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Change Desktop background in Windows

How to select desktop background pictures or use a solid background color in Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8 and 8.1

By . Last modified: 2013-08-12.

We all like beautiful pictures, don't we? Smile Windows has several good-looking photos for background (wallpaper) and background slide shows (in Windows Vista, 7, 8 and 8.1) and you can certainly choose your own photos for your Desktop slide show or fixed wallpaper.

Using a photo for Desktop background

In case you want just one photo for Desktop background in Windows Vista, 7, 8 or 8.1, and you know exactly where the photo is, right-click it in Windows/File Explorer and select Set as desktop background
In Windows XP, the command is in Common Tasks pane, so you must click (not right-click) the picture instead.
Windows XP, Windows Explorer. To set a picture as Desktop background, click it. Then click "Set as desktop background" in Common Tasks pane. Windows 8, Windows Explorer. To set a picture as Desktop background, right-click it. Then click "Set as desktop background".

In Windows 8 and 8.1, colors of window borders and Taskbar change according to the displayed photo.

To use advanced options, right-click on an empty Desktop area.
In Windows XP, click Properties.
In Windows Vista, 7, 8 and 8.1, click Personalize.
In Windows 8 and 8.1, you can also use keyboard shortcut Windows Key+I to open Settings Charm and click or tap Personalize.
Windows XP Desktop. To change Desktop background picture, right-click on Desktop area and click Properties. Windows 7 Desktop right-click menu. To change Desktop background, right-click on Desktop area and click Personalize.

In Windows XP, open Desktop tab.
In Windows Vista and later, click Desktop Background:
Windows XP, Display Properties. Click Desktop tab and select a picture from Background list. Windows Vista Personalization. To change Desktop Background picture or color, click Desktop Background. Windows 7 Personalization. To change Desktop Background picture or slide show, click Desktop Background.

In Windows XP and Vista, click a picture in the list and click OK.
By default, there is only one picture selected in Windows 7, 8 and 8.1, and that is why slide show options are disabled. If you want only one picture for your Desktop background, just click on the photo and click Save changes button.
Windows XP Display Properties, Desktop tab. When you click on a picture in Background list, the monitor frame above displays how your Desktop would look like (without Desktop icons). If you like the looks, click OK to change Desktop background. Windows Vista, Choose a desktop background. Click to select a background image. Windows 7 Choose your desktop background. Hover your mouse pointer over images and use check box to select and deselect images for Desktop Slide Show. You need to select at least two images for Slide Show to work, but you can also use only one photo for Desktop background.

Selecting a folder or library from which pictures are shown

If you are not satisfied with the default photos, you can choose your own.

In Windows Vista and newer, you can select a folder or library from where available photos are displayed using the Location or Picture location combo box.

  • "Windows Wallpapers" (Vista) or "Windows Desktop Backgrounds" is the default selection and includes all photos from built-in themes.
  • "Pictures" means all photos in the My Pictures folder in Windows Vista; "Pictures Library" means all your photos and all public photos in Windows 7, 8 and 8.1.
  • "Sample Pictures" includes all photo samples that came with Windows Vista; "Top Rated Photos" means all your photos and all public photos that have a high rating in Windows 7 and later. You can change rating of your photos in Windows/File Explorer of Windows 7 and newer by clicking on a photo, adjusting its rating in Details pane and clicking Save button.
  • "Public Pictures" includes all public photos in Windows Vista.
  • "Solid Colors" means that no photo will be displayed and Desktop background will consist of one color only. This one will be covered later in the article.

Windows Vista, Choose a desktop background. To select a different folder to display pictures from, use Location box. Windows 7 Choose your desktop background. To select a different folder or library, use Picture location box.

If the photo or folder you need is not on the list, click the Browse... button.
Windows XP, Display Properties, Desktop tab. To use a picture not listed as Desktop background, click Browse. Windows Vista, Choose a desktop background. To select a folder that is not on the Location list, click Browse button. Windows 7 Choose your desktop background. To select a folder that is not on the Picture location list, click Browse button.

Browse (in Windows XP and Vista) or Browse For Folder (in Windows 7, 8 and 8.1) dialog opens.
In Windows XP and Vista, find and click the photo you want for background. Confirm the selection by clicking Open.
In Windows 7, 8 and 8.1, find the folder where the required photo is, click on its name once and then click OK button. This displays all available pictures in the selected folder.
Windows XP, Browse dialog. Use shortcuts to Desktop, My Documents and My Computer on the left to find the picture you want for Desktop background. Click on the photo once and then click Open button.  Windows Vista, Choose a desktop background. After clicking Browse button, find the folder you want to choose a picture from. Click on an image and then click Open. Windows 7, Choose your desktop background. After clicking Browse button, find the folder you want to display pictures from. Click on the folder name once and then click OK button.

Picture position options - fill, fit, stretch, tile and center

By default, Windows XP and Windows Vista use the Stretch and Fit to Screen options to fit a photo to screen regardless of its aspect ratio. Windows 7 and later use the Fill option by default, resizing a picture according to screen resolution, but retaining its aspect ratio.

