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Even though windows lists it as a 16x16 .ico file when I open it up in photoshop I am given the option of 48x48 32bits/pixel. If I select that it opens fine, and is 48x48 pixels.
Is there some trick going on here, allowing one to use a higher quality image for a favicon?
(please, please please! I have wrestled for days trying to get our much-too-detailed logo into a favicon)
.ico files allow multiple sized icons in one file - 16x16, 32x32 and 48x48 pixels images can be contained inside - for use in applications, as tiles and on the desktop, for example. The OS/App decides the right file to use.
Icon designers tend to design a different icon for each size. All using a similar palette and graphic style, simplifying it to only the defining characteristics for each reduction. The Yahoo Y! for example.
Icon design is not as easy as it might sound. Complex graphics, especially for 16x16 have to be replaced with very simplified versions - 1 pixel out of place, can make it look awkward.
I suggest you look at your logo - decide on the characteristics that define it, and use those to design a simple favicon.
I like the dos/command line simplicity of png2ico [winterdrache.de].
Put multiple png's in the png2ico directory
type png2ico favicon.ico [file 1] [file 2] .... press enter.
example: png2ico favicon.ico logo16x16.png logo32x32.png
For favicons there is little benefit in anything more than the 16px size, that is what gets used in all browser interfaces, but having said that I always do 32px and 48px for those users who might drag links onto their desktops and I guess in the future with higher DPI monitors those sizes might start getting used more commonly as well. The size can be then kept minimal; would be nice to do Vista compatible 256px PNGs but then they go way too big.
I use IconDeveloper, give it 24-bit PNGs with transparency, from Photoshop.