Wednesday, July 19, 2006

How To: Create an Icon Library

There are a lot of things I care about with my computer systems, and many more things I do not.

Hardware specs are important, but I don't live or die on the latest and greatest numbers. My home computing needs are pretty simple. As long as my system is as secure as I can "reasonably" make it, as long as it is stable, and as long as I don't run out of disk storage, I'm pretty happy.

I do have a few weaknesses when it comes to computers, however. I love desktop images--the prettier and more colorful the better--even if I can't ever see them all. And I like having a wide variety of icons to customize my desktop and folders with.

Most icon packages offered come as packages of individual .ico files. That's nice, but I like to have them bundled into a single icon library file (.icl or .ico) format. It makes it easier for me to manage and browse them. So I've had to learn how to "roll my own" icon library files. Let me show you how to do it as well.

How-To: Convert Icons into a Single Icon Library

1) Get an application to build icon library files.

There are lots out there. I've recently been playing with GConvert from G.D.G. Software. The GUI is very nice and the product worked perfectly. It does a lot more things besides just building icon library files, but is a nice professional place to start. Two other professional icon products are Microangleo and Axialis.

For this exercise, I will be using the freeware application IconShop (v1.20). It works perfectly for this task.

Download and run a virus scan of that application. Then unpack it somewhere helpful. It is actually a "standalone" application so you can just run the unpacked IconShop.exe file to launch the app.

2) Get some icons!

Again, there are lots of options out there! My two favorite sources are the Iconfactory's New Icon "showroom" and InterfaceLIFT's Windows Icons. If strange and bizarre icons are more your taste, try Gort's icons over at forrestwalter. With a little bit of work, you can also download and convert Mac icon packages and use on Windows, but that will be another post.

Let's practice using Louie Mantia's beautiful system icon set called Aqua Neue (Graphite).

Download those and after running through your virus scanner, unzip them to a folder on your desktop (or some other convenient location).

3) Launch IconShop.exe

You should have a three-pane window. The directory tree is on the left. Any valid icon files (for the selected folder) are in the top-right pane and the icon file contents are displayed below. You can change the icon format size displayed in the drop-down Format box in the toolbar. I like the "all formats" myself.

4) Open Windows Explorer (or your favorite file management application) and browse to and open the icon file you unzipped. Depending how you unzipped it, your folder list may vary. Mine says "1865_aquaneugraphite\Aqua Neue (Graphite) - Windows\". In there you should find 87 files of the .ico variety.

5) Resize your Windows Explorer and IconShop windows so that you can easily drag and drop files from the Explorer window into the lower right windows pane of IconShop.

6) Select all the .ico files listed in Windows Explorer.

7) Drag them off the Windows Explorer and drop them onto the lower-right pane of IconShop. Depending on your system speed it may pause a moment but it should then display them and report on the bottom status bar that you have 5 formats, 86 icons, and 86 images. Good!

8) In IconShop, click on File, Save As.

Delete the default file name (AFP Location.ico) and provide a new filename "Aqua Neue (Graphite)" or whatever.

9) Decide what format you wish to save your icon library in.

It is fine if you want to go with the default "ICL" format. If you want to save it in an .ico format, just type the following (including quotation marks!) "Aqua Neue (Graphite).ico" in the File name line instead.

Note: I prefer using .ico as my icon library file format as Windows defaults to picking up these types when browsing for and applying new icons to files/folders. It just makes it easier to search for them.

10) Change your "Save In" location to where you want to drop the file.

(I keep my icon libraries in an folder named "ICONS" in my Windows folder.)

Click "Save" and you've done it!

To take advantage of your new creation, pick a shortcut on your desktop, right-click and select "properties." Then click the "Change Icon" button. Click the "Browse" button and browse to the folder where you saved your newly created icon library file. Select the file and click "Open". Pick your new icon (I like those spiffy hard-drive icons) and then select "Apply" and "OK".

Done! You should now see your new custom icon!

To start a new icon file, go back to IconShop and click the blank-page (new) icon on the toolbar and repeat the applicable steps!

(You may delete the unzipped icon package as well as the original zip file once you are done building the icon library file--you shouldn't need to keep them.)

Once you get this down, you may find you tend to use the same icons. You can even custom-build your own "favorites" icon library file. Just use IconShop to to export your favorite icons and repeat the steps, or even simpler, open two sessions of IconShop and use one to search, view and copy desired icons out of and then paste them into the other session. Fast and Easy! This way you just have a single icon fileset you can keep handy for your personal use!

Please read and respect the icon author's "readme" file often included with the icon packages. Most allow free use of icons for personal usage, but not in commercial or corporate settings, and very few let you re-distribute their icons in new packages. If that's what you need, take some time and you can fine some nice sets that allow free-reign in usage.

Happy icon collection building!

Additional Icon links:

@icon sushi - multi-task freeware icon utility.

LiquidIcon XP Editor - very popular freeware icon editor and extractor. Nice set of features.

ResThief - freeware icon extractor. Use to scan dll's, exe's and other similar files and extract hidden icons from them.

See you in the skies,

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