How to Tile Desktop Background Wallpaper in Mac OS X Lion

Oct 26, 2011 - 8 Comments

Tile a background image for wallpaper in Mac OS X Lion

Mac OS X Lion changed the way desktop background pictures are handled. In short, if the image is fit to or larger than your Macs screen resolution, it won’t tile. Likewise, the default OS X Lion wallpapers don’t have the option to tile or change how they are orientated on your display.

Linen wallpaper tile from OS X Lion and iOS 5 The easiest solution to this is simple: you have to use a background image that will tile, meaning it is smaller than your screens resolution.

For the purpose of this walkthrough, we’ll use the linen wallpaper tile from OS X Lion and iOS 5:

  • Have the wallpaper tile somewhere easy to find, like the OS X Lion desktop
  • Open “System Preferences” from the  Apple menu
  • Click on “Desktop & Screen Saver”
  • Drag the wallpaper image you want to tile into the picture window
  • When the pull-down menu becomes visible, select “Tile” from the list

If you don’t select “Tile” manually, the default will usually be “Stretch” which looks terrible for most images that are meant to be tiled.

set a background image to tile in Mac OS X Lion

Why was this behavior changed in Mac OS X Lion? Who knows, but we’ve received several questions about this and a few emails which indicates there’s a fair amount of confusion on how this background pictures are handled in 10.7.

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Posted by: William Pearson in Mac OS X, Tips & Tricks


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  1. Matt says:

    You can force any image to tile by editing a plist file:

    Go to ~/Library/Preferences


    Select Background – default – Placement

    Change string of Placement to “Tile”

    Save the plist and close out


    • Will says:

      Great tip, thanks for that.

    • Roy says:

      Thanks for the hint Matt!

      on my system however, the string needs to be changed to “Tiled”, instead of “Tile”. I also had to log out and log back in for the desktop.plist file to be re-read.

      It is funny, that if the image is located in /Library/Desktop Pictures/, then the pull-down menu to select the display type never appears. If the same image is copied to my Desktop, and dragged into the Pref Pane, the menu appears!

      This caused me a lot of confusion for a while…

  2. […] How to Tile Desktop Background Wallpaper in Mac OS X Lion How to Tile Desktop Background Wallpaper in Mac OS X Lion… Source: […]

  3. Sean G. says:

    Thanks for all of these directions!

    I saved the image to desktop, then dragged and dropped it in to the image area for Desktop, and then chose Tile and it worked perfectly!

  4. Michael Ians says:

    Absolutely useless for larger photos. You can NOT tile with OSX Lion with a large photo.

  5. WillBG says:

    *SIGH* Another reason why I wish I didn’t update. :)
    That said, here’s my solution…

    Make sure you have at least one small file in the directory.

    Select and tile that one first. Now select your larger file. Even though the option remains unlit, the larger file appears to tile.

    I hope that works for you.

  6. […] have to select your image, then pull-down the options and choose “Tile” if you want to have a pattern repeat itself as your desktops […]

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