If you’re like most Microsoft Windows users, you regularly change your desktop wallpaper to keep your computing environment fresh. Of course, modifying the desktop wallpaper is not the most high-tech endeavor an IT professional is likely to perform, but it can provide a moment of reprieve during the busy day.

If you like to indulge in a bit of wallpaper whimsy now and then, chances are that you’ll really enjoy this technique where you create a folder full of miniature tie-dye images and then set them up as stretched desktop wallpaper that changes every 10 seconds using Windows 7’s desktop background slide-show feature. The result is a simulated animation that displays fantastic undulating images right on your Windows 7 desktop.

In this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, I’ll explain how to use Paint to create miniature tie-dye images. I’ll then show you how to set up an animated desktop using Windows 7’s desktop background slide-show feature.

Note: The desktop background slide-show feature is not available in Windows 7 Home Basic.

Creating your tie-dye images

The first thing you will do is create a folder full of miniature tie-dye images in Paint. I call them tie-dye because once you stretch the tiny images on your desktop, they resemble the patterns you see on tie-dye T-shirts.

To begin, click Start and type Paint in the Search text box. When you see Paint appear in the results list, just click it. Once the Paint application is up and running, pull down the main Paint menu and select the Properties command.

In the resulting Image Properties dialog box, type a set of numbers in the Width and Height text boxes that roughly correspond to the aspect ratio of your monitor. For example, if you have a widescreen LCD monitor with a 16:9 aspect ratio, type 15 in the Width text box and 9 in the Height text box, as shown in Figure A. The reason I chose 15 instead of 16 is that I have found that odd numbers allow you to create better patterns. (I’ve also had luck using 9 Width and 5 Height.) Then, make sure the Pixels option is selected in the Units panel and click OK.

Figure A

Set the Width and Height in the Image Properties dialog box.

If you have an older CRT monitor that has a 4:3 aspect ratio, you’ll want to use a pair of odd numbers, such as 5 and 5 or 7 and 7, for the Width and Height. I’ve found that using 4 and 3 as the Width and Height are just too small to yield a nice image.

Now, in order to work with such a tiny image, you’ll need to magnify the work area. Use the Zoom slider at the bottom of the Paint window and zoom in to 800%, as shown in Figure B, in order to make the small image as large as possible. You can also repeatedly press [Ctrl]-[PageUp] to activate zoom-in control.

Figure B

Set Zoom to 800%.

The next thing you’ll want to do is turn on the Gridlines feature so that it will be easier to design your tie-dye image pixel by pixel. Choose the View tab and select the Gridlines check box, as shown in Figure C. You can also press [Ctrl]-[G] to turn on Gridlines.

Figure C

Use the Gridlines feature to make it easier to design your image.

Now, choose the Home tab and use the Pencil tool to create a pattern using various colors. As you do so, try to imagine a tie-dye T-shirt pattern or just go to Google Images and search for tie-dye.

Once you complete your first image, save the image as a PNG file in a separate folder inside your My Pictures folder. For example, I created the image shown in Figure D and saved it as TD1.png in the My Pictures\Tie-DyeWP folder.

Figure D

Save your images as PNG files.

You’ll then save the same image again, but this time increment the number in the file name and alter the image slightly. You’ll repeat these steps to create as many miniature tie-dye images as you wish. For this example, I created the four images shown in Figure E. As you can see, the center is a bit different in each successive image. This slight alteration in each image is what will create the simulated animation.

Figure E

Each successive image is slightly different from its predecessor.

Setting up the desktop background slide show

Once you have a set of tie-dye images, you can set up Windows 7’s desktop background slide show. To begin, click Start and type Change desktop in the Search text box. When you see Change Desktop Background appear in the results list, just click it. When the Desktop Background window appears, click the Browse button and locate the folder containing your tie-dye images. Once you access the folder, click the Select All button, select Stretch from the Picture Position drop-down list, and select 10 Seconds in the Change Picture Every drop-down list. In Figure F, you can see that I have selected the four images I saved in my Tie-DyeWP folder.

Figure F

Setting up the desktop background slide show is easy.

At this point, click the Save Changes button. Then, click the Show Desktop button in the corner of the taskbar to minimize all open windows. Now, sit back and watch as the desktop background slide-show feature changes images. The nice gradual transition, along with the slightly modified images, creates a very interesting, animated desktop. In Figure G, you can see the first image in my desktop background slide show. See how the stretched image really looks like a tie-dye pattern?

Figure G

When stretched across the desktop, the miniature image looks like the pattern you’d see on a tie-dye T-shirt.

What’s your take?

Do you enjoy indulging in a bit a wallpaper whimsy now and then? After learning about this animated tie-dye wallpaper technique, are you going to try it out? What do you think? As always, if you have comments or information to share about this topic, please take a moment to drop by the TechRepublic Community Forums and let us hear from you.

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