To some, the icons for Windows XP and Windows Vista are just different, but, to others, they cleverly employ a useful design technique. Semi-transparency is used on the graphics, which smoothes the edges and helps them blend in better with their surroundings.
My point is that you can use this technique yourself when you’re designing icons. Anyone can smooth edges. All that’s needed are a few basic tools.
The good news is that you don’t need to put out all the time and expense necessary to purchase and learn Adobe Photoshop or Corel Draw. They serve their purposes, but they’re not necessary for small art designers. They actually won’t even let you assign more than one format or resolution to the different components of your icon. All the features they have are meant to improve photographs; the more pixels the better. You need something highly specialized that lets you get down to the basic elements of an image. You’re concerned about every pixel in your icon images, because sometimes an icon is only 16 pixels-square.
Instead of photo editing software that will allow you to do all types of neat things on large images, you should be looking at icon editors. They were created specifically for the detailed work of designing icons where you don’t need to deal with the big picture as much as the little details. There are all kinds. You probably already own simple programs that would work, like Paint, but, in order to keep tabs on a large collection of icons or do various manipulations, you’ll need something more specialized, particularly if you draw icons from scratch.
The more complex icon editors are a far cry from the simplicity of the Paint program, even if they aren’t as fancy as Adobe Photoshop and Corel Draw. They are marketed to both the amateur and the professional. With them, you can make your icons look modern and slick without excessive costs and training time. All kinds of file types are supported- ICO, ICPR, BMP, JPEG, CUR, PNG, GIF, RC, XPM, XBM, WBMP and Adobe Photoshop PSD. You also have the option of doing transparencies and semi-transparencies with alpha channels, and gradients. However you choose to do your design- from scratch or an existing image, icon editors make the job more convenient for you.
Icons have obviously come a long way in recent years, and you can keep up without having to worry about going broke or wasting time. Getting an icon editor is all it takes to make the very best of the icons out there.