How to Download Wallpapers & Pictures

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How to Download Wallpapers & Pictures
Image Credit: Tom Werner/DigitalVision/GettyImages

A large, plain wall isn't appealing to look at. That's why we tend to dress them up with paint, photos, art or attractive wallpaper. The same holds true for a computer monitor, especially when you spend a lot of time in front of your screen. In the case of your computer, wallpaper is the word that's used for the desktop background image that displays on your screen. Your computer comes with several, but you can expand the available selection by downloading more.

Downloading Windows Wallpaper From Microsoft

A logical first stop on your search for Windows backgrounds is Microsoft's own website. The company keeps a curated selection of wallpapers in the Support area of the main Microsoft site, with a large number of images divided into numerous categories – animals, places and landscapes, holiday and seasonal – as well as a selection of featured wallpapers. Click through the sidebar menu to browse the categories, and when you find an image you like, click Get it now. When the full-sized image opens, right-click it and choose Set as background from the pop-up menu.

Finding Apple Desktop Backgrounds

Apple's design esthetic includes carefully selected desktop backgrounds for its operating systems, but those are installed as part of the OS and aren't available separately from Apple's official site. If you've been impressed by an image on a Mac-using colleague's computer, ask which version of OS X they're using. If you search the internet using terms like OS X Yosemite wallpapers, substituting the name of the correct OS X version, you'll find numerous sites where they've been uploaded. Again, to install the image, right-click on it and choose Set as background from the pop-up menu.

Finding Third-party Sources for Wallpapers

Follow a similar process to find any other kind of image you're looking for, from wildlife photography to fan art for your favorite online games. To locate a source of photos, try a few sets of related search terms – underwater coral, coral reef, Great Barrier Reef, reef sea life and so on – until you find sites with the kind of image you're looking for.

When you download from unknown sites, there's always a risk that the images might contain viruses or other malware, so stick to sites with a solid reputation. If you aren't sure, search the site's name online and look for complaints. You should also set your anti-virus software to scan any downloads, just to be safe.

Using Commercial Image Libraries

Commercial image libraries are another potential source of Windows backgrounds. These sites are used by web designers and graphic artists when they need photos, so their libraries are made up of high-quality professional images. Some sites offer free images for non-commercial use, although a small fee is also common. In some cases low-resolution images are free, but high-resolution versions of the same image require payment. This is how the site and the photographers earn an income.

Panoramic Images for Dual Monitors

If you have a dual-monitor setup, you can choose to have the same image repeated on each monitor or choose separate photos for each side. For amazing backgrounds, though, opt for a panoramic wallpaper image. These are extra-wide images that sprawl across both your monitors, so they make up a single desktop background interrupted only by the bezels of your monitors. You can search for these the same way you'd search for any other image, but include the word panoramic somewhere in your search terms. Microsoft's wallpapers also include a selection of panoramic images.

Choosing the Right Resolution

Before you download any image, make sure its resolution is close to what your monitor will display. Older laptops might only offer 1600 x 900 resolution, for example, while a state-of-the-art modern 5K monitor can go up to 5120 x 2160 dots per inch. When in doubt, choose a higher resolution image. A low-res photo looks blurry on a high-res monitor, but a high-res image always looks as good as your monitor can make it.

Using Windows Themes

If you're a choosy user, you might find it irritating that the rest of your Windows desktop doesn't necessarily match with the wallpaper image you've chosen. You can go in and tweak the Windows setting to fix that or download an integrated Windows theme instead. A theme does for your desktop what a designer does for your home, integrating a group of wallpaper images with matched color settings for the Windows menus and taskbars. You can download entire themes from Microsoft's own site or third-party sites, just as you can with wallpapers.