Creating and Extracting Icons Tutorial

This tutorial explains the common icon settings and provides links to free online tools and freeware/open source programs for editing, extracting, and converting icons.

Icon images are shown in the dialog/window title bar(s) of trainers, in the Windows taskbar, and other places in Windows. Often it is the first thing people will see of any program, as it is clicked to load the program.

The icon has a level of importance, and can influence the opinion people have of a software program - especially if it has a horrible looking icon.

Trainers often use two basic kinds of icons - the icon of the creators avatar/logo (to keep things consistent), or the icon of the game itself; however, of course anything can be used.

Icon Files
Icons can vary in size and color depth when they are created, and are saved as ICO files. The various sizes get used depending on where it is shown and the users Windows settings.

For example in a Windows folder the user can change the folder view to show Extra large icons all the way down to Small icons (256 x 256 to 16 x 16 icons respectively).

A single icon file (ICO) can hold multiple icons of various sizes and colors to show the correct icon as needed. A program can specify which sub-image to use from the icon file, and Windows chooses which to use itself based on the users color display and profile settings.

If a icon of a certain size or color depth is needed and does not exist in the icon file, Windows will scale the icon sub-image that best fits. Scaling works, however the icon quality will suffer.

You can read more about icons at the Wikipedia page about the ICO Format.

Color Setting
Here is a list of the various color settings that can be used for each icon sub-image created -
  • True Color & Alpha Channel (32 bits)
  • True Color (24 Bits)
  • 256 Colors (8 Bits)
  • 16 Colors (4 Bits)
  • 2 Colors (1 Bit)

A computer using Windows XP or newer can use True Color & Alpha Channel (32 bits) icons. However, many icons still include 256 Colors (8 Bits) for compatibility with older versions of Windows (Windows 95 or newer).

Using True Color & Alpha Channel (32 bits) icons allow shading to be used, a example is a soft drop shadow. Also it allows anti-aliasing, and "glass" to be drawn as the alpha channel allows semi-transparent colors.

I personally use True Color (24 Bits) for compatibility (Windows 95 or newer) as I do not use any of the alpha channel options in my icons anyway. It also allows much more colors than the typically used compatibility format of 256 Colors (8 Bits).

The other color depths of 16 Colors (4 Bits) and 2 Colors (1 Bit) are nearly obsolete.

Size Setting
Icons can be any of the five standard sizes, or even a custom size. Here is the list of standard sizes -
  • 256 x 256
  • 48 x 48
  • 32 x 32
  • 24 x 24
  • 16 x 16

The most common sizes were 32 x 32 and 16 x 16 for icons; however, the Windows XP default size is 48 x 48 icons for Windows Explorer (folders).

The icon size 16 x 16 is typically used in program title bars, and other places that use a "detail" view.

I recommend you create all five images in your icon file. This allows for the greatest use of your icon while looking it's best.

The more icon images (sub-images) used, the larger the size of your trainer will be due to the icon file (especially if you have a tiny trainer). If size becomes a issue you can always remove some of the sizes to reduce the size - in particular the 256 x 256 icon image.

Icon Overview
If I lost you in the last section here is what you need to know -
  • Icons are saved in the ICO format
  • Icons are used by programs and Windows
  • For compatibility use 256 Colors or True Color to make your icons
  • Create all five standard sizes of icons in your icon file

If you are creating the various icon size in your icon file, start by creating the largest icon. Many icon editors will automatically copy/modify the last created sub-image to make the other sizes as well.

Now that the various icon size and color depths have been covered I will explain what a icon does for your trainer.

Icon Branding
Branding is done by icons visually informing who created the program, what the program is, or even what the program does.

As I mentioned previously... The icon has a level of importance, and can influence the opinion people have of a software program - especially if it has a horrible looking icon.

For example if you make a icon of your avatar/logo and use it in your trainers, then whenever someone uses it they will associate their experiences with your trainer with your avatar/logo.

This is the same for the reverse, if they know your avatar/logo and get one of your trainers they will already have expectations for it (good or bad).

Typical Icons
Trainers often use two basic kinds of icons - the icon of the creators avatar/logo (to keep things consistent), or the icon of the game itself.

If you want to use your avatar/logo then you can convert the image into a icon. There are tools online to do it, or you can convert it with a converter program as well. Either way often requires you to edit the created icon image manually for the best results.

To use the game icon the trainer was made for you will need a program to extract the icon from the game EXE. There are many programs that can do this easily for you, I did not find any online tools that can do it however.

Or if you want to use a icon someone else already made there are many sites that have free icons. They are also a great way to get some ideas on what to create for your own icon.

Free Icons
Icon Search
These sites act like a search engine that show icons that match your search. Many sites search through their own personal icon file lists; however, some also can look elsewhere online.

Large Icon Collections
This is a list of many various sites that offer freeware icons, check the copyright/license for each icon before you decide to use it.

Icon Collection Links
These sites offer more extensive lists to various websites that have free icons.

Online Tools
Useful sites that provide online tools to edit icons or convert your images to icons. They are useful if you want to avoid having to install programs on your own computer. Beware your images may be displayed, and others allowed to copy anything you do with the online sites.

Depending on the results you get, you may want to edit the icons manually with software on you computer anyway.

Online Converters
These websites offer tools that will take your image and convert it to the ICO format. The sites vary on what options you can specify, and some on which images can be used.

Online Editors
These sites allow you to create icons from scratch (blank screen), or edit your existing icon ICO files.

Free Software Programs
If you are looking for more options, security of your images, or want to extract images from a program EXE or DLL files no online tool can beat a installed program.

All the programs listed are freeware/free to use with no limitations. The only thing to mention is that IcoFX is now a paid program, you can use version 1.6.4 free though as it was the last freeware version.

Several of the programs can do the same tasks that require additional programs - I have included any tasks the program can do after program name/link. For example IcoFX is an editor, extractor, and converter for icons all in one.

Icon Editors
These programs allow you to create new icon images, modify your ICO file (add or remove sub-images), and often much more. If you plan on creating your own icon file you will need a icon editor.

I personally use and recommend the freeware version of IcoFX (version 1.6.4).

Icon Extractors
These programs will extract icons from EXE and DLL files and allow you to save them anywhere you want, often with many output options.

Some also besides searching specific files, will search all the files in a directory, or your entire computer. I personally use IconsExtract and it will do all those tasks and more.

Icon Converters
They will take a image, often JPG and BMP format, and convert it to a icon file. Some allow many various image formats to be converter as well, and offer varying options of the created icon file.


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