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How to Make Desktop Wallpapers out of Small Images

M. T. Dremer studied graphic design at Muskegon Community College and has been using Adobe Photoshop for more than a decade.

Original Image

Original Image


If you’re like me, you’re always scouring the internet, looking for a cool picture that you can use as your desktop wallpaper. While search engines like Google and Yahoo let you narrow down your search results to images of the right size, more often than not, the image you want is going to be too small; whether by a small margin, or a hefty margin. With the help of Adobe Photoshop, you can make the picture fit your desktop without stretching the image into a muddy mess.


Finding your Computer’s Screen Resolution

One of the most common mistakes I’ve seen when people set their desktop wallpapers is that they didn’t bother to check the screen resolution. The quickest way to check what resolution you have is to right click on your desktop and go to properties, or graphics properties. On Windows XP click on the settings tab and see your screen resolution on the lower left hand side. For Windows Vista, right click on the desktop and click on Personalize. It should be listed under display settings. Write down the dimensions you see there. The most common is 1024x768, but that doesn’t mean that’s what you have. It always pays to check.

An easy way to start your new wallpaper is to push the “Print Screen” key on your keyboard. This takes a screen capture and holds it on your clipboard. Open adobe photoshop, create a new file and paste the screen capture into it. Not only will this create a new image with the right size for your desktop, but it will also display your task bar so you will know how much of your new wallpaper will be covered.

Also, before we begin, you will need to know how to use layers and the Edit > Transform > Scale tool. This tool allows you to enlarge or shrink an image as needed. Simply click on one of the bounding boxes, hold down shift and stretch it. (Shift keeps the same aspect ratio so it doesn’t look wide or tall). You will also need to know how to use the brightness/contrast tool and the blur filter. You can learn how to use these in my basic photo editing article.


Make A frame

This is probably the most obvious of your options. Whether it’s a simple black border, or a fancy engraved design, it still fills in that nasty space around your image that is otherwise unused. The important thing to remember about frames, however, is that the bottom half will usually be covered because of the task bar (assuming you’re using windows). There are some ways to compensate for this, but my favorite is to use the screen capture we had from before and look at where the task bar ends. You can then adjust the frame of the image to compensate for this.

For my example I created a frame by rendering clouds (go to filter > render > clouds and make sure you render them on a new layer with the colors you want already selected on the left). I then blurred them with motion blur (go to filter > blur > motion blur). Then I gave the image an outer bevel (right click on the layer with the picture, go to blending options, then click on Bevel and Emboss. In here you can adjust all kinds of bevels for your picture.)


A background for your picture

While a border/frame is an option, it can sometimes feel boxy and confining. The option that I find much more eye pleasing is the picture background method. Again we’re going to be using layers. First put the image you want as the wallpaper on a separate layer, this is going to be the top layer. Then duplicate the layer and adjust the layer that is underneath. What you will want to do is resize the image below. This can be done from the Edit menu under transform and scale. When you see the bounding box simply hold shift and stretch the corner of the second image until it’s the size of your desktop resolution. Now you will notice that this version of the image is all distorted and blurry. From here adjust the darkness of the image using the brightness/contrast tool under the edit menu. Then add a gaussian blur from the filter menu. If done correctly it should look like an artistic representation of a clear image on top of a blurry one. I also added a black glow from the blending options menu to separate it from the background image. This way it fits to your desktop but doesn’t sacrifice the quality of the original image.

You can also play around with adding a different background. Find a picture that fits your desktop and then use the same methods as above, minus the resizing part. Just be sure to remember that by making the image below blurry and darker, it creates the proper emphasis on the correct image. If you don’t adjust it, then the images won’t look right and they will fight for control of the eye.



Sometimes you can get away with blending the image with another image that looks vaguely similar. For example, if there are trees in your desired image, you could find an image of a forest that is the right size, then blend it with your image. The first thing to do is to erase bits of the foreground image’s border. This can be accomplished with the eraser tool and a brush that has a feathered edge (faded). Simply erase along the edges of the image until it fades out gradually. You can also adjust the color balance to make the two images look like they belong together.

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If the blending isn’t perfect you can often mask it with gradients. For example, if your desired picture successfully fills the right hand side of your desktop, but the blended picture looks bad on the left side, then you can place a black gradient over the left side to mask any mistakes. This can be done by selecting the gradient tool, under the paint bucket tool, and selecting the black and transparent gradient in the upper left corner.

For my example, I took the border from my first image and added a black gradient to the top half so it looks like the fire beneath the woman’s face. I then used the eraser tool to take out a great deal of the border that was previously around her. It may be a struggle to keep certain bits of the image, but I encourage you to play around with it to get the best results.


Recreating the image

If you’re really devoted to the image you found, you could take the hard route and re-create it. This is best accomplished if the image you have chosen is a cartoon. Using the Pen tool in photoshop you can trace each of the colors in the image. This will create a series of shapes that can be resized without losing any quality. When done properly it can look great, but it has a limited range and takes a large time commitment.

Some Additional Tips:

  • Familiarize yourself with resizing tools, as well as tools that change the color, darkness and blurriness of an image and all of this stuff will become second nature.
  • For my examples I used a 1440 x 900 screen resolution. The higher the screen resolution, the harder it will be to find wallpapers that fit. Obviously a 200 x 200 image isn’t going to look good on a 1600 x 1200 resolution. While this guide can help, it can’t work miracles.
  • If you would like more methods check out my second hub on the subject: More ways to make desktop wallpapers out of small images.


M. T. Dremer (author) from United States on October 03, 2013:

Kenzie - This particular tutorial was designed for photoshop users, but I do know that there are some robust photo editing programs floating around out there. I've frequently heard about one called GIMP, which can be found free online. I've never personally used it, but it might be worth checking out.

Kenzie on October 03, 2013:

This would be good if I wanted to pay $100+ for adobe photoshop. Which I don't...

Any free ways?

M. T. Dremer (author) from United States on August 20, 2012:

Anjo Bacarisas II - It is definitely a fun pass time to make wallpapers. I enjoy the challenge for small and awkwardly shaped images, and with a little music on it can make for a very therapeutic Photoshop session. Thanks for the comment!

Anjo Bacarisas II from Cagayan de Oro, Philippines on August 19, 2012:

thanks for this, it helps a lot! editing your images, making wallpaper and etc in photoshop is a fun way of spending leisure time.. really!

M. T. Dremer (author) from United States on February 26, 2011:

best wallpaper collection - Resizing images sometimes works, though in my experience, the more you enlarge a picture, the muddier it becomes. After a while it just becomes hideous to look at. Hopefully my above examples offer some new options. Thanks for the comment!

digital art wallpaper - It's true, I love making desktop wallpapers. It's like creating a piece of art and then getting to display it on your computer for everyone to see. Thanks for the comment!

digital art wallpaper on February 24, 2011:

Very nice advice. Creating quality images takes some time to master, but can be quite a hobby once you get into it. Thanks!

best wallpaper collection on February 22, 2010:

yes, it is used in photoshop to resize all images. it works perfect.

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