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Making Desktop Wallpapers in Photoshop

Updated on August 26, 2011

There are easier ways to get a desktop wallpaper for your computer than to make your own, but making your own is, in my opinion, the most fun. If you know the basics of Photoshop, it's really easy, too.

This tutorial will take you step-by-step through a sample process for making your own desktop wallpaper in Photoshop. It is written for Photoshop 7.0 because that's what I have and what I'm familiar with. One of these days I really need to see about getting an upgrade. This tutorial is NOT intended for Photoshop Elements.

This tutorial is intended mainly for beginners, but I am assuming you have at least a basic knowledge of some of Photoshop's tools, in particular of Layers. If you don't, you'll probably find this confusing.

First, Think About What You Want

Everybody is inspired by different things. Sometimes it's an image, sometimes it's a snatch of lyrics or dialogue or prose, sometimes it's a concept.

Currently I am feeling inspired by the fact that I've never made a Battlestar Galactica wallpaper and I just rewatched Razor and am feeling the Cain/Shaw. (If you don't know what that means, you'll have figured it out by the time I finish here, don't worry.)

Additionally, I'm aware that I am generally most comfortable working with a relatively dark palate, and BSG lends itself to that sort of coloring.

Find the Highest Quality Images You Can, Then Improve Them

The better your images look to start with, the better the finished wallpaper will look. Look for high resolution images (there are many sites that provide these) or DVD-quality screencaps.

Usually you'll want 1-3 main images and a few stock images, though you may not need to choose the latter until you're well into the composition of your wallpaper.

When you've found some images you'd like to work with, open them in Photoshop.

If the quality is mediocre, immediately duplicate the layer and go to Filter->Noise->Median. Depending on how large the image and how poor the quality, set the Radius at 1 or 2. If you need to set it at 3 or above to make the picture look smooth, the image is probably too poor to bother working with.

Set the opacity of the Median layer (should be the second layer) at something between 50-90%, then add a layer mask and go through with a small black brush and add detail back in. This is especially important around the mouth, eyes, nose, hair, and similar facial features. When you've attained a reasonable mix of smoothness and detail, copy merge and paste. Then sharpen the new layer (Filter->Sharpen->Sharpen) and reduce the opacity of the sharpened layer to something between 50-85%. Copy merge and paste again, and you've got an image that's had a fast and dirty makeover.

Because the caps I've chosen for my BSG wallpaper are already good quality, I'm going to demonstrate this technique on the pretty face of Supernatural's Jensen Ackles, with a somewhat poorer quality image than you would ideally want to use.

Improving a Screencap

Original image
Original image
Median: Radius=2, Opacity=100%
Median: Radius=2, Opacity=100%
Median: Radius=2, Opacity=75%, Layer Mask applied
Median: Radius=2, Opacity=75%, Layer Mask applied

If the picture is already good quality, you may not need to do anything to it yet. However, I often duplicate a good quality picture twice and set the second layer to Screen and the Third layer to Soft Light, then play with the opacity of both. (Usually between 35-65% is good.) Unless the lighting is already perfect, there are very few pictures that can not be improved by this simple trick.

To borrow Dean for the demonstration again.... here is a higher quality version of the same cap, before and after .

Original image
Original image
Opacity: 65% (Screen layer), 65% (Soft Light layer)
Opacity: 65% (Screen layer), 65% (Soft Light layer)

Starting the Wallpaper

Now that your images are ready, it's time to start your wallpaper.

Go to File->New and when the window pops up, select the standard desk resolution size (800x600, 1024x768, etc.) that fits your screen, or create a custom one. My screen is 1280x800, so I'll do the latter. Leave the other fields default for now. (RGB Color, 72 pixels/inch,etc.)

Use the Color Picker and the Paint Bucket Tool to choose a background color and fill the new layer. I prefer black (000000) or a dark blue such as #000033. Another good way to choose a background color is to pick a color from the background of one of your images using the Eyedropper tool.

Copy merge each of the images you wish you use and paste them as separate layers onto the background. Fiddle with them awhile to get the placement exactly right.

When you've figured out about where you want to put them, add layer masks to each image and start masking out the square edges and anything else you don't want in the wallpaper.

Masking

Making It Pretty

Now that you've got the basic structure of the wallpaper set up, the options are basically endless. I'm going to continue walking you through a pretty typical wallpaper for me, but remember - you can skip steps, add steps, ignore these suggestions entirely.... Being creative and having fun is the most important thing!

