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How to make great iPhone wallpaper

By Sparky | June 1, 2008

Being an ADHD design nerd (or is that Apple fanboy) I’m frequently changing up the wallpaper on my iPhone. As a some of the wallpapers I published in an earlier post have crept up to some of my most frequently viewed Flickr photos I thought I would post a quick write up on how I select and make my oft-changed iPhone wallpapers.

I primarily use Photoshop for my image editing work and this process will be easy if you have Photoshop and are comfortable using it. It’s a very simple process and could be completed with virtually any image editor, although ones that can read Photoshop (PSD) files will make it easier to import the template discussed below. If you don’t want to spend money on a photo editing application GIMP is a free option that offers a decent interface and lots of tools to experiment with.

The first step of the process lies ahead: selecting the image to use. Ideally images should fit into one of two categories. These images have either a uniform simplicity, or a design flow that works with the iPhones overlaid controls.

The first type of image that works well has a uniformity to it. Because of the user interface controls partially obscuring the locked iPhone wallpaper images that focus on color or texture will work very well for this as obscuring a part of this kind of image does not hide key aesthetic elements. This kind of image is great for capturing a favorite color or surface while not adding distraction to Apple’s clean and minimalistic design.

Contrail to God iPhone wallpaper
A simplistic background

The second type of image that works well are images with a central focal point that is well buffered by simplicity. As the top and bottom of the iPhone are obscured by the overlaid controls having an image which can appreciated from the lower than center portion of the viewport on the lock screen, and with a background or less important top and bottom that are not critical to the aesthetic appeal of the image.

When taking photos for use as an iPhone wallpaper consider using a very narrow depth of field to direct interest to the center area of a vertical shot. Alternatively for a bolder look consider incorporating strong design elements such as bright angular sections of color. Remember that although the top and bottom will be obscured the image will still bleed through the overlay and provide some visual impact.

Sunlit frond iPhone wallpaper
A more visually complicated sweet spot

Once an image is selected I use the iPhone template pictured below to help me compose it for the iPhone. I found this template on the Mac Rumors forum in this thread. Full credit goes to TheSpaz who created the awesome resource and shared it with the world.

The template is free to download and comes in the form of a PSD template with each element set up in a separate layer with the correct opacity. This template makes it easy to drop an image into the background layer and compose it to look its best on the iPhone.

As your source image is likely much larger than 320×480 pixels you will have to transform the image down to size. By using Photoshop’s free transform option on the layer you can adjust both the scaling of the image, as well as drag it around to ensure that the portion of the image you want visible is perfectly framed by the overlays.

The shot being used in this particular tutorial was taken with a Lensbaby, a lens that adds a significant amount of blur and vignetting away from the center of the screen. This effect helps draw the eye into a subject and simplify the background making it ideal for use in creating iPhone wallpapers. If you have an image you really like, but that does not work well with the overlays due to visual distractions consider vignetting the image in photoshop by gently blurring or darkening the top and bottom edges to draw the eye to the center of the composition.

Because the iPhone displays bright colors so well I usually find that bumping up the saturation of an image 4-8% adds a bit of pop to the wallpaper. A slight bit of sharpening with the unsharp mask filter often helps more detailed images retain clarity on the iPhone’s densely packed pixels. Both of these steps also help make the image look it’s best once it is saved out of the Photoshop format and into either a JPEG or PNG image.

Once you are happy with how your image looks within the preview offered by the template you are ready to save the image and put it on your iPhone. For this process you don’t want the templates overlays added so hide all of the overlay layers leaving your resized and cropped photo and any adjustment layers as your final image. From the file menu select ‘Save for Web & Devices’ to compress your final wallpaper down. I usually save my wallpapers as 32bit PNG images, however JPEG format backgrounds will work just as well.

Save the wallpaper with a recognizable name into the location where you have iTunes set to sync photos from. The next time you sync your iPhone the image will be synced into the iPhone’s library. From there you can view the image with the Photos application and then click the export scarab at the bottom of the screen to select that image for use as your wallpaper.

If you are interested in the image above the version saved without the overlays suitable for immediate iPhone use is here. You can also get the original PSD file here including all the layers, adjustments, and overlays used to create this.

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Topics: Apple, Cellphones, Daily grind, How to, Open source, Photography, Picture of the day, Software, Technology, iPhone | 5 Comments »

5 Responses to “How to make great iPhone wallpaper”

  1. sam Says:
    June 2nd, 2008 at 10:42 am

    cool wallpaper

  2. Daniel Says:
    June 29th, 2008 at 5:55 pm

    Thanks for the PSD, helped me figure out how to frame a picture in the center. 320×270 is the magic number.

    Cheers.

  3. loswl Says:
    February 20th, 2009 at 9:04 am

    Great Post, thanks for the tips ;o)

  4. charlie Says:
    February 21st, 2009 at 12:39 pm

    great tutorial, my wallpapers were missing something but couldn’t really put my finger on it.
    thanks!

  5. Godserv Says:
    February 23rd, 2009 at 12:00 am

    Nice insight and very cool iPhone template. Thanks.