How to Tile Desktop Background Wallpaper in Mac OS X

Oct 26, 2011 - 9 Comments

Tile a background image for wallpaper in Mac OS X

Want to tile a wallpaper on the Mac? A tiling wallpaper will repeat all over the desktop background, just like a tile is repeated in flooring or a wall. Well, you’re in luck because modern Mac OS X versions can do tile a wallpaper image, just like you could do way back in ancient Mac OS releases and all other versions too.

But how you tile a desktop image depends slightly on versions of system software, and on the size of the image itself.

In short, if the image is fit to or larger than your Macs screen resolution, it won’t tile. Likewise, the default Mac OS X Lion wallpapers don’t have the option to tile or change how they are orientated on your display. That change was made in Lion and has persisted forward. But, you can still tile a picture, you just have to choose a smaller image.

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.

How to Tile Images as Desktop Backgrounds in Mac OS X

  1. Have the wallpaper tile somewhere easy to find, like the Mac OS X desktop
  2. Open “System Preferences” from the  Apple menu
  3. Click on “Desktop & Screen Saver”
  4. Drag the wallpaper image you want to tile into the picture window
  5. set a background image to tile in Mac OS X Lion

  6. When the pull-down menu becomes visible, select “Tile” from the list
  7. Tile a background image for wallpaper in Mac OS X

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

Linen wallpaper tile from OS X Lion and iOS 5

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.

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.

And yes, you can still tile images as wallpapers in modern Mac OS releases too, so if you’re chugging away on MAC OS X El Capitan, macOS Sierra, Yosemite, macOS High Sierra, or macOS 10.14 or whatever other magical release you’re running on your Mac, you’re good to tile. For now anyway.

Anyway, enjoy your tiling wallpapers!


Related articles:

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


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  1. Ruben says:

    Hi, I would like to know how to fit any picture from the internet to the size of your background. I have a mac BTW.

  2. […] 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 […]

  3. 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.

  4. Michael Ians says:

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

  5. 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!

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

  7. 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…

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