My next step is often to go looking for stock pictures. The can be completely random - I have a collection of photos of architectural details, train tracks, grungy concrete walls, weird lighting and other pictures with interesting textures and looks. Or you can choose stock photos that have some meaning for the wallpaper you're creating. In this case, I've picked some caps with interesting lighting and architectural details from Cain and Shaw's ship, the Battlestar Pegasus, reduced their opacity to about 35% and masked the edges and any people or objects I didn't want in the wallpaper.

Without stock
Without stock
With stock
With stock

Next step for this particular wallpaper? Color correction. I don't have anything interesting to say about Cain being red and Shaw being blue, so I'm going to make them both blue. Because I like blue.

Create a new adjustment layer, choose Color Balance, and fiddle with the dials until you like what you see. Adjustment Layers automatically have layer masks, so use it to mask out any areas that don't need the adjustment. (Shaw is not, in fact, a blueberry, nor has she been bathing in vats of them. One hopes.)

Then, because I like good contrast and desaturation, I'm going to create another adjustment layer, this time Hue/Saturation, and click the little ticky box that says Colorize. Give the Hue a value of 35, Saturation 20, and leave Lightness at its default value. When the new Adjustment layer is created, make it Soft Light and adjust the opacity to about 50%.

Color Adjusting

This wallpaper could be done right now. Simply Merge Visible, Save for Web (preferably optimized at 100% quality), and set as your desktop wallpaper.

Or you could decide to work on it a bit more. On wallpapers where I have a strong concept of what I want to achieve, I routinely spend 4-6 hours creating them, and I know some better artists than I who spend even more.

Because it's a demo, I didn't start this wall with a particularly strong concept of what I wanted, so I'll use it to show you a few more things to play with.

Custom Brushes

Photshop's default brushes are more than adequate for most projects, but it's really fun to play with custom brushes as well.

When I was new to Photoshop, I tended to overuse custom brushes rather badly, like this:

Nowadays, I use them more for masking than anything else. Custom brushes are a great way to give an interesting texture and a more blended edge than the default brushes.

It's easy to make your own brushes, or you can download them from others.

About ten of my favorite custom brushes for masking, all from Hybrid-Genesis.net
About ten of my favorite custom brushes for masking, all from Hybrid-Genesis.net

Custom Textures

Custom textures are one of the tools I use most frequently. They are a fantastic way to add some depth and interest to your wallpapers. I've been known to use two or three per wallpaper, though often heavily masked.

To use textures, create a new layer and paste the texture in, then change it to Soft Light (you can experiment, but Soft Light almost always works best), and reduce the opacity until you like the look of it. Add a layer mask, and mask out any areas that interfere too much with faces.

For these examples, I'm using a texture by Zugma.

No texture
No texture
Texture: Soft Light, 100% opacity
Texture: Soft Light, 100% opacity
Texture: Soft Light, 100% opacity, layer mask applied
Texture: Soft Light, 100% opacity, layer mask applied

Add a couple more textures from Kat, and now we're starting to get something a little more interesting.

Gradients

Gradients are another way to add some interesting depth and coloring to your walls. Again, you can use Photoshop's default gradients, create your own, or download them from other artists and Photoshop resource sites.

Again, I usually use gradients on Soft Light at reduced opacity, but experiment to see what you like best. Gradients can be used singly or in combination.

Different Gradients

Text

Text is one giant pain in my you-know-what, so I increasingly choose to leave it off entirely. I'm rarely happy with the text I choose, I'm rarely happy with how it looks, and I'm rarely happy with the amount of time it takes to get it looking even halfway decent.

So, I'm going to give you a few quick pointers and toss you in the direction of some tutorials by people more talented than I.

First, always use a color chosen from within the wallpaper itself with the Eyedropper tool.

Second, text, like everything else, almost always looks best on Soft Light at reduced opacity. Depending on where you put it, this can make it disappear entirely, however, and one way to get around that is to duplicate the layer of text and set the bottom layer to screen. Reduce the opacity of the Screened as much as you can to make the text readable, and use a Layer Mask to dim down any areas that are still too bright.

Thirdly, always (always ALWAYS) use anti-alias on your text. (Smooth generally looks best, but experiment.) If you don't use anti-alias, your text will look like crap, it's just a fact of life. There are very few exceptions to this rule, most of them from tiny fonts like 04b03 that you wouldn't use on a wallpaper anyway.

