The best wallpapers

Still using a stock image for your wallpaper? Time to beautify that desktop

Microsoft Surface Studio
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

If you work or play for hours on end on your PC, having a wallpaper that’s interesting to look at can be one of the best ways to spice up your usage of the system. Nobody likes staring at a blue screen or Windows logo for hours on end, so let’s make things a little more interesting, shall we?

We’ve trawled through the near-endless options of pretty images and animated backdrops to find you the best wallpapers out there. But we haven’t just picked the pretty ones. We’ve looked specifically for images that make for a good backdrop. They’re not too cluttered, provide plenty of space and clarity for icons, and in the case of the smarter ones, give you plenty of options to tweak them how you like.

Static screens

Don’t fancy all of the fuss and distractions of something animated or interactive? Not a problem. There are still millions of beautiful images you can pick from and even if they aren’t specifically designed to be a wallpaper, doesn’t mean they won’t work as one.

Because what we’re talking about it essentially just photography, there is a nearly infinite amount of options on the internet. To get you started, however, sites like WallpaperFusion have a bonanza of beautiful wallpapers to choose from, including landscapes, fantasy creatures, cars, and cartoon characters. Many of them are compatible with JigsawMania too.

NASA has a collection of the best images ever shot in space — all that black makes for a great contrast with your desktop shortcuts — and some of Cassini’s last snaps before it died. There are also some beautiful historic shots from the NASA archives if you want to have a retro space-themed wallpaper.

If you’d prefer something less factual and more digitally created, DigitalBlasphemy has been making great wallpapers for years.

Some of those links require premium memberships or payments. For guaranteed free images, these are our favorites. For a taste of what you can find, check out this user’s collection of beautiful wallpaper-ready photography over at Unsplash. Lastly, if you’re looking for something a bit more minimalist, check out SimpleDesktops.com, which has an assortment of distractions-less options for pretty much every platform imaginable.

Here are a handful of some of the best wallpapers we’ve found in our search. Click the source link in the caption box to be taken to the full-size version.

Animated wallpapers

Going one step beyond standard wallpaper images, animated wallpapers give you a little bit of movement to your backdrop. It can really make your desktop come alive, so as long as it isn’t zooming all over the place, which can be distracting.

There are lots of ways to help make these fancy wallpapers work including the DesktopHut Windows AppWallpaperEngine, and Bionix’s GIF Wallpaper Animator (alongside a wealth of YouTube videos). Although some feature more movement than others, once set up, your desktop backdrop should look a little like this:

In terms of actually finding animated wallpapers, companies like Uscenes offer loads of premium, animated wallpapers, while DesktopHut has a huge collection of free ones. If you’re desperate for more of these, check out the Living Backgrounds subreddit where you can find a constant stream of new animated wallpapers to choose from.

These are some of the best animated wallpapers we could find, though note of course that these are just still images from them. Click the caption link to take you to the download page.

Interactive wallpapers

If you’d rather something that broke through your monitor’s fourth wall entirely, then you’ll want to check out some of the interactive wallpaper options out there. Although typically you’ll need to pay for the tools to make it happen, the Wallpaper Engine or Stardock’s Deskscapes enable some truly amazing wallpaper options. They give you wallpapers with customizable colors and lighting options, fully interactive backdrops, websites loaded right into your desktop, and games that you can play without ever booting an application.

Here’s an idea of what some of them can look like:

For those who want an even deeper customizing tool, Rainmeter lets you customize your desktop beyond the wallpaper to include everything from live-stat trackers, to music visualizations, and custom icon layouts.

It would be impossible to do justice to our favorites without forcing you to install each of them in turn, but here are some stills from what we consider to be the best ones available right now. If you’d like to download them and try them out yourself, click the link in the caption box beneath each image.

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