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RealWorld Icon Editor ($47, 30-day free trial)is really four programs--a basic photo editor, a 3D modeler, a picture creator, and a tool that makes static icons from the images you create. The icon-creating tool automatically generates a variety of sizes from 16 pixels square to 256 pixels square; a choice of smooth edges, 256 colors, or 16 colors; and allows you to save a variety of formats optimizing your image as an icon, avatar, or favicon for either PC or Mac. It's available in 32-bit ond 64-bit versions.
To turn an existing photo into an image suitable for making into an icon will seem familiar to anyone who's used an photo editor. Open any .jpg, .tif, .psd, .gif, .png, or .bmp file in RealWorld Icon Editor and crop, resize, touch-up, and paint over the image using paint brush, eraser, and fill tools. You can also add stock images, backgrounds, and textures from an included library of royalty-free graphics and dingbats, or just add text and draw freehand.
Brilliantly, Icon Editor will save the adapted image as a .jpg, .bmp, or .png at your original resolution, however large, meaning that you don't need a separate graphic design program to match your icons, avatars, favicons, and even logos and other art in your Web and print branding. Once you have your basic design saved in its native format, one click sends it to the next step: transforming it into multiple icons, avatars, or favicons.
The 3D design tools are lodged firmly at the steeper end of the learning curve. RealWorld Icon Editor allows you to create simple 3D objects made from preformed geometric shapes--arrow, box, cone, cylinder, prism, pyramid, sphere, slope, tank, tetrahedron, or torus--or text, to which you can add drop shadows, tweak, stretch, rotate, and change the light source. In addition, Icon Editor can take an existing 3D model and allow you to define and save snapshots with custom camera and lighting parameters.
If you're a beginner to 3D design and modeling, this aspect of RealWorld Icon Editor can be pretty intimidating. But knowing the difference between, for example, the extrusion surface and the surface of revolution doesn't matter all that much unless you are trying to create a very specific design. For many users, getting the desired effect may come down to watching a video tutorial and then spinning, flipping, and stretching the object until it looks right.
You can continue to tweak your image after saving it as an avatar, icon, or favicon. Add a cool projected shadow or drop shadow, sharpen your image, even add text. In addition, RealWorld has incorporated two utilities that make Icon Editor exceptional: the ability to independently tweak different sized icons starting from the same image, and a perpetual preview--essential for making sure your tiny favicon works just as well as your avatar or your original file, but still looks like it's uniquely yours.
Icon Editor doesn't make animated icons, which is a little disappointing, and its $47 pricetag is a little on the high side for a simple icon editor. For comparison, Picture To Icon costs $40, and Icon Office $30. However, considering all of Icon Editor's features that these other programs lack, including 3D modeling, high res-image editing, and photo editing tools, if you need a program to create cross-branded and various format icons and other images, this is the one to use.
Batch operation, which is the only feature in this release that is included exclusively in the $89 professional version of Icon Editor, can create icons from images; convert icons from windows to Mac format and vice versa; extract images from icons; create previews of icons; extract icons; and perform user-defined custom operations. If you need to batch process any of these, it's worth the upgrade.
RealWorld Icon Editor is a pretty complex and powerful icon creator that's useful for making unique icons, avatars, favicons, and even logos. Regardless of your experience, Icon Editor can help you create very professional-looking graphics with a bit of effort and minimal cost.