Finally, simple is usually best. There are so many gorgeous (free!) fonts at sites like dafont.com (my favorite) that you could just roll around in them, but frankly, the cases where you're going to need a really fancy or unique font are fairly few and far between. Get a few good workhorses like Georgia and Trajax, a few pretty scripts like Scriptina and Lainie Day, and a few interesting fancy scripts like Base 02 or Parchment and you're probably good to go.

An Example of Some Possible Text I Could Use

Crosshatch

A final trick I like to use on a lot of my wallpapers is the Crosshatch filter. I like the interesting sort of painted effect it can give to some wallpapers; however, it should be used with caution because it will ruin others.

When the wall is finished to my satisfaction, I copy merge and paste into a new layer. Then go Filter->Brush Strokes->Crosshatch and accept the default settings.

Immediately reduce the opacity of the layer to about 50%, then add a layer mask and do some masking to add detail back in, particularly on faces and text (crosshatching is rarely kind to text.) Decide whether you like the effect, and keep it if you do, delete the Crosshatch layer if you don't.

No crosshatching
No crosshatching
Crosshatch: 100% opacity
Crosshatch: 100% opacity
Crosshatch: 50% opacity, layer mask applied
Crosshatch: 50% opacity, layer mask applied

Well, there you go. Some of my favorite tips and tricks from five years (egad) of making wallpapers. I hope you enjoyed the tutorial, and I hope you have fun with what you've learned!

The Finished Demo (minus text)

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    • nicolas-ray profile image

      Nicolas Ray 2 years ago from Stamford, CT

      Thank You, being a seasoned Photoshop user, I find that learning something new and implementing the technique is what its all about. Great article...

    • thranax profile image

      Andrew 3 years ago from Rep Boston MA

      Very good tips and tricks on making screensavers out of images of shows!

      ~thranax~

    • Anjo Bacarisas II profile image

      Anjo Bacarisas II 5 years ago from Cagayan de Oro, Philippines

      I really like this hub, i should try this. So nifty job, I will rate this 5 out of 5. :)

    • profile image

      yutray 5 years ago

      nice post...thanks

    • Astra Nomik profile image

      Cathy Nerujen 5 years ago from Edge of Reality and Known Space

      What an amazing Hub about Photoshop. I just recently did a course on this and it was so wonderful. I'm glad I read this. Thank you. :)

    • Jade Coleman profile image

      Jade Coleman 5 years ago from Birmingham, UK

      A really well detailed hub! A great read! I may have a go at something like this!

    • rednickle profile image

      rednickle 5 years ago from New Brunswick Canada

      wow you really learn something new every day and i learnt quite lot from this piece.

      Cheers

    • maxravi profile image

      Ravi Singh 5 years ago from India

      I just love this hub..started working on a wallpaper.thnks for inspiring me..voted up..

    • shiningeyes profile image

      shiningeyes 6 years ago from Pakistan

      Photoshop indeed is a very valuable software and is un doubtably the best software for grafix... Thank you for you nice tutorial. I would like to share a resource from where new bies can learn Photoshop.

      How to Photoshop

    • htodd profile image

      htodd 6 years ago from United States

      Thanks for the great post..Nice

    • selfdefenselesson profile image

      selfdefenselesson 6 years ago

      Not bad. I'll be geeking it with my photoshop then..

    • profile image

      Jeff_McRitchie 6 years ago

      Great Hub for both beginners and more advanced artists. Thanks for positing it.

    • allofall profile image

      allofall 6 years ago

      Wow, thanks for the tips

    • thedutchman profile image

      thedutchman 6 years ago

      Thanks for sharing your ideas. I learned a lot from your hub. Keep it up.

    • dsmythe profile image

      dsmythe 6 years ago

      Awesome tutorial! Thanks for posting this.

    • alertswiftreview profile image

      alertswiftreview 6 years ago from USA

      Wow!!! Its a really creative hub. Thanks for the information

    • profile image

      Sabah 6 years ago

      Awesome! Thanks:)

    • dosburros profile image

      dosburros 6 years ago

      Excellent tips here; I have struggled with photoshop for a while, but I may be able to attack it with new vigour now. Time to get creative!

    • profile image

      dno 6 years ago

      cool!

