Looking back…

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Looking back…

Published by on April 18th 2008.

It has been 3 years since the first public version of RealWorld Icon Editor was released on April 17th 2005. RWIE is still one of the youngest, but is has already managed to establish itself and has positively influenced the whole industry.


In the very beginning in 1998, there was a school project - a simple 3D graphics editor called Unicorn3D. In 2001 when Windows XP made its appearance, a successor of Unicorn3D was in development (and still is, although no work has been done on it in a long time) and XP-compatible icons were needed. Sadly (or fortunately?), no icon editor was able to handle the smooth XP icons properly at that time and the image to icon transformation was born. Here is a very early screenshot from that time. No raster editor yet, just a concept of it.

Prerelease version of RWDesigner, more like a concept.

Ugly as it looks, it was able to create XP icons from 3D models. But only with the right person behind the wheel, the user interface was very cryptic.

If you look at the screenshot, you’ll see the application name in the caption of the window: RealWorld Designer, the name of this very blog. The application was meant to be a 3D editor and “virtual world” was a buzzword back in 2000 or so. VirtualWorld Designer did not sound quite right…


In 2005, the RealWorld Designer framework was mature enough to be used as a base of a real application. Making an icon editor was one of the few possible courses of action. Both the 3D part and the raster editing part were not good enough to stand on their own, but the unique combination delivered results.

RealWorld Icon Editor 2005.2

Raster image editor in this version was quite primitive, with a couple of tools and some scripted filters. The main menu of the application was rather plain and so were the toolbars.

Three versions were released in 2005, improving many usability issues. The last one introduced support for Vista icons. That’s right, RWIE was able to work with Vista icons 1.5 years before Vista was actually released. The other icon editors followed and the the whole scene was ready for Vista icons, when Vista finally arrived. An improvement over the case with XP icons back in 2001.


The 2006.1 version brought many improvements. The core scenario (3D->image->icon) remained the same, but the whole process got more user-friendly. This version featured a batch image to icon converter and improved the ordinary image->icon conversion as well. Generated icon formats were under user’s control and per-formats effects were supported.

3D object being modified in RWIE 2006.1

Notable new features included a projected shadow tool (for Vista-like shadows) or a couple of new image filters. Each layout (icon editor/image editor/3D editor) had the main menu and toolbars fully under its control, which made the whole application feel more alive.


Version 2006.2 was actually released in 2007, right after Windows Vista. It featured improved batch operations, active support for high DPI display modes, Mac OS icon loading/saving, ability to run image filters compatible with Adobe Photoshop, parameterized 3D models, and many smaller tweaks.

Setting-up 3D scene in RealWorld Icon Editor 2006.2

While parameterized objects were possible right from the first release, the improvements to the Rendered Image (snapshot) document type made them practical in this version. For example on the screenshot, the colors and the rotation of the wheels are controlled by parameters. Version 2006.2 was quite successful and it was used for more than just icons.


Version 2008.1 will be released in May and its focus will be on the long neglected raster editor. The old raster editor will be kicked out and replaced by a brand new and much more powerful core with plug-in based tools, fill styles and image masks. There are new native image filters and a redesigned scripting interface.

Icon library in RWIE 2008.1

Another of the new features will be the support for icon libraries and a system for storing files in database with tags for fast access.

Looking forward

Where do we go from here? That’s a good question, there are so many possibilities and so little time. The raster editor can be further enhanced by more tools, also layer support would help at this stage. Or maybe a vector image editor? What about the 3D editor, it could use some improvements. Or a better integration with file system (like the Axialis librarian)? Improving help system would help as well. Hm… Eventually, all of these topics will be addressed, but it is going to take years. Exciting years.

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I wish there were...
Vista & Win 7 icons
What about ICL files?
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