Icon files are used by Windows for customising folders and shortcuts. They are different from normal image files in that they can contain more than one size of the same image. The sizes can vary, but they are usually 48x48 pixels for Windows XP and 256x256 for Windows Vista or 7. There are a number of programs and websites available that can create ICO files, including the popular Photoshop, by using an additional plugin.
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Download the free program from the SmoothDraw website. SimplyIcon is one of the simplest ways to create icon files, but the drawback is that it doesn't support sizes larger than 128x128.
Open the folder containing an image you want to convert into an icon, and have the program running. SimplyIcon doesn't require an installation.
Drag the image into the little box in the program window. An icon file will be created in the same folder as the original image, and the program will automatically generate 128x128, 32x32, 24x24 and 16x16 pixel sizes bundled into the ICO file, as long as the original image is large enough for all of them.
Download the free plug-in made by Telegraphics, and drag the 8bi file that Photoshop uses, found in the zip archive you downloaded, into the "Plug-ins/File Formats" folder in the Photoshop directory while the program is closed.
Open or create an image in Photoshop, and then go to "Save As" in the Photoshop file menu.
Select "Windows Icon (ico)" in the file format drop-down menu. This will only be available if the image you are about to save is 256x256 pixels or less. If it is not, you will have to resize it by going to "Image Size" in the Image tab menu. The basic "Flavicon" version of the plug-in will only support 16x16 pixels, since that is the size used by websites.
Bundle multiple sizes of the same icon into the same file by using a second free application by Telegraphic, called Icobundle. Download it from the same website. The Photoshop plug-in does not do the bundling automatically. For Windows Vista or Windows 7, it is good to have a range of sizes packed into an icon, such as 48x48, 128x128 and 256x256 pixels.
Create a folder and put the downloaded program into it, along with the different sized ico files created with Photoshop. You can resize the image and save it however many times you wish. It will be helpful to create the folder in a spot with a small directory name, such as "C:\Icobundle." It is also faster to give your ICO files small names, because Icobundle is a command-line program, and only runs in the Windows command prompt.
Open Command Prompt by typing "cmd" in the search box in your desktop's Start Menu. It probably did not open in the location of your icon files, so use the "cd" command to go to that directory by typing "cd" and then the folder path of your icon folder. An example would look like this: cd "C:\Icobundle"
Type "icobundl.exe -o [output file name].ico [input file 1].ico [input file 2].ico [input file 3].ico" and so on, replacing the bracketed parts with the appropriate file names of your icons (what you type shouldn't have brackets). Including the file extensions is important for Command Prompt to recognize them.There should now be an icon file in the folder with the name you gave it, which will work as a Windows icon with multiple sizes.
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