    • profile image

      bolt1951 6 years ago

      That was very interesting and well presented, I will definitely try it, however I'm fairly new to Photoshop I have played with it and many times can fiqure it out. I either get so excited that I remember or if not I write it down. I have CS4 and have a question in which you might have an answer or perhaps not if not maybe you can guide me to a website which will be able to help me. My first problem is that I'm not sure if i'm using the right ink...that has been an issue because I makee mouse pads, t-shirts you know the whole shmill...sorry about that world you might not understand it, I was raised in NYC and it's just a jewish world meaning the whole stuff...even though I'm not jewish but Puerto Rican. any way I have been having problems making customized metal license tags. I have the right paper for sublimation, I use an Epson Photostylus 1400 and i'm using a ciss ...when ever I make a project it looks great on the screen but that's expected, it looks right on paper...however when I try transfering at 375 degrees for one minute which is what I have read the most the image is blotchy. not clear and very dissapointing for many reasons one is that I work very hard to get what I'm making look great and one of a kind and two the cost of each plate is almost a dollar. now my suspicion is the pixels..and for some reason I haven't been able to find a websight with enough info to help me with this, according to some suppliers I've spoken with I have all the right equiptment and ink and paper. however when talking to a suppliers all they're interested in is making a sell and I can understabd that. Thanks in advance if you read this and even better thanks if you have a solution. and by the way I totally dissagree with the guy with the corel system...I got the impression, that he is just lazy and doesn't like challenges.

    • starcraft2guides1 profile image

      starcraft2guides1 7 years ago

      Great stuff, really helped me out:) Cheers!

    • kingkhan78 profile image

      kingkhan78 7 years ago

      Great picture editing article thanks for sharing

    • Princess Weddings profile image

      Princess Weddings 7 years ago

      Thanks, Great Info.

    • lender3212000 profile image

      lender3212000 7 years ago from Beverly Hills, CA

      Thanks! Those are some excellent tips. I can't wait to give it a try with some of my favorite pictures!

    • profile image

      dgraphicrookie 7 years ago

      Great Hub on Creating Wallpapers on Photoshop... very useful!

    • bannerdesigner99 profile image

      bannerdesigner99 7 years ago

      I would like to see how do you make web 2.0 styled wallpapers in Adobe Photoshop

    • profile image

      SallyDavid 7 years ago

      Amazing information! I was always jealous how some people were able to create stunning wallpapers. Never new where to begin myself. Now I'm itching to get started on my first diy wallpaper.

      Thanks for this wonderful tutorial.

    • profile image

      jojobasun 7 years ago

      great article!!!lots of useful skills !

    • profile image

      NatureScienceGuy 7 years ago

      Very nicely done. Thanks for the pointers.

    • adorababy profile image

      adorababy 7 years ago from Syracuse, NY

      I personally believe that you can do so many things with photoshop. I just started working my way around the software and I am really amazed with what it can do.

    • profile image

      Marv 7 years ago

      where you get all the cool lighting and stuff?

    • profile image

      Flinn 7 years ago

      thnx a lot for such nice tips on photoshop,m making some for my lil bro's deviant page.

    • FashionFame profile image

      FashionFame 7 years ago from California

      I enjoyed your great tips.Surely try it. I am more of fashion freak but your idea seem appealing to me. Joining your fan club and would like to invite you too.

    • catherine74 profile image

      catherine74 7 years ago from London

      Great tips, but I'm such novice need more details to really create half decent wallpapers in Photohop

    • rafi hunzai profile image

      rafi hunzai 7 years ago

      nice tips thnkx alottttttttt....

    • Azhar Kamar profile image

      Azhar Kamar 7 years ago from Singapore

      Cool tips. Love it! Photoshop is tha thang! ;-)

    • profile image

      saira malik 7 years ago

      its very interesting and amazing hub.i really love it.i want to try this

    • prichici profile image

      prichici 7 years ago from Romania

      Very useful hub and detailed hub!i want to try now!!

    • mynameisnotpaul profile image

      mynameisnotpaul 7 years ago from Kentuckeh'

      Awesome hub! Your wallpapers look great. Thumbs up.

    • krista.zamora1980 profile image

      krista.zamora1980 7 years ago from New York, New York

      thanks! nice hub!

    • PureRomance profile image

      PureRomance 7 years ago from Vietnam

      useful hub :)

    • M. T. Dremer profile image

      M. T. Dremer 7 years ago from United States

      That just goes to show you how complex photoshop is. I've created similar wallpapers before, but I've used entirely different tools. Great tutorial. Making wallpapers is one of my favorite hobbies with photoshop. I especially liked your suggestions for fixing up poor quality photos. Those things can be a real pain.

