Each year since I’ve worked at the iD headquarters, I get the privilege of creating the camp desktop wallpapers for iD Tech Camps, the iD Game Design & Development Academy, and the iD Coding & Engineering Academy, which you can see if you attend any of our programs this summer since they’re installed on every computer that’s used at camp. I can honestly say that this project is one of my favorite projects every year and it often inspires me to create my own wallpapers in my free time, which is what I’ll be showing you how to do in this post.
What You'll Learn & Create
This tutorial will incorporate design elements such as adding textures, gradients, layer properties and using the mask feature in Photoshop. These are all basic to intermediate skills and should be fairly easy to grasp. If you want to explore the possibilities that all of the Adobe products have, check out our Web & Graphic Design Courses or our Video Editing and Photography camps that we have at our Day and Overnight Summer Programs at iD.
The final project that you’ll have at the end of this tutorial will look something like this:
Are you excited? It’s another Mario Bros. graphic. If you can’t tell by now, I really like Super Mario Bros (I mean seriously, have you played the New Super Mario Bros on DS? I’m totally addicted.). Not only that, I find that there are a lot of free resources out there for Mario graphics. Did you know that if you attend camp, you can actually make a replica of a Mario game in our video game camps? Pretty cool stuff.
When I work on professional projects for iD or freelance projects at home, I sometimes need to purchase certain graphics due to copyright issues. For projects that I am creating for only myself or that I won’t be re-selling, I always look for free resources, because who doesn’t love free stuff?
This project requires a few resources—a couple of fonts, some high-resolution textures and an AI (Adobe Illustrator) file I pre-made. You can download the fonts and textures to a file on your computer here:
You can also find your own textures by doing a quick web search. Always remember to be careful about what sites you download content from, and if the computer you’re working on isn’t yours, it’s best to ask the person who owns it if it’s okay to download a file. Below are some good starting points for free, (safe) design resources on the web.
VECTORS, GRAPHICS & TEXTURES
Another way of getting textures for your projects is to take your point and shoot camera and capture close-up photos of things around you. You’ll be amazed at what you can get from doing this.
1. Get Started
To get started, you’ll need to first figure out the size of the desktop wallpaper to create so that it will look good on your screen. To do this, you need to find out the resolution that your monitor is set at and set your image size in Photoshop to be those dimensions.
You may already know your screen dimensions, but if not it’s easy to find out. Click on the Start Menu on your PC computer, choose Control Panel. Once you’re in the Control Panel, go to Display and then click on the Settings Tab.
As you can see on the image above, my screen resolution is 1280x1024, so when I create my new file in Photoshop my art board dimensions will be 1280 pixels wide x 1024 pixels high. Since this will be used for the computer screen, the image resolution will stay at 72 pixels/inch and the color mode, RGB.
2. Create the Background
To create the background, use the rectangle tool to create a shape that extends over your artboard. Name the new layer you created, “Blue BG Gradient”.
Open up your Layers Style Menu by double clicking on the layer (but not on the text, or you will be given the option to rename your layer.)
Now, click on Gradient Overlay and create a blue, radial gradient with these settings:
Now we need to add some texture to our background. Select File>Place at the top of your Photoshop screen, then navigate to the folder where you saved the texture files you downloaded at the beginning of this tutorial. Find the rust.jpg file and click on the Place Button to bring it into your PSD file.
You should have a transform box around your image, which allows you to resize the image. Resize the image to fill up your entire artboard and then hit Return to set the image into place.
(By the way: When you place an image, it automatically becomes a Smart Object in Photoshop. Smart Objects can be useful because they allow you to resize and manipulate images without losing their original quality. You can tell when something is a Smart Object when it has a little icon in the lower right corner of its layer.)
Now that your rust texture is placed, we want to de-saturate it. First we need to rasterize our rust image by right clicking on the layer and selecting Rasterize. You’ll know that it’s rasterized if the icon at the corner disappears.
Next go to Image>Adjustments>Hue/Saturation and change the Saturation to -100.
To create the light texture feel, change your Layer Property to Soft Light and the Opacity to 40%.
Now we’re going to create the yellow background element by creating a yellow-orange rectangle. Name this layer, Gold Brick and double click on it so that you open up its Layer Style. Change your Drop Shadow settings to be a dark blue (#043875), with a Blend Mode of Multiply. Change the angle to be 124 and uncheck the “Use Global Light” box. Make the distance, 29, the Spread, 0 and the Size 0.
Also, you’ll want to add a Stroke, which will be white and size 13. You can keep the rest of the settings at their defaults.
