ‘overlay’ the bigger sized icon. 256×256 overlay icons must fill up the complete available icon, and also must not be resized. Vista/7/8 do that for you for 256×256 icons. In other words Vista/7/8 take any 256×256 icon and resize it to 92×92, move it to the lower left corner and overlay it. For all other resolutions smaller than 256×256, Vista/7/8 work in the same way as XP, you have to prepare an overlay icon in the lower left corner.

  10. Jools says:

    Hi and thanks for the nice guide!

    I have a question though. What is the name of the tool you use in the first screenshot?

  11. Boontawee V. says:

    Solved my myth that want to know for 10 years.
    I always code program but didn’t know which size is best suit.

  12. Isoar says:

    I am learning to program the Windows API and I want to create a program that includes a toolbar of buttons containing icons. While searching for what size to make my icons I found several sources that say the standard size for Windows icon images is 16×15, even many on microsoft.com such as https://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/aa315378%28v=vs.60%29.aspx and https://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/bb983125.aspx. Do you know what the deal is with that?

    1. Adam Parrish Adam Parrish says:

      Hi Isoar,

      There are many ways to deploy icons. This guide is very specifically about the icon size requirements for Windows 7 Compliant ICO files.
      The bitmap strip images mentioned in the article you linked to are specific to that method of deployment so if that is what you are using then it would be best to observe those standards.

      16×16 pixels is a general standard throughout Windows and I would always stick with standards unless you have very specific information telling you otherwise, which seems to be the case for these strip images.

      Adam 🙂

      1. Isoar says:

        The strange thing is the Windows provides you with some standard buttons such as ‘open’ and ‘new’ and these are contained in the file Comctl32.dll. I extracted the bitmap strips from that file using a resource extractor and their width is only divisible by 16, not 15! So Windows itself is using 16×16 bitmap images for icons. I’m started to suspect the 16×15 size might be an old standard, but I can’t say for sure.

        1. Adam Parrish Adam Parrish says:

          Yes, Microsoft are only consistent in being confusing 🙂

          I hope you work it out.

          Adam

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    Your article has reaⅼly peaked my intereѕt.
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    1. Adam Parrish Adam Parrish says:

      Thanks Dino, anything else I can help with, just let me know. 🙂

  14. Phillip Hughes says:

    Hi Adam, can you comment on this ‘odd’ 3rd party icon treatment by W7 home premium please. As administrator the file icon appears as ‘full size’ but as user the file icon is displayed as a smaller image within a clear frame/border the size of the ‘full size’ icon. On a separate PC this behaviour does not occur – suggesting that something within the specific ‘user’ account is doing this to this specific icon but no to any others. I have tried removal/re-install of the program and of the file type to no avail. Any thoughts would be most welcome, thanks

    1. Adam Parrish Adam Parrish says:

      Hi Phillip,

      I would really need to see some screen shots to make sure I understand correctly what you are describing. It may be something specific about that particular user account has been customised or indeed the icon file itself. Assuming this only happens with a specific icon?

      Adam

  15. Phillip Hughes says:

    Thanks Adam, I have put together a composite screenshot as attached to try and illustrate this and take it a little further.

    https://photos.google.com/share/AF1QipN9hVntnDexdzGEXS3PRWSWjM_d1CihlaaEUyinLTxzfbKoIyuOj8oSTkwl3Pj-2A/photo/AF1QipO-x2C6FXjV89VybpP6NJJYL0jK2rnqjlxuVpa2?key=Y0NOcEZlYTNBODg2WGtiakVaemJTUHRRX2hoM293

    Yes, the problem is only with this one program but it would seem to be User specific after I ‘experimentally’ changed the default program icon as per screenshot. The User account did not reflect this change, and I noticed that while the Admin. level tile label includes the name of the command program the User level tile label is just a generic ‘PDF File’. (? any significance) This ‘failure’ would seem to support your intuition about the User account. But, within the User account all other file icons (Office 2010, various 3rd party programs) seem to be ‘full-size’ and appear the same logged on as Administrator. There seems to be a program-specific difference in default icon rendering between account levels and/or a User-related failure to accept a changed icon. As mentioned earlier I have deleted the command program, and the file type, then reinstalled the command program but all to no avail. My abilities and knowledge have flat-lined at this point, though I’d like to understand what is happening and how to correct it while learning a little more about icons in the process.

    If you can shed some illumination on how/why icons and their settings behave this way I’d be most grateful.

