Set a Screensaver as Desktop Wallpaper in Mac OS X

Jan 22, 2011 - 19 Comments

screensaver as wallpaper

Using a Terminal command, you can turn any screensaver into your background wallpaper on the Mac. In the screenshot above I have the iTunes Album Art screensaver running as the Mac OS X desktop, but you can choose any screensaver you want. Here’s how to do this:

  • Launch System Preferences
  • Click on Desktop & Screen Saver and choose the screensaver you want to set as the background
  • Open Terminal (located in /Applications/Utilities/) and paste in the following command:

/System/Library/Frameworks/ScreenSaver.framework/Resources/ -background

Hit the Return key to execute the command string, this will start the screen saver in the background immediately.

As long as this command is running, the screen saver will be active. If you close the Terminal window, the screen saver will end and your Macs wallpaper will return to whatever you had previously.

Having trouble with the above syntax working? The above command needs to be on a single line in order to execute properly. If you’re having issues copying and pasting the above text, you can split it into two commands.

First change the directory:

cd /System/Library/Frameworks/ScreenSaver.framework/Resources

Then execute the screensaver command:

./ -background

If you split the command into two, there is a period before the second part, so don’t miss that.

Stopping the screensaver is just a matter of hitting Control+Z, or closing the active terminal window. Although if you want, you can set the process to run on it’s own by adding an ampersand (&) to the end of the last command too, but then to stop the process you’d need to target it with Activity Monitor or the kill command.

Setting a screen saver as desktop wallpaper in Mac OS X

The screensaver will take a few seconds and load as the desktop wallpaper. This ends up giving your Mac an effect similar to Android OS’s living wallpapers (you can get living wallpapers on iPhone too but you have to jailbreak).

Most screensavers won’t use too much CPU, in testing they generally run between 4-12% although Arabesque spiked as high as 40% at times. The amount of resources taken up depends on the screen saver itself, and the size of the displays where the screen saver is being rendered on, as well as the Mac itself. Regardless, running a screensaver in the background isn’t a good idea if you’re trying to preserve battery life or you need CPU power for something else.

This trick is a bit of an oldie but goodie, but I still use it from time to time for the eyecandy. It works in all versions of OS X from the earliest releases of Mac OS X to El Capitan. One of the more pleasantly subtle backgrounds to use this with are the image based screensavers like Beach or Forest, or you can create one with your own pictures, the effect is a moving background that pans and uses the “Ken Burns” effect over the images.

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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in Mac OS X, Tips & Tricks


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  1. Davoos says:

    Ehhh I just set mine to auto-change for a nice look without the processor pegging

  2. Ignas says:

    amazingly useless stuff… if you’re working with computer you’ll see you wallpaper few times a day for some seconds :) But maybe for some of users it will be very amazing feature :)

  3. wallpaper says:

    it take from my cpu 25-45% RRRrRrrRR

  4. Kirk says:

    It only works as long as Terminal is open. Am I doing something wrong?

    • Keith says:

      put “nohup” before their line and a “&” after their line to force it to goto work as a background process. Will then have to ps -ef|grep ScreenSaverEngine and kill the PID to stop it though. Or an all in one:

      kill `ps -ef |grep ScreenSaverEngine|grep -v grep|awk {‘print $2’}`

  5. kkfj says:

    i am having a problem changing this back to its original background:(

  6. Mackenz says:

    when I type the code in my mac says invalid frame buffer operation, and yes Im typing it in right but it just won’t work. It work fine on my old one but doesn’t seem to take it on this one. Any thoughts?

  7. Ell says:

    how do i turn this off? i liked the idea and it worked but now my screen saver and hot corners won’t work at all no matter what i do. its bugging me a lot. so whats the command to turn screen saver back on?????

  8. Ben says:

    Try typing in ‘ kilall Dock ‘ and this should get rid of the code and reset the backround!

  9. olmo47 says:

    Say I have Apple TV 2.

    Can I install the screensaver on it?

    I have install en the computer be nice on the apple TV 2


  10. yoshimetry says:

    >System preferences

    > desktop and screensaver

    > + (on the left hand side pane, showing the resources you can get your wallpaper from)

    > (Finder pops out) select the screensaver from where you saved it in your Macbook

  11. Dan says:

    Has anyone figured out how to make this work in High Sierra?

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