Create Your Own Desktop Picture

June 1st, 2001 Australian Macworld, How - To, Tech

Customise your Mac with any image you like quickly and easily.

Giddy with pride and excitement, you unpack and set up your brand new G4 or iMac in gleeful anticipation of the hours you’ll spend surfing, gaming, keeping in touch with friends or creating your own masterpiece.

This machine will soon reflect your personality, beliefs, talents’ even your favourite colour. So if you aren’t crazy about the giant Mac smiley face or the scenes straight out of Innerspace, you’ll want a new desktop pattern or picture.

Whether it’s your favourite logo, a great image you’ve scanned, your own design or a quote by William Shakespeare in your favourite font, it’s easy to have your desktop reflect your inner Mac user.

There’s some great shareware than can do the job for you in a few easy steps. St Clair Software’s Screen Catcher can grab a screen shot in the same way the Mac OS can but with more control, and Pierce Software’s Desk Picture gives you basic image manipulation functions and places the image automatically, independently of the Mac OS’s Desktop Pictures control panel.

But if you’re a graphics professional with access to serious design software, you already have all the tools you need.

Before long you’ll be creating images for your desktop whenever the inspiration hits you and having them on-screen in no time.

Hot links:
Adobe Systems
www.adobe.com
St Clair Software
www.stclairsoft.com
Pierce Software
www.piercesw.com

1. Realise your inspiration

Create or prepare the picture or image you want to appear on the desktop. Almost any software is capable of generating a workable basis for your desktop image file.

‘ Desktop picture or pattern images can come from anywhere. You might have created a brilliant piece of artwork, logo or drawing, even a line of text.

You might have a great image off the web, but remember that generally, images from websites will be too small to apply as a single picture to fill your whole screen. Download and try a larger one — if you open it in Photoshop and convert it to a JPG, the file size should be at least 300k or so under the ‘Get Info’ window. Most web images — at 97k in ‘Get Info’ (300-400k in Photoshop) — are too small and will be badly pixelated.

‘ Even a line of text from Word, InDesign or Quark Xpress in any font can be recreated in Photoshop. Some font management software doesn’t cover Photoshop, so if you can’t apply the font you want directly in your Photoshop file, create an EPS from your layout software (usually ‘Save as EPS’ in the ‘File’ menu, open it in Illustrator and convert the text to an image. You do this by selecting your text, then choosing ‘Create Outlines’ in the ‘Type’ menu. Save the file as a native Illustrator document, which you’ll next open using Photoshop.

‘ The general rule is that whatever you can open in Photoshop, you can apply to your desktop. And if you know how file formats work, you can open anything in Photoshop, which supports GIF, JPG, TIF and EPS to name but a few.

2. Whip it into shape

Create the Photoshop document that will build your desktop picture file.

‘ Photoshop will either open your image file or, depending on the software that created it, ask you to rasterise it. Dimensions must be fairly exact depending on your monitor settings (see specifications below).

‘ The dimensions of your final image should roughly match those of your monitor. If it’s a tall, slender image you’ll have to crop it (if retaining the dimensions isn’t crucial, make an estimation with your cropping tool. Click and hold down on the rectangular marquee tool and the cropping tool with appear in the collapsible menu. If your dimensions are crucial, constrain-crop by double clicking on the crop tool, checking ‘fixed target size’ and entering the exact dimensions, which will constrain your cropping tool proportionately). Crop the picture by clicking and holding the mouse and dragging the marquee across the image.

‘ If you’re creating a Photoshop file for your desktop picture image from scratch, just copy one of the existing desktop picture files that come with the Mac OS (they’re usually stored in ‘Appearance’ in the system folder). That way, the file will already be the correct resolution and dimensions.

‘ When your image is cropped and you’re happy with the shape and dimensions, you need to resize it exactly to appear on your desktop picture, otherwise you’ll have blank ‘gutters’ down the sides or across the top and bottom. Open your Monitors Control Panel, where the screen resolution is displayed. Go back to Photoshop and go to ‘Image Size’ under the ‘Image’ menu. Type the exact dimensions of your screen resolution into the pixel dimensions and make sure the resolution is set to 72dpi.

‘ You’re ready to save your file. Before you do, make sure it’s set to the correct colour mode. Go to the ‘Image’ menu and if it isn’t already, set the mode to RGB (if your file is any other colour mode, the Appearance (System 9) or Desktop Pictures (System 8) control panels won’t recognise it.

3. Make Cupertino green with envy

Save and apply your new image to your desktop as a picture or a pattern.

‘ Save your cropped (if necessary) and resized picture as a JPG or PICT under ‘Save As’ under the ‘File’ menu. Use the PICT format for graphical objects such as type, gradients or sharp edges with contrasting colours (in a logo, for example), but make sure you select ’32 bit’, as 16 bit images start to lose definition. If your image is a photo, save it as a JPG. Even though the existing desktop pictures that come with the Mac OS are saved in PICT format, saving your image as a JPG won’t affect the definition and might save you a little disk space if you end up creating hundreds of new images.

‘ Put your image file in the same place your other desktop pictures are stored and open your desktop pictures control panel (‘Appearance’ control panel in System 9 or ‘Desktop Pictures’ control panel in System 8). If ‘Pattern’ is selected click on ‘Picture’. Click the ‘Remove Picture’ button. The control panel window will show the default pattern and the button will have changed to ‘Select Picture’. Press it once more and then navigate your way through to your new picture and press OK. If the picture shows in the control panel window and looks okay click on ‘Set Desktop’. Your new picture should appear on the desktop. If it doesn’t, the problem will usually be an incorrect colour mode in your file.

‘ Desktop patterns are the staple System 7 desktops we used to think were so cool (go on, admit it — who else thought the teddy bears and brick wall were years ahead of their time?) They work by repeating the same image over the whole screen. To create a desktop pattern (better suited to small, single-element images), open your Desktop Picture control panel and select ‘Pattern’. The window will display the in-built scrapbook of all the desktop patterns. Simply drag and drop your image file into the window and it will apply the image to a new repeated pattern. If the dimensions aren’t right, you’ll have to experiment by cropping the image a few times and dragging it into the control panel window again until it looks better. Click on ‘Set Desktop’ to apply.

Drew Turney is a graphic designer and writer who spends too much time making his Mac cool and not enough time designing or writing.


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