    • kerryg profile image
      Author

      kerryg 7 years ago from USA

      Cool backgrounds, I make wallpapers such as the Battlestar Galactica one shown here only for my own personal use. As far as I know, selling them would be a violation of copyright. However, you can use the techniques shown here to make a wallpaper with images in the public domain or with an appropriate creative commons license that would be free of all copyright issues.

    • profile image

      cool backgrounds 7 years ago

      really great stuff. my only concern is are there any copyright issues?

    • profile image

      airam5anewor 7 years ago

      great!learning photoshop is really very enjoyable!!

    • magdielqr profile image

      magdielqr 7 years ago

      Wow! I really love this hub. This is a great collection of links.

    • techguy profile image

      techguy 8 years ago

      Very Nice Work!

    • acrylicphotoframe profile image

      acrylicphotoframe 8 years ago

      This is great stuff! I know a little about photoshop, but I am going to try some of these techniques!

    • profile image

      Rahul 8 years ago

      This article will help me .

      i have celebrity blog and i need to learn photo shop. to improve maaa blog/

      thanks.

    • chillingbreeze profile image

      chillingbreeze 8 years ago from India

      When I see this topic, I don't think that it will be good instructive article, it is because Photoshop is very familiar to every body. Contrary to my view it is really informative. Thanx for sharing. Great Hubs!

    • britneydavidson profile image

      britneydavidson 8 years ago from united kingdom

      wow great hub and excellent information about the photoshop.the explanation with images are amazing.....enjoyed reading it....learnt something new...thanx for sharing such awonderful infoamation....well have a look for this one.i am sure you will love it...

      https://hubpages.com/technology/Conduit-Concept-ph...

      thanx

    • profile image

      FuuCK You 8 years ago

      THIS IS GREAT... I HAVE NO IDEA what i am doing.. il= love google

    • highway star profile image

      highway star 8 years ago from Mostly Seattle, Amsterdam and Milan

      Very useful hub!

    • Debby Bruck profile image

      Debby Bruck 8 years ago

      Totally amazing. wonderful hub and thanks for sharing all your techniques with the community. Definitely highly rate this article. All the best, Debby

    • Wallpaper Queen profile image

      Wallpaper Queen 8 years ago from Malaysia

      Very detailed information, thanks! Photoshop is the best tools to edit image

    • profile image

      Photoshop User 8 years ago

      Hi, great photoshop tutorials - really enjoyed them! I've just started a new Photoshop blog called <a href="http://www.photoshoptransparency.com/"&gt... Transparency<a> - please check it out if you get a chance - would love to hear your comments. Thanks again!

    • profile image

      ColdWarBaby 8 years ago

      accidental double-click. sorry!

    • profile image

      ColdWarBaby 8 years ago

      While it's true that this is an excellent tutorial I can't help responding with complete honesty. Adobe Photoshop is garbage IMHO. I've used versions as recent as 10 and have found them all next to worthless. I use an ancient version of Corel PhotoPaint and, as antiquated as it is, it's far superior to even the most recent versions of Adobe.

      Maybe it's because I prefer creating images from scratch but I just find Photoshop to be incredibly user UN-friendly and totally counter-intuitive.

      http://hubpages.com/hub/SURPRISE-NO-VITRIOL

    • profile image

      Patricia Ann Domingo 9 years ago

      Wow.. thanks! I'm watching photoshop tutorials but I've never come across like this before.. Thanks a lot! Will apply them immediately!

    • snarlmkiv profile image

      snarlmkiv 9 years ago

      great photoshop tutorials.

    • terenceyap07 profile image

      terenceyap07 9 years ago from Singapore

      In my opinion, this article should be rated in the upper 90's. Incredible job, kerryg! This hub is really detailed and very informative. Well, done!

    • kerryg profile image
      Author

      kerryg 9 years ago from USA

      Thanks, Gregory!

    • Gregorythompson profile image

      Gregorythompson 9 years ago from Illinois

      Nicely detailed article with great pictures! A little inspiring if I do say so!

    • kerryg profile image
      Author

      kerryg 9 years ago from USA

      Glad you're having fun, SweetiePie!

      I've updated the hub with a few more of my favorite techniques, as well as links to some useful tutorials and other resources, now that I have a little more time to get everything saved and uploaded and sort through my bookmarks.

    • SweetiePie profile image

      SweetiePie 9 years ago from Southern California, USA

      Thanks for the tips for making fun and colorful wallpapers. I am enjoying them!