How to change the desktop wallpaper or screensaver on a Mac

Apple may make some of the best-looking devices on the planet, but most of us still seek ways to personalise them. With iPhones it’s often cases, as you can see from our Best iPhone 7 cases roundup, but with Macs the choices are a little more limited.

You can of course apply a decal to the exterior, or plaster stickers all over it if that’s your thing, but the easiest way is to simply change your desktop wallpaper or screensaver.

We show you how to make this simple adjustment, and bring a sense of individuality to your Mac. For similar advice that applies to iOS devices, see How to change the background wallpaper on iPhone & iPad.

In April 2021 Apple added a new Hello screensaver to macOS Big Sur. Read about how to install that here: How to get the Hello screensaver on your Mac.

Selecting Apple’s default wallpapers

There are actually several ways to change the wallpaper or screensaver on your Mac, but the most straightforward method is by using the System Preferences menu. To find this go up to the top left-hand corner of your screen and click on the Apple symbol.

How to change wallpaper on Mac

From the drop-down menu select System Preferences, then, in the window that appears, look on the top line for Desktop & Screen Saver.

how to set wallpaper and screensaver on mac

Click on this and you’ll be presented with a selection of different wallpapers.

In the lefthand panel there is a file tree, showing the locations of the images you can see in the main pane. Apple includes a number of artistic wallpapers in macOS, and these are the defaults that appear when you open Desktop & Screen Saver.

To select one of these, simply peruse the images until you find one you like, then click on it. The small window in the upper part of the menu will change to show your current selection.

how to set wallpaper and screensaver on mac

If you want multiple images then click the Change picture tick-box beneath the main pane, and then select the frequency from the drop-down menu to the right.

how to set wallpaper and screensaver on mac

You can also opt to have them displayed in random order by clicking the tick-box bearing that name.

If you prefer to keep things simple then there are also a number of plain wallpapers also included. Access these by clicking on the Solid Colors folder in the lefthand panel.

Using Photos as wallpapers

Under the Apple folder you’ll also notice that there is a folder named Photos. This gives you access to any images currently stored in your Apple Photo library.

Click on the folder and you’ll see the selection appear in the main pane, just as it did with the previous wallpapers.

how to set wallpaper and screensavers on mac

If you click on the arrow just to the left of the Photos folder you’ll open up the sub-menus – such as Moments, Collections, Years, Places – which will save you having to scroll through your entire library.

If you’d rather look through the photographs in full screen, that’s also an option. Launch the full Photos app, find the image you want, right- (or Ctrl-) click on it, then choose Set Desktop Picture from the drop-down menu. Now it will be your new wallpaper.

Using wallpaper downloaded from the internet

At the bottom of the list in the lefthand pane is a folder called, well, Folders. This is a good place to add any additional locations for image files.

If you want to add the Downloads folder to the list, which is a good idea if you grab wallpapers from the internet, then highlight Folders and click the + button at the button of the panel.

You’ll see the familiar Finder windows open and all you have to do is select the folder you want, then click Choose. The location will appear in the Folders section, giving you quick access to its contents.

Now you can save an image from the internet, come to the Desktop & Screen Saver section, click the folder, and be able to select it as your new desktop decoration.

how to set wallpaper and screensaver on mac

The wallpaper selection process and options are exactly the same as they were for the default offerings, so you can choose one or have a random selection appearing at set intervals.

Setting a Screensaver

Screensavers might seem a bit old-fashioned now, but they can be a great way to turn your idle Mac into a digital photo frame. To set one up, go to the top of the Desktop & Screen Saver page and click on the Screen Saver option.

Again, you’ll see a selection, similar to that of the wallpaper section. This time, though, the majority of images in the lefthand section are animated collage shapes into which photos will be placed. Select one and in the main pane you’ll see how it will look on your desktop.

how to set wallpaper and screensaver on mac

Beneath the main image there’s also a drop-down menu marked Source. Clicking on this will allow you to decide where the images are drawn from. There are several professionally taken collections – including National Geographic, Aerial, Cosmos – but you can also select the Photo Library option to use your own creations.

Just like on wallpapers you can also specify a particular folder that you want the screensaver to use. To do this click on the Choose Folder option in the Source menu.

Finally, at the bottom of the lefthand pane you’ll see another drop-down menu, this time allowing you to set how long it takes before the screensaver activates.

So, there you go. Now you can personalise your Mac to your heart’s content, and you’ll get a bit more use out of those old photographs again.