Even though Photoshop is one of the premier graphic editing programs in the world, it does not install with the capability to work with ICOs (icon image files). Instead, you have to download and install a plugin, and once finished, you can save images as ICOs and work with them just like any other image filetype.
Downloading the Plugin
For the ICO format to be usable, even available in Photoshop, you have to download the plugin. It is supplied by Telegraphics.com.au and is simply called "ICO Format." For most computers, you want to download the 32-bit version on the far-right side of the download screen.
Installating the Plugin
After the plugin is downloaded, you have to install it. First, extract or "unzip" the downloaded ZIP file. It decompresses into a folder containing three files: the GNU Public License, a readme file and the plugin. To install the plugin, copy or drag and drop it into C:\Program Files\Adobe\Adobe Photoshop CSx\Plug-ins\File Formats (the "x" stands for whatever version of the Creative Suite you have). Restart Photoshop if it is already running.
Using the New Functionality in Photoshop
You are now able to save any image in the ICO format. However, you have to decrease the size of any image to 256-by-256 pixels before the ICO format shows up in the "Save As" dialog box. Anything greater, and the option disappears. PNGs, because they support transparency, are a good image type with which to start. Icons look more professional when they're not just squares on the desktop, but actual cut-outs that fit inside that 256-by-256 square.
The ICO Format
The ICO and PNG filetypes are closely related. In fact, several Windows operating systems (Vista and 7) have recommended that icon files be stored as compressed PNGs. Because modern operating systems support 32-bit color, icon files are now allowed to be 256-by-256 to allow icon scaling on screens with high resolutions. Historically, icons have only been 16-by-16 or 32-by-32. On XP, they were 48-by-48. So transforming a PNG to ICO is a common conversion and, with the simple installation of the plugin, one that is easy to accomplish in Photoshop.
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