I make a lot of simple single executable applications for various things at home and at work. Icons always seem to be a problem for me I am not a designer. Like most I can do a little here and there with photoshop, gimp and However I should not be trusted if things need to look "good".

The question is how do you deal with icons for small (often one day) projects that just need something unique. Nothing flashy just enough that the user can associate it with its use and find it quickly on a desktop. Even something like the Gravatar fractal based icons would be a good starting point.

I'm aware that when asked about free icons the big box of knowledge comes back with many results but I want to know what my peer (and superior) developers do in these kinds of situations.

If it's icon-making software you use and you're enough of a designer that it doesn't look awful that's great, but may not be doable for me.

Do you ever buy icons? What is a reputable site for commercial products and where would you steer clear of?

Lastly what types of licenses do you look out for when using free icons found around the net?

Was it helpful?


First off, a disclaimer - I'm not an application developer, but a (amateur, technically speaking, since I'm not getting paid for this) web designer/developer. I use a lot of icons in my projects, but since I'm on a budget of $0.00, I have a fairly large collection of icons obtained from the internet, so I feel that I should have some say on this matter.

Automatically Generating your Icons

Automatically generated icons are a big no-no for me. Unless your application is a fractal generator, the generated icons usually won't fit the application. You're better off sticking to the plain Windows Application Icon or Windows Batch File Icon if you're using this.

Free Icons

Free icons are pretty good if you don't need anything too fancy. You didn't mention anything about whether the projects are commercial in nature, because legality is a big factor in determining what you can use. Also remember that in Vista/Windows 7 icons can go as big as 256x256 - icons of that size are not usually available for free icons.

In terms of legality, options for using free icons for commercial software is a lot less, than say, a freeware/FOSS project. Look carefully at the licenses: Creative Commons Creative Commons Icon is a fairly popular choice these days, but there are others. Usually attribution is required, which usually means acknowledging them in the "About" section or the "README" file.

Sources for Free Icons

Like I said, I know of a lot, but these are the ones that I feel you should look at first.

Designing your own

Well, I can't say how good the icons are without actually looking at your icons, but there are certain things to keep in mind, specifically the Windows Icon Design Guideline published by Microsoft.

There are far too many if you want a complete list, but these are the good ones


The silk icons are free:

“Silk” is a smooth, free icon set, containing over 700 16-by-16 pixel icons in strokably-soft PNG format. Containing a large variety of icons, you're sure to find something that tickles your fancy. And all for a low low price of $0.00. You can't say fairer than that.

There are also the lesser-known Silk Companion 1 and Silk Companion II, icon sets from other designers in the same style as (and often based on) Silk.

I've found the GlyFX icon sets to be really well made, and worth their money. They provide a great range of icons, both in the Windows XP and now in the Vista style.

They also have a product called "Iconbox" which is basically custom-made icons for other customers that didn't insist on them being exclusive - so they sell these off to interested developers, too.

GlyFX also does custom work, if you really need something done e.g. for a commercial or semi-commercial product, at quite reasonable rate (last time I checked, anyway).

Highly recommended.


lgpl icons for use in commercial, gpl seems to work for everything else.

The gravatar icon is a cool idea. I guess you'd just have to convert them over to ico's.

Typically I just take something that's already in the development library. Otherwise there's tons of desktop icons out there to choose from.

I held an icon design contest with a $400 usd award, for a new icon for my program. It required a lot of sketching and feedback on every entry and there was little time for anything else. There was no awards to second places and I think it really affected how much effort people would spend on it.

Make sure you have plenty of time available for this. Make sure there is awards to 1st, 2nd, 3rd place.

In retrospect.. there must be another way to get a good icon made.

I'm found the Yusuke Kamiyamane's Fugue and Diagona icon sets useful. The Fugue set has 3000 icons, and Diagona 400. Fugue offers a variety of concepts, with variants of some.

You may also find this previous question useful.

I like the perfect icon icon suites. These are paid icons, but are pretty cheap and are high quality. They will also design custom icons for you for around $15.

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