Picture position options in Windows are:

  • Fill - only in Windows 7 and newer, picture is resized to screen resolution while retaining aspect ratio
  • Fit or Fit to Screen - in Windows Vista, picture is resized to screen resolution ignoring aspect ratio. In Windows 7, 8 and 8.1, the aspect ratio is retained, possibly leaving blank edges on the screen.
  • Stretch - in Windows XP, 7, 8 and 8.1, picture is resized to screen resolution without retaining aspect ratio.
  • Tile - if a picture is smaller than screen resolution, it is repeated across the screen vertically and horizontally.
  • Center - if a picture is smaller than screen resolution, it is centered on the screen, leaving blank areas around it. If a photo is larger than screen resolution, only center part of it is visible.

To change photo position, select a value from Position (Windows XP), How should the picture be positioned (Windows Vista) or Picture position (Windows 7 and newer) box.
Windows XP Display Properties, Desktop tab. To center a small picture, select Center from Position box. Click OK. Windows Vista, Choose a desktop background. To change picture position options, select a value from How should the picture be positioned. Windows 7, Choose your desktop background. To change picture position options, select a value from Picture position box.

Click OK or Save changes button after you're done.

Enabling and configuring Desktop Slide Show  in Windows 7, 8 and 8.1

Windows 7 and later allow using slide shows for background - the photos are switched at intervals you specify.

First, select a folder or library from the Picture location combo box or use the Browse... button to specify your own folder.

To select or deselect a photo, hover your mouse pointer over a picture and fill or clear its check box.
To quickly select all pictures available, use the Select all button. To clear the whole current selection, click Clear all.
Windows 7, Choose your desktop background. To quickly select all available pictures for Desktop slide show, click Select all button. To clear any selections, click Clear all button.

To change the picture switching interval of Desktop Slide Show, select a value from Change picture every combo box. Laptop users should certainly leave the When using battery power, pause the slide show to save power box checked to get the most out of battery.
Windows 7, Choose your desktop background. To change Desktop Slide Show picture switching interval, select a value from Change picture every box.

To display selected pictures in random order, check the Shuffle box.
Windows 7, Choose your desktop background. To display Desktop Slide Show pictures in random order, select the Shuffle check box.

When you're done, click Save changes button.

Selecting a background color for Desktop

As background photos might use a quite large chunk of memory, it is sometimes better to disable photos and use a solid color instead. This could enhance your (already slow) computer's performance a bit.

In Windows XP, click a color in the Color combo box. To disable background photo, click (None) in the Background list.
In Windows Vista, 7, 8 and 8.1, choose Solid Colors from Location or Picture location combo box and click the color you prefer. Please note that this will disable background picture or slide show! Read on to find out how to keep pictures and still change the Desktop color.
Windows XP Display Properties, Desktop tab. To disable background picture, select (None) from Background list. To change Desktop color, select a color from Color list. Click OK.  Windows 7 Choose your desktop background. To disable background picture and use one solid color instead, select Solid Colors from Picture location list.

Now click on a color you like. If you are not satisfied with the default colors on the list, click Other... (in Windows XP) or  More... (in Windows Vista and newer).
Windows XP, Display Properties, Desktop tab. To define a custom color for solid color background, click Other. Windows 7, Choose your desktop background. To define a custom color for solid color background, click More.

In Color dialog, use the slider and target mark on the right side to select a color. Alternatively, you can type Red, Green and Blue (RGB), or Hue, Saturation and Luminance values in their respective boxes, or select something from Basic colors list on the left.
Click OK to activate the custom color.
Windows 7, Color selection box. Use slider and target mark to define a custom color. You can also type in RGB values instead. Click OK to set the selected color as your Desktop background color.

To accept the modifications, click OK or Save changes.

Changing background color without disabling background photos in Windows Vista and 7

If a photo does not fill the whole screen and you need to change Desktop background color for a better match  in Windows Vista or 7, you need to go back a step. In Windows 8 and 8.1, the option is not available anymore.
Click on an empty area of the Control Panel window and then press the Backspace key once.

In Windows Vista, click Window Color and Appearance. In Windows 7, click Window Color.
Windows Vista, Personalize appearance and sounds. To change Desktop background color, click Window Color and Appearance. Windows 7, Change the visuals and sounds on your computer. To change Desktop background color, click Window Color.

In Windows Vista, Appearance Settings window opens. Click the Advanced... button.
In Windows 7, click the Advanced appearance settings... link in the bottom of Change the color of your window borders, Start menu, and taskbar window.
Windows Vista, Appearance Settings. To change Desktop background color, click Advanced. Windows 7, Change the color of your window borders, Start menu, and taskbar. To change Desktop background color, click Advanced appearance settings.

In Windows Vista, Advanced Appearance window opens. Make sure that Desktop is selected in the Item combo box. Then select an appropriate color from the Color 1 combo box or specify a custom color clicking the Other... button.
In Windows 7, Windows Color and Appearance window opens. Make sure that Desktop is active in the Item combo box. Next, choose the preferred color from the Color 1 combo box or create a custom color clicking the Other... button.
Windows Vista, Advanced Appearance. Select Desktop background color from the Color 1 combo box. Then click OK. Windows 7, Window Color and Appearance. Select Desktop background color from the Color 1 combo box. Then click OK.

Click OK to accept the changes.

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