Personalize OS X's Desktop Wallpaper With Your Pictures

Choose Your Own Desktop Wallpaper Picture and Control How They are Displayed

Desktop & Screensaver Preference Pane
Change your desktop wallpaper with the Desktop & Screensaver preference pane. Screen shot courtesy of Coyote Moon, Inc.

You can change your Mac’s desktop wallpaper from the standard Apple-supplied image to almost any picture you care to use. You can use a picture you shot with your camera, an image you downloaded from the Internet, or a design you created with a graphics application.

Picture Formats to Use

Desktop wallpaper pictures should be in JPEG, TIFF, PICT, or RAW formats. Raw image files are sometimes problematic because each camera manufacturer creates its own RAW image file format. Apple routinely updates the Mac OS to handle the many different types of RAW formats, but to ensure maximum compatibility, particularly if you’re going to share your pictures with family or friends, use JPG or TIFF format.

Where to Store Your Pictures

You can store the pictures you want to use for your desktop wallpaper anywhere on your Mac. I created a Desktop Pictures folder to store my collection of images, and I store that folder within the Pictures folder that the Mac OS creates for each user.

Photos, iPhoto, and Aperture Libraries

In addition to creating pictures and storing them in a special folder, you can use your existing PhotosiPhoto or Aperture image library as a source of images for desktop wallpaper. OS X 10.5 and later even includes these libraries as pre-defined locations in the system’s Desktop & Screen Saver preferences pane. Although it’s easy to use these image libraries, I recommend copying the pictures you intend to use as desktop wallpaper to a specific folder, independent of your Photos, iPhoto or Aperture library. That way you can edit images in either library without worrying about affecting their desktop wallpaper counterparts.

How to Change the Desktop Wallpaper

  1. Launch System Preferences by clicking its icon in the Dock, or by selecting ‘System Preferences’ from the Apple menu.
  2. In the System Preferences window that opens, click the ‘Desktop & Screen Saver’ icon.
  3. Click the ‘Desktop’ tab.
  4. In the left-hand pane, you’ll see a list of folders that OS X has pre-assigned for use as desktop wallpaper. You should see Apple Images, Nature, Plants, Black & White, Abstracts, and Solid Colors. You may see additional folders, depending on the version of OS X you’re using.

Add a New Folder to the List Pane (OS X 10.4.x)

  1. Click the ‘Choose Folder’ item in the left-hand pane.
  2. In the sheet that drops down, navigate to the folder that contains your desktop pictures.
  3. Select the folder by clicking on it once, then click the ‘Choose’ button.
  4. The selected folder will be added to the list.

Add a New Folder to the List Pane (OS X 10.5 and later)

  1. Click the plus (+) sign at the bottom of the list pane.
  2. In the sheet that drops down, navigate to the folder that contains your desktop pictures.
  3. Select the folder by clicking on it once, then click the ‘Choose’ button.
  4. The selected folder will be added to the list.

Select The New Image You Wish to Use

  1. Click the folder you just added to the list pane. The pictures in the folder will display in the view pane to the right.
  2. Click the image in the view pane you wish to use as your desktop wallpaper. Your desktop will update to display your selection.

Display Options

Near the top of the sidebar, you will notice a preview of the selected image and how it will look on your Mac's desktop. Just to the right, you will find a popup menu containing options for fitting the image to your desktop.

Images you select may not fit the desktop exactly. You can select the method used by your Mac to arrange the image on your screen. The choices are:

  • Fill Screen
  • Fit to Screen
  • Stretch to Fill Screen
  • Center
  • Tile

You can try each option and see its effects in the preview. Some of the available options can cause image distortion, so be sure and check the actual desktop as well.

How to Use Multiple Desktop Wallpaper Pictures

If the selected folder contains more than one picture, you can choose to have your Mac display each picture in the folder, either in order or randomly. You can also decide how often the images will change.

  1. Put a check mark in the ‘Change picture’ box.
  2. Use the drop-down menu next to the ‘Change picture’ box to select when the pictures will change. You can choose a predefined time interval, ranging from every 5 seconds to once a day, or you can choose to have the picture change when you log in, or when your Mac awakes from sleep.
  3. To have the desktop pictures change in random order, put a check mark in the ‘Random order’ check box.

That’s all there is to personalize your desktop wallpaper. Click the close (red) button to close System Preferences, and enjoy your new desktop pictures.