  16. Adam Parrish Adam Parrish says:

    The only things I can think of are:

    a) deleting the thumbs.db file in the folder with the offending file (you will need to show hidden files and folders)

    b) try changing the default associated program for PDF to something else and then change it back to your new program. I don’t think it will make a difference though.

    It looks like program you installed includes both versions of the icon but I don’t see any reason why it displays one over another in a different user account.

    Have you tried creating a brand new user account to see if this display difference is consistent on any non admin account?

    Adam

    1. pfhughes says:

      Hi again Adam and thanks:

      No luck I’m afraid with the suggestions but an eventual resolution of sorts.

      I deleted the command program, used a registry utility (jv16, with a system backup and restore point FIRST) to clean out any reference to it I could find, and then installed an alternative command program. This correctly shows the icons across both admin. and user accounts so I’ll settle for that as the time involved is out of proportion to the angst involved.

      It has improved my understanding of icons though, as has your site, so I’m grateful for your effort and expertise.

      Thanks a bundle. Cheers.

  17. Adam Parrish Adam Parrish says:

    Sorry I couldn’t have been more help. Seems like an oddity of the application you were using.

    Thanks for your kind comments.

    Adam 🙂

  18. chris says:

    thanks for this great info. unfortunately my windows 10 system is using the scaled down 256×256 icon for all views other than small icons, list, and details (uses 16×16). is this normal now for windows10? deleting the iconcache files hasn’t changed anything.

    Extra Large Icons – 256 x 256 pixels
    Large Icons – 256×256 pixels (scaled down)
    Medium Icons – 256×256 pixels (scaled down)
    Small Icons – 16 x 16 pixels
    List – 16 x 16 pixels
    Details – 16 x 16 pixels
    Tiles – 256×256 pixels (scaled down)
    Content – 256×256 pixels (scaled down)

    1. chris says:

      Fixed.

      selecting “always show icons, never thumbnails” from the folder view options fixed the issue.

  19. Adam Parrish Adam Parrish says:

    Hi Chris,

    I am glad you managed to sort that out. Happy New Year!

    Adam

  20. Rachel Dassin says:

    Very awesome guide for beginners! I just learned from this: http://www.coreldraw.com/en/pages/ico-file/ how I can edit those Window icons, but I was interested in reading more before I start editing, and this guide is very helpful! Thank you!

    1. Adam Parrish Adam Parrish says:

      Thanks Rachel, I’m glad it was useful. 🙂

  21. SINA says:

    Dear Mr. Parrish,
    I usually use Photoshop in order to design my personal customized folder icons. I make them in rectangular shapes at 512 x 512 (because my monitor is very high resolution and shows them micro! If smaller size), and save them as .PNG files. Then I convert them to .ICO through one of the free online programs.

    By customized folder, I mean Personal folders and not System folders, and also they are about 60 folders on my HDD, all with customized icons.

    My Windows: 7 ultimate, 64-bit, Intel Core i7, 32.0 GB of Ram installed on a SSD drive.

    1. Does Windows read and run folders showed by this size of icons (512×512) without slowing its performance? I ask this because when I connect my HDD to the PC, it shows them Extra-large by default and has to read all 60 folders at a same time together.

    2. Can Windows essentially read and technically show 512×512 folder icons? I don’t know if it converts them automatically down to 256×256.

    Regards,
    Sina

    1. Adam Parrish Adam Parrish says:

      Hi Sina,

      Thanks for getting in touch.

      That is a good question about the 512 pixel sizes. I am not sure what happens in Windows 7 but in Windows 10 you can use scaling within the display controls to make icons and text larger on 4k and higher displays. I honestly don’t know if this would use the full resolution of a 512px ICO file or whether it would first scale down to 256 and then scale that back up to fill the allocated image area (when using scaling).

      Without using the scaling controls Windows won’t display an icon larger than 256 pixels so for performance reasons I would probably stick to that as a maximum size. You could try one folder with a 256 and one with 512, if you can’t see a noticeable difference in image quality then it doesn’t matter either way and you should stay with 256.

      I hope that helps a bit 🙂

      Adam

  22. SINA says:

    By the way,
    Your article is awesome and very informative. Actually very clear and to the point.

    Thanks

  23. Is this comment field fake?

    You seems so nice, all of you. It can’t be real.

    I’ve never seen such a polite comment field before. It’s like the commenters here are sending letters to each other.

    Eiliv

    1. Adam Parrish Adam Parrish says:

      Hello Eiliv,

      Thanks for dropping by and posting a comment.

      I think it’s rather nice how polite people have been on my blog. We’re just trying to help each other out after all. 🙂

      Have a good day.

      Adam

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