Now it’s time to bring in the second texture. Go to File>Place and find the file where you saved the brick.jpg. Expand this image to be at least the width of your gold shape. Then change the Layer Property to Overlay.
We want the brick texture to only be placed in the gold area, so we’re going to use a Clipping Mask to accomplish this. First make sure that your brick image layer and your gold shape layer are on top of one another in the layers panel. Then, to create a Mask, hold the ALT key and move your mouse in between your brick layer and the gold layer until you mouse changes from a hand icon to a double circle icon.
After you do this, your brick texture should only be seen within the yellow shape area. Nice!
The last thing we need to finish out background is to place the starburst graphic. From the files you saved earlier, place the starburst.ai into your Photoshop file. Resize it to fill up most of your artboard and center it on top of the yellow brick image. Lastly, change its Layer Property to be Soft Light.
To make things easier as we progress through the project, create a new folder and name it “Background Elements”. Now place all of the layers you just created in that folder by selecting them all at the same time (hold Shift to do so) and using your mouse to drag them on top of the folder.
3. Bringing in Elements & Coloring
Now we get to add in the Mario character. If you haven’t done so, download and install the fonts that from the beginning of the tutorial. The Mario and Luigi font is a type of font called dingbats, which means that each character of the font isn’t a letter, but an image. (If you want to learn more about fonts, check out Looking at Typography.)
The Mario graphic we need is found by typing in the lowercase letter, “q”. The default size of your font is probably pretty small, so change the size to be about 385pt.
Now since Mario is black and white, we’re going to color him in to give him a little depth. Coloring Mario is fast and fun. Basically what we’re going to do is use our Paint Tool to paint underneath Mario. To do this we need to create separate layers for each part of him.
First create a new layer by clicking on the New Layer icon in your Layers Panel. Make sure that this layer is underneath your Mario dingbats layer, which is named “q” since it’s actually a text layer. Name your new layer “Shoes”.
Pick a dark brown color (I used #844100) and use the Paint Brush Tool to paint in Mario’s shoes.
4. Add the Title Text
To add the title text, you’ll want to use your Text Tool and select the font you downloaded called, “Super Mario Bros.” Then type in the title that you want your desktop wallpaper to say. You can use the text I wrote or you can type in a new phrase if you like.
When you type your text make sure your font is black. Because of how this font is designed, when you type your text, the letters should be outlined in black and not filled in.
Next angle your text to the left to get that action feel. So far, your text should look like this:
Since this font isn’t colored in by default we need to do so ourselves. To do this, make sure you have your text layer selected, then select the Magic Wand Tool (W) on your Tool Panel.
Then click anywhere on your artboard, except for inside the text letters. You should see flashing dotted lines around what the magic wand selected, which should be everything except for the text. Now, while holding the Shift Key (if you do this correctly your cursor will change into a wand with a plus sign) , select the areas of the letter’s O, R and A.
With all of those areas selected, hit, SHIFT + CTRL + I. You should now have only your letters selected. Now go to your layers panel and create a New Layer. Then go to the menu at the top of the Photoshop screen and select Edit>Fill. From this menu choose “Color” and select the color white, or any color you think might go well inside the letters. After you fill in your letters, your text will still be selected. You can unselect the text by going to the Marque tool and clicking anywhere on your artboard.
Make sure to rename your new fill layer to something such as, “Text Fill”, then drag it below your original text layer so that the black outlines show up. To add the hard, drop shadow on the letters, make a copy of your “Text Fill” layer, then open up its Layer Style by double clicking on it.
Check the Color Overlay box and change your settings to the ones below:
Name this layer “Text Drop Shadow” and move it below your “Text Fill” layer. Use your mouse to adjust it a bit to the left and a bit below the original text. It now gives the illusion of a drop shadow.
After that your wallpaper is complete! Looks pretty snazzy, huh? Now that you know the basics for using textures and Clipping Masks, you can add in other elements to make your wallpaper uniquely your own. For mine, I decided to add some other Mario characters using the same dingbats font and the same coloring method I used for Mario. I also added in our iD logo for fun.
The last thing you’ll need to do is so save your graphic as a jpg. You can create a small file by going to the top Photoshop Menu and selecting File>Save for Web & Devices and saving your graphic as a jpg. Then go to your computer’s Start Menu and go to Display (like you did at the beginning of the tutorial to find out your screen size). On the Destktop tab, click on the browse button and select the file you just saved. Hit OK and your very own wallpaper should be on your computer!
Now that you know how to create a personal desktop graphic, you can be sure that I’m going to ask you to send us any of your cool creations. Happy designing!
Have a child who is ready to get started? Check out or Photoshop tutoring options—live courses with curriculum tailored to student interests and skill levels.