Designers across the world use font icons instead of .JPEG or .PNG images on websites. Some people use icons to replace regular images on a website but they are not a complete replacement for the images. Knowing the pros and cons of icons in web design would really help you to make a better decision when you are confused whether to go for icon or image.
Pros of Icons in Web Design
It is seen that most of modern websites today use font icons extensively. They are used for social media icons as well as to represent the particular service or product they sell. It is also used along with or instead of headlines to represent particular value or idea. There are many benefits in using font icons instead of both .PNG and .JPEG images.
Resize without Losing Quality
Unlike images, font icons can be enlarged and shrank without losing quality. Images get pixelated when the size is increased and loose sharpness when the size is decreased. We can increase or decrease the size of icons to any extent; they will be sharp and clear.
Less Visual Weight
Apart from the actual size, the visual size of the icons is also very less. This helps the designer to make the site appear airy and less stuffed. When icons are used instead of images in the sections, it makes the sections more organized.
No more Boring Shapes
Images create the common shapes like circles or rectangles but icons are more natural. This gives a visual interest to the design.
Icons fonts are a great way to avoid the boring boxy layouts. We can use symbols to represent some idea instead of a medium sized image. Usually, images are used to make the website more interesting.
Font icons help the UI designers to create better user interfaces. Replacing texts with icons makes user-interfaces more attractive.
Website visitors already know the meaning of most of the icons out there and so there is no need to worry even if we remove the text. We know a gear icon would be a link to the settings and an envelope icon is a link to the inbox.
Easy to Change Colors
We can anytime change the colors of the icons on a website and see what works. It would be difficult to change the colors of images since we need to edit it using an image editor and then upload the new image to the server. This is a boring and time-consuming process.
We can change the colors of the icon fonts using CSS and it is very convenient. We can also try different colors using the developer tools in browsers.
We can also assign a different color for the icon for the mouse hover. We will have to use multiple images to achieve the same effect if we don’t use icon fonts.
Adjust the Transparency
Since the icons fonts are basically fonts, we can also change the transparency of them. You may argue that we can do the same with images. You are true but you that would be not possible on older browsers especially on Internet Explorer 7 and below. On the other hand, the transparency of an icon font can be changed on any browser.
Style with CSS
We can style an icon font in all the ways we can style text. We can change the colors, change transparency, increase and decrease the size to any extent and add different kinds of effects like the drop shadow.
This makes modifying the icons very easily. If we use services like font-awesome we can use hundreds of commonly used icon fonts for free. We don’t have to change the files names or the path in the HTML changing icon fonts. We can add and change icons by using simple and short CSS classes which is very convenient.
Reduce the Size of Web Pages
The file size of an entire icon set is most of the time less than the file size of a single medium sized image. We can use icons to replace many images in a web page and considerably reduce the total size of the web page.
Reduce HTTP Requests
When we use images, each image is different file and there will be HTTP requests for all of them. When we use icons instead of images, there is only one HTTP request for all icons. Therefore, the use of icons may have a significant impact on the performance of a website.
Basically, icon sets help us to make the websites load faster by reducing the number of HTTP requests and document size.
Cons of Icon Fonts
Although icon fonts have several benefits over images, they are not perfect. There are many things we can’t do to font icons.
Font Icons are Less Detailed
There is no way to use multiple colors on one single icon. All that we can do is apply a solid color or a gradient. We would have to use images or SVG to get more detailed symbols. Icon fonts are like fonts and we can’t add details or patterns on them.
Limited Number of Icons
Any icons sets available today don’t include all icons or symbols in the world. They include only the commonly used icons and symbols and we can’t find icons fonts for everything we need. We have to use the best matching icons from the available icons. However, there are ways to create icon fonts in any shape tailored to our needs but that is too advanced.
Icon fonts and images are completely different objects and one can’t completely replace the other. Earlier we used .PNG images as social media icons but now we don’t have to do so. Font icons are very powerful and we should use that whenever possible. It helps to make the website look more organized and improve performance.