I wouldn’t call myself an expert by any means, but I have messed around with graphic art for over a decade and have been doing art in general since I was born really. And with a few wallpapers that are decently popular, and over 40+ wallpapers published, I feel as though I am educated enough to provide a basic guide for those struggling to make their own content.
Believe it or not, most of your improvement can be immediate and drastic. There’s a big difference in awful wallpapers and good ones, but I find that for the most part, the bad ones can be fixed in like 5 minutes with little effort. This guide lays out all of the quick fixes I personally know of.
Use high quality images!
For the sake of everything that is holy, please use the highest quality images you can find. SHOOT FOR 4K RESOLUTION ANY TIME YOU MAKE A WALLPAPER. ONLY USE 1080p IMAGES AS A LAST RESORT. 4k images look amazing on 1080p monitors, but 1080p images look like trash on 4k displays. I, personally, have a 4k TV as my third monitor, and I literally can’t use many 1080p wallpapers on it because of artifacts clearly visible in the images used. Using 4k images naturally eliminates this issue. If anything, try finding even higher quality images. 8k wallpapers in particular look amazing on 4k displays.
This is easily one of, if not the most important part about making a wallpaper. I almost instantly unsubscribe from anything that I can see substantial artifcating in.
In addition, remember that contrast and saturation matters too. Recent updates have given control of those options to the user, but that doesn’t mean the creator shouldn’t try to make them right themselves. Add a ‘Local Contrast’ layer to quickly tweak the difference between different colors, which tends to make blacks more black, whites more white, and colors more saturated. Too much of this looks like garbage, so tweak it so that it’s just enough.
If it’s to up the contrast or saturation, or to manually remove some artifacts, don’t be afraid to throw your image into Photoshop or Gimp, and do some more focused, high quality work on it.
Give the user control.
Learn how to use the editor’s user properties. This one is huge, and can easily save yourself from people instantly unsubscribing to your wallpaper. A lot of creative design choices are subjective. Maybe one person likes a certain element a red, while another person prefers blue. Well, you don’t have to alienate either of them thanks to ‘User Properties’. Go to any layer and click on it. In the ‘Properties’ tab on the right, you’ll see many things that have a gear icon in the upper right hand corner. Click this gear and then ‘Bind User Property’ and voila, you’ve given the people who subscribe to this wallpaper the ability to change it somewhat.
You can further this by changing the default value to your intended “best settings” to limit changes the user feels that they need to make. Remember that you want to give them the option to change things but ultimately don’t want them to have to in the first place. Also, obviously, adding an appropriate name and ordering the properties properly will also add a nice layer of cleanliness to your wallpaper that the user will appreciate.
This section is VERY IMPORTANT in regards to “unnecessary effects”. For example, not everyone likes ‘Mouse Trails’. Personally, I hate them, and refuse to use a wallpaper that doesn’t let me disable them. Therefore, if you want to retain the most subscribers, it’s best to make most layers and effects toggleable in order to avoid people with dealbreakers unsubscribing.
Make it audio reactive.
Most, if not all, of my wallpapers are audio reactive. People like seeing that wallpaper react to their favorite songs, that’s just a fact. So any wallpaper that does that is, in my eyes, objectively better than those that don’t.
So how do you do it? Well, the most common way is to add a fullscreen layer, and in the ‘Effects’ portion, add a ‘Pulse’. Edit the ‘Pulse’ layer, and change the ‘Audio Response’ setting to ‘Center’. It will now change between two different colors depending on the parameters you set. These parameters are awfully explained (as in, they aren’t explained at all and are not intuitive whatsoever), therefore, they will require a ton of tinkering to get perfect. My preferred settings are as follows:
- Blend Mode: This one is a case by case basis. I’ve found that Color Burn, Hard Light, Linear Dodge, etc are decent choices usually. But you’ll have to experiment every time you make a wallpaper.
- Audio Amount: 2
- Audio Bounds: X = 0.2 Y = 2
- Audio Exponent: 1
- Frequency Max: 3
- Frequency Min: 0
- Colors: These I usually leave white, but you can of course change them to your liking.
Remember that those are just my preferred settings, and not my self proclaimed best settings. You can almost certainly tweak the numbers better.
I’m not seeing any movement!
‘Shake’ and ‘Water Wave’ effects are your best friend. I suggest messing around with both of them in order to make your wallpaper a little more lively. ‘Shake’ is really good for hard objects and bodies, while ‘Water Wave’ is good for fluids, cloth, and hair/fur. ‘Pinch’ (a directional effect of ‘Shake’ that can be found when editing the opacity mask of any ‘Shake’ effect) is good for eyes and lips, and ‘Water Ripple’ is good for fluids and more gelatinous movement. Mess around with opacity masks and strength and directional settings to see what works and what doesn’t work.
The bottom line is that usually movement is better than no movement. You need to use creative judgement of where/when to use these effects. Typically, you should add movement effects to anything in the wallpaper that would be moving, realistically. In case that wasn’t obvious enough.
Camera shake is another quick one that is nice to have. I usually just tick the box and change the speed to ‘1’. Because in real life, you wouldn’t just be glaring straight at an object or scene without some minute deviations and pans in your vision. Therefore, adding ‘Camera Shake’ to your wallpaper makes it feel a little more natural.
Again, make these properties customizable through the use of ‘User Properties’. It’s always nice to not only be able to toggle a particular layer or effect, but also to be able to change the intensity and fine details about it as well. Remember this when deciding what ‘User Properties’ to add.
Don’t forget about the atmosphere.
Adding the ‘Dust Motes’ and ‘Fog’ layers, as well as the ‘God Rays’ effect can make your wallpaper look less “flat”. Lighting and dust effects can add necessary depth to the scene and thus make it look like it has more going on within it. This is especially apparent if you add masks to these. For example:
- It’s possible to add smoke behind a car by making layers as follows –
- The original background image behind everything.
- The ‘Fog’ layer used as smoke in the middle.
- A car with the background masked out on top. This way the fog will be over the background but behind the car.
This is very easy and doesn’t take very long, and is an easy way to add some finesse to your wallpaper. It’s essentially just you splitting your wallpaper into a well defined background, middle ground, and foreground; which creates the illusion of 3d space on a 2d wallpaper.
If you wanna get kinda fancy and into the slightly more time consuming realm, you can add some nice ‘Camera Parallax’ to your wallpaper. To do this, tick the box labeled ‘Camera Parallax’ in ‘Scene Options’ on the left of the screen. I usually just leave the rest alone and change the ‘Amount’ to “0.15” or something around that. You can then create a very distinct foreground, middle ground, and background by giving everything different ‘Parallax Depth’ values (‘Parallax Depth’ can be found on the ‘Properties’ panel of most layers and effects when ‘Mouse Parallax is enabled). For example, you can give everything in the background a depth of 0.1, while everything in the foreground has a depth of 0.5. The middle ground would naturally have a depth in between those two values, like 0.3. This will give a different amount of parallax to different elements depending on their z coordinate within the scene as it would be in real life, giving the illusion of actual depth.
If you want to go further, you can add a ‘Fullscreen’ layer with the ‘Blur’ effect, and add in opacity mask in order to make the ‘Blur’ only affect the background. This is an easy way to simulate what’s called “depth of field”. Some images may have this already in them as an artistic or design choice.
I’ll add more things in the future, but at the moment, those are the quickest ways I can think of that will make your workshop content way better. Any feedback is much appreciated 🙂
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