How to Customize the Desktop Background in Windows 7 & Windows 8

Some people might not yet have discovered that Microsoft supplies a selection of colorful wallpapers with its operating systems, and thus they never experiment with changing the standard background. I've always picked something other than the default background, so in this article I will talk about how that's done. In both Windows 7 and Windows 8, it's a quick and straightforward process. I'll also talk about ways to go beyond what's supplied by Windows or already on your computer.

The Basics About Themes in Windows 7 & Windows 8

Microsoft puts together collections of backgrounds, window colors, sounds and screen savers into what they've called themes. Choosing one of those is a great way to get started with customizing your Desktop. Each theme has a selection of wallpapers to choose from. You can keep just one, or let them play like a slideshow. The following illustrations are from my computers; yours will look slightly different depending on what options you've chosen, but the procedure will be the same in any case.

In both Windows 7 and Windows 8, right-click anywhere on the Desktop to begin. The right-click menu looks different in the two operating systems, and your menu will very likely look different from mine depending on what you have installed, but the Personalize choice is there on both.

Desktop Background, Change, Wallpaper, Windows 7, Windows 8

The Personalize window is slightly different in Windows 7 and Windows 8. Windows 7 has Aero themes in addition to the standard themes, and you can change your account picture from this window as well.

Desktop Background, Change, Wallpaper, Windows 7, Windows 8

Other than that, though, the two systems work exactly the same way.

Desktop Background, Change, Wallpaper, Windows 7, Windows 8

Click on a theme that appeals to you, and Windows will change your wallpapers, the screen colors, sounds and the screensaver to those included in that theme. Below, I've chosen the Characters Aero theme in Windows 7.

Desktop Background, Change, Wallpaper, Windows 7, Windows 8

And here is the Flowers theme in Windows 8. Note how the window borders have changed color to match the theme.

Desktop Background, Change, Wallpaper, Windows 7, Windows 8

Play around with the available choices as much as you like. If none of the built-in themes pleases you, Microsoft has an outstanding collection here. We also have a great series of unique themes and interviews, here. If you are looking just for good images, you can try another favorite of mine: NASA Image of the Day Gallery.

NOTE: By the way, I don't recommend using any of the high contrast themes unless you really need them, because you are having sight issues. They are eye-bogglingly ugly.

How to Use Your Own Wallpapers for the Desktop Background

But what if none of the pre-made themes appeals to you? You can easily choose an image on your hard drive as your wallpaper.

In Windows 7, use Windows Explorer to navigate to the image you'd like to use as wallpaper. (Can you find my cat Jenny Linsky in this photo?) Right-click on your image, and choose Set as desktop background and you're done.

Desktop Background, Change, Wallpaper, Windows 7, Windows 8

In Windows 8, use File Explorer to navigate to your image, and right-click. The menu looks slightly different, but Set as desktop background is the same. Click and you've got it.

Desktop Background, Change, Wallpaper, Windows 7, Windows 8

But what if you don't want just one image? What if you want to have your own slideshow with multiple images from a folder? That's just as easy to do, and it works the same way in Windows 7 and Windows 8.

In the Personalize window, click Desktop background. This will take you to the Desktop background window, showing your current background. Here is the Windows 8 version, which shows you that I'm using a high res photo of Mercury from the NASA image collection as my current background.

Desktop Background, Change, Wallpaper, Windows 7, Windows 8

There's a drop-down menu named Picture location that shows you the standard Windows locations for appropriate images.

Desktop Background, Change, Wallpaper, Windows 7, Windows 8

If none of those have what you want, click Browse and navigate to another folder of your choice (this is the Windows 7 version—I have more images to choose from there).

Desktop Background, Change, Wallpaper, Windows 7, Windows 8

NOTE: you can only use one folder. If no folder on your computer has the images you want, you'll need to create a folder with selected images just for this purpose.

Select the images you want for your slideshow by clicking in the upper left corner of each thumbnail.

Click the Save Changes button, and let your slideshow play through to check the position of your images. Chances are good that one or more of them won't look quite right on your screen.

Wallpapers - How to Customize their Position & Change Interval

Right-click and go back to Personalize, and then click Desktop Background again. Then click on the Picture Position drop-down list, which will show you your options: Fill, Fit, Stretch, Tile, and Center.

Desktop Background, Change, Wallpaper, Windows 7, Windows 8

Experimentation is the best way to decide which of those options works best. Here's what happens:

  • Fill will enlarge or reduce your images so that your Desktop space is filled. The images will be stretched or cropped to make this happen.
  • Fit will make your images as large as possible to fit in the space. They won't be distorted or cropped.
  • Stretch will stretch or squash your image to the same dimensions as your screen. If your monitor size doesn't match the size of the image well, this can look really ugly.
  • Tile will put your image on the screen multiple times, filling up the space, but it may or may not fit the images into the space.
  • Center will put your image in the center of the screen. You may have one small image in the center of a big blank space, or you may have just the center part of a big image.

If it turns out that your image doesn't fill the screen properly, you can click on Change background color, and find a color that coordinates with your image to fill up the rest of the screen. Unfortunately this feature is available only in Windows 7 and not in Windows 8.

Desktop Background, Change, Wallpaper, Windows 7, Windows 8

By default, the images you've chosen will become a slideshow that will change at whatever time interval you wish. Use the Change picture every list and choose the time span you want. If you want the images to play in random order click the box marked Shuffle.

Desktop Background, Change, Wallpaper, Windows 7, Windows 8

When done making your changes, don't forget to click Save changes.

NOTE: If you have not selected any images in the folder or you selected just one image, the time interval dropdown and the Shuffle box will be greyed out.


There's no reason to use the same old boring wallpaper that everyone else has. Changing it to suit your own preferences is quick and straightforward, and it's easy to change back to what you had if none of the new images or themes is to your liking. I recommend experimenting with this feature in either operating system. I predict you'll like what you get.

Have you found a good collection of public domain images that would make good wallpaper? Please share it in the comments.

About the Author: Marte Brengle
I began connecting online in 1983 & have been connected ever since. I've done online tech support for Toshiba & repaired computers in a big box store.I manage the WUGNET group of tech forums on CompuServe and have published two novels (so far).