Blog: Secrets from the Chef

“Circumcision”, a children’s holiday

Dmitri JoukovAuthor: Dmitri Joukov
15 March 2007

Let’s recall the operating systems of the last century — the range of MS Windows up to 2000, Mac OS up to version 9. All of them supported only icons with one-bit transparency. Fortunately, the industry is moving ahead and the modern operating systems nowadays use the eight-bit transparency. However, for the sake of back compatibility Microsoft has recommended to include resources with one-bit transparency into icons made for Windows XP. With time the tinkering with turning the modern eight-bit transparency into one-bit was romantically coined “cutting edges” among icon designers. Today, I am going to talk about this “tinkering”…

I can already hear some rants and raves, like: “Who needs the old icons in 21st century?”. However, in order to remain historically fair, we need to shed some light onto this era of our labor. Especially as the tricks to be shared may come handy not only to designers but to those in any way involved in digital miniature.

To avoid further questions:

  1. Shortcuts are given in brackets;
  2. Mac OS users should read Ctrl as  ⌘ Command.

Predator alienLet’s use the 32×32 icon with a predator alien from the Pure vector posting as a guinea pig. First, we need to get rid of areas with transparency close to 100%. For this we need to select the whole layer with icons (Ctrl+Click in Layers panel) and launch the mask editing mode (q).

Select Layer Transparency
Quick Mask

Now let’s use the Threshold tool (Image → Adjustments → Threshold). Move the slider all the way to the right until all unnecessary semitransparent areas turn red.


Now exit the quick mask mode and invert the selection (Ctrl+Shift+I) and clear all area outside of selection (Del). Hurray, we lost all the unnecessary semitransparent pixels.

Further work will boil down to turning the required semitransparent pixels into nontransparent. For this (please save you nerves) copy the current layer about 10 times (Ctrl+J). If someone has got a better idea — I am all ears. Now we need to combine the bunch of layers under the same name into one.

Merge Layers

Predator alien with hard edgesVoila, many years of drawing and cutting experience resulted in a fairly good product for an automatic method. Nevertheless, I strongly recommend cleaning the perimeter with a 1×1 eraser. Some spots may require fine-tuning the color and others — placing or deleting standalone pixels.

Let’s not forget that in those days the icons had inking. In order to have my recommendations as thorough as possible, let’s manually draw inking around our killer alien in 1px a la the old school.

Stroke animation

In conclusion, I would like to wish that none of you would ever need this instruction. Keep the big and beautiful icons coming!

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