A modern Vista icon contains the following resolutions.
|Vista, W2008, W7-32, W7-64, W8-32 and W8-64 Icon Resolutions|
|= mandatory = optional = never|
|Size||32-bit RGB (Red Green Blue) Colour
|256 colour||16 colour|
|256 × 256|
|64 × 64|
|48 × 48|
|32 × 32|
|24 × 24|
|16 × 16|
Sometimes one or more of the resolutions are left out. Older versions of windows do not support the higher resolutions. Windows 7 and Windows 8 use the same formats. You can also use the new formats it old XP and Win2K system. They just ignore the sizes bigger than 48 × 48. There is no reason to avoid png compression in the 256 × 256 sizes. Adding extra sizes or leaving out sizes can cause the icons to display in the wrong size or with a black background.
You can use special *.ico editors, or create a set of png files then glue them together in an icon with a special utility.
Java does not support them, even for Java webstart icons.
In order of difficulty:
|Xara||Does 3D icons. Pro version exploits multi-core CPUs (Central Processing Units) for fast vector rendering. I suspect you need a separate program to split and compose icos from pngs.|
|Axialis IconWorkshop||home, commercial. difference||Up to 256 × 256 for Windows and 1024 × 1024 for Mac. Makes Smart phone icons. Can create icons by combining predrawn component parts. This gives people without artistic skill the ability to create pedestrian but polished looking icons. handles alpha channel. Can automatically create all ico sizes from one image. Lifetime updates included.|
|Microangelo Creation||There are two companion utilities. There in no need for the On Display program. You can do all that without a commercial utility. Works with layers, much like Photoshop.|
|IcoFX||Up to 256 × 256 for Windows and 1024 × 1024 for Mac. 40 special effects. Also creates cursors. Also substitutes icons in exe files.|
|Icon Lover||What I use myself. See notes.|
|Metro-Style Icons||Windows Aero and metro style icons. From ahasoft, like Icon Lover. Has same bugs.|
|Stardock IconDeveloper||Up to 256 × 256 for Windows.|
|Free Icon Editor||Up to 48 × 48 for Windows.|
|the Gimp||General drawing program.|
|Image Magick||It is a library of code you can execute from the command line or from within programs you write.|
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