What makes a good wallpaper?
We put hours of research into answering this question, and we discovered that all good wallpapers have three things in common: 1) They’re available in multiple sizes, for the visual benefit of desktop, laptop, netbook, and even smartphone users; 2) these wallpapers also feature “dead spaces” to accommodate icon grids; and 3) good wallpapers stand out due to visuals that impress the eye more than the images produced by the abilities of an average Photoshop weekend warrior. With few exceptions, the following wallpapers meet these three criteria.
Christian San Jose has illustrated for Marc Jacobs and Adobe. His latest attempt to win a prize and score $10,000 from Design by Humans (after a successful campaign last year) has produced Siren Song, a t-shirt design collaboration that’s also available for download as a wallpaper.
Download Siren Song
Tahiry Wally’s two-tone gradient base will make your screen pop with a brilliant mix of streaks and bubbles. Sometimes simple and abstract designs make the best wallpapers.
Download Tahiry Wally
No doubt inspired by Windows 7’s character-driven default wallpaper, Good Vibrations features a good mix of colors and zany modern visuals.
Download Good Vibrations
Surface also enjoys the visual interest created by gradients, but its textured look makes it unique in a world of vectorized illustration.
Our first nature entry: Curve is a great example of how a stunning vista and color tweaks can combine into a sum truly greater than its parts.
Straight Up shows that a little literalism and attention to architectural detail makes for good desktop visuals.
Download Straight Up
The Spectrum of The Sky
A personal favorite, The Spectrum of the Sky makes a point of progressing from red to indigo, using nature snapshots to make its visual case.
Download The Spectrum of the Sky
Forget about that “for Mac” moniker: Cloud Wallpapers comes in different color schemes and sizes that will work for any personal computing environment.
Download the Blue Cloud Wallpaper
The sole undersized member of this collection, Cocktail is designed to dominate the center of a screen. The mix of studied photography and artificial flourishes makes a very clean yet brilliant impression.
Though large areas of bright green are usually painful on the eyes, Spectrum’s understated presentation gives the color its due. Loads of dead space beg to be filled with icons.
Goodnight Tale comes off as a photorealistic imaginative exercise, with its uncannily symmetrical celestial bodies framed by distinctive streaks implying a space-faring civilization.
Outcast Horizon features a barren landscape perfect for loads of icons, but with enough visual details to remain interesting. More than one observer has commented that the wallpaper makes them ponder life, in general.
Download Outcast Horizon
Skippin Skool answers the question “What do you get when you mix vector art with nature?” Why, a varied visual for your desktop of course!
Download Skippin Skool
Our ride to the rectory 2.0
Merging two visual artist staples—time-lapse photography and silhouettes—the so-called second version of Our ride to the rectory shows that sometimes old tricks still work.
Download Our ride to the rectory 2.0
The distinctive image of a girl sniping enemies while under fire makes for an interesting—if unrealistic—visual. 50.cal still leaves plenty enough space for all your icons.
Future Sight of London
We’re not sure what the British metropolis has to do with this minimalist wallpaper full of pink flourishes, but Future Sight of London keeps your desktop from becoming too plain.
Download Future Sight of London
The Ultimate Cute Wallpaper
Another gem by Christian San Jose, The Ultimate Cute Wallpaper takes an unorthodox approach. The entire image is packed with bright visual elements, so it’s clearly not designed for a desktop full of icons.
Download The Ultimate Cute Wallpaper
RoomRed makes a great case for minimalism, featuring a mostly empty wall with two shelves. It’s by far the best wallpaper in this collection for icon-filled desktops.
Feeling hot? Quiet Night’s soothing blue tones—and snow-filled vista of a deserted park bench—should cool you down.
Download Quiet Night
Super Mario HD
Super Mario HD is simply a good example of a wallpaper sub-culture that expands old-school game graphics to fill up the high-resolution displays of modern computers.
Download Super Mario HD