I’ve just posted a few widescreen desktop wallpapers for anyone who might be hankering for a change of pace, but what if you’d like to make your own? Most of us have a few sweet shots lying around somewhere – so why not get a few of those up where you’ll see them a little more often?
If you’re unfamiliar with how to create desktop “wallpaper” it’s reasonably simple, but here are a few guidelines and notes that will help you to get it right.
What You Need
* A digital image (it’ll need to be of relatively high quality, e.g. straight from your camera)
* Adobe Photoshop or other image editing program
* Ten minutes
First off, you need to make a quick determination about your computer’s display:
Understanding Screen Size
Keeping it simple, to achieve a “perfect fit” (a wallpaper that covers your background exactly, without stretching or compressing your shot one way or another) you’ll need to fashion an image that is precisely the dimensions of your display. Unfortunately, this probably isn’t the size of your digital photographs as they came out of the camera so you’ll need to adapt them.
You can find out the resolution of your desktop, tablet, or phone display by going to your system preferences or control panel – it’ll show something like 1440 x 900, which are its dimensions in pixels – or even by searching for your device online (e.g. “What is the screen size of the iPhone 6s?“).
In Photoshop or some other image editing program now create a new document (File > New) with the exact dimensions of your target screen, with a document resolution (or DPI/PPI) of 72.
NOTE: See the bottom of this post to learn about aspect ratio and why you might want to create your wallpaper at the same aspect ratio as your screen but a larger dimension. For now I’m just going to use the width and height of my current display.
Drop In Your Image
Once you’ve got that blank canvas with the right dimensions open, you need to “drop in” the digital image that you are going to use. When working with digital photographs, the thing to remember is that you can always REDUCE but you can never ENLARGE. Throwing pixels out is no problem, but to try and put them back in will always mean a decrease in an image’s quality.
With that in mind, open up an image in your image editing program that is at a minimum the dimension of your display at 72 resolution/dpi/ppi (in my case, greater than 1440 x 900 pixels at 72 dpi) and then copy it into your new Wallpaper document. Most digital cameras shoot at resolutions far greater than most digital screens so this shouldn’t be hard.
To do this I open the digital image in Photoshop, go to the Layers palette and click and drag the Background layer from that window into the one for my new Wallpaper document. Alternatively, I could open the digital image, double click on the “Background” layer to rename it as “Layer 0”, click “OK”, and then “Select > All”, “Edit > Copy”, and then click on my Wallpaper document, and lay the digital image down with an “Edit > Paste” command.
Resize Your Image
The image should now be showing within your Wallpaper document as a new layer – though it should be too “zoomed in” and not all showing – and that’s a good thing.
You can now “Edit > Transform” and resize the image as you see fit (hold down the shift key while you move the corners to avoid stretching it out of whack), cropping out part so as to make it best match your screen’s dimensions… keeping in mind to only ever reduce size with the Transform tool (in other words, if you mess up and make your photograph too small by applying a transformation then never use a Transform command to increase its size, best to back up in your History palette or start over).
Embellish and Repeat
Finally, I’m going to add a bit of text in the form of a quote from Paul Strand (a well-known American photographer who worked in the Outer Hebrides in 1954) on this image from the Isle of Lewis, as well as a note of the photograph’s location and a Living Exposed watermark. Predictably, I use the Text tool to do all this.
Also, at this point I save the file as a Photoshop document (.psd) knowing that in the future I’ll be able to simply bring in an alternative image as a new layer, reduce it to fit and replace the one I’ve worked on now, throw in a different quote and location reference, and end up with another perfectly sized wallpaper option for my computer. This Photoshop file becomes like a Wallpaper template.
The Final Step
Lastly, I “File > Save As” choosing a jpeg format without layers to save the final wallpaper image itself. Once that’s at an appropriate location on my computer/phone/whatever I can take the last step and set it as my Wallpaper. Whamo, custom job, perfect fit.
Here’s what the finished product looks like:
So there you have it. Happy Wallpapering!
A Note on the Power of Aspect Ratios
An aspect ratio is a proportion of width to height. A rectangle 9 meters wide and 3 meters high has the same aspect ratio as a rectangle with sides 3 meters wide and 1 meter high (it’s just one third the size, that ratio can be expressed as 3:1). Consistency in aspect ratio is a beautiful thing in all things image-based because it means that proportions are preserved even when dimensions are changed. Imagine a 16 x 20 inch image reduced down to 4 x 6, the reduction is smaller but exactly the same proportionally (i.e. not cropped) as the original.
Aspect ratio is important when making desktop wallpaper because there are two main aspect ratios for modern computer displays, and those are 4:3 (standard) and 16:10 (widescreen). This means that you should use the correct aspect ratio accordingly, but this will happen “automatically” if you simply base your design off your screen resolution. However, if you want to be forward-thinking (or use the same wallpaper for multiple displays, or offer it to people who have unknown displays), the smart move is to create your wallpaper with the correct aspect ratio but at a larger size. In other words a wallpaper created at 3360 x 2100 (16:10) will fit any widescreen display perfectly (including your 1440 x 900), even when it downsizes for smaller displays (which often happens automatically when an image is set as wallpaper). This doesn’t work the other way around, because a 800 x 500 wallpaper would become pixelated and poor quality if scaled up for a larger display.
This is most useful when making wallpaper to fit several varied displays (e.g. laptop and desktop), when anticipating that your display will be larger in the future, or when making wallpapers for others to use whose display resolutions you do not know. By targeting widescreen or standard and creating at a relatively large resolution, whatever you produce should fit the bill in most cases.