It’s finally possible – you can now set any image as your background in Gmail. Two new themes give you complete control over the image behind them, allowing you to use your own picture or pick your own from a wide selection.
Gmail launched in 2004. Longtime Google geeks doubtlessly remember where they were when they finally got an invite to the then-exclusive service. Offering a complete 1 GB of storage space to Hotmail’s 2 to 4 MB, Gmail was kind of a big deal. Fewer probably recall when Gmail added “themes” to its email service, which was in 2008. Well, now there are custom themes in Gmail.
Is it the most important interface change Google has ever made? Of course not. That was a silly question to ask. However, being able to customize Gmail themes with your own photos is, while not essential, a nice feature to have. If you love personalizing things, I recommend you check this out right now.
Using Custom Themes
To get started, open Gmail. Click the gear in the top-right corner, click “Themes” and scroll until you see this option:
Pick “Light” or “Dark“; it doesn’t matter for now. When you do, you’ll be able to pick your picture:
You have a few options – Featured photos, your photos from Picasa, photos from your phone (assuming you use the Google+ app), uploading photos or adding a URL. Find a picture you like.
Uploading is easy because of a drag-and-drop interface:
Once you’ve picked your image, play with the settings to find out whether the “Light” or “Dark” theme works better for you.
There are a few caveats:
- You cannot set Gmail to automatically rotate your own images, slideshow style. Hopefully this is coming.
- You cannot adjust the image to fit better on Gmail’s end; you’ll need to do that before, if you think that’s necessary.
- Vertical images will probably look weird with this, unless you primarily use a vertical monitor.
- Some people may not have this feature yet. Just wait: everyone will have it eventually.
A Few Examples
The first thing I did, naturally, was try this with one of my favorite wallpapers. I wasn’t disappointed with how it looked:
Then I tried it with a photo my wife Kathy took during a recent vacation. I like how it turned out too:
That structure is in Hovenweep National Monument and dates back to 1500, well before Europeans got to America. The people who built these structures left them behind, and no one knows precisely why. Seeing this image reminds me that technology is temporary, and occasionally something entire societies leave behind.
That’s why customization is nice – you can add your own ideas and memories to something that is otherwise impersonal.
Do you need ideas? This video shows off a variety of different photos behind Gmail’s interface. Check it out:
What’s there to say? It’s Gmail, with your favorite pictures. I’m sure some people will use this to make grotesque, MySpace-esque monstrosities, but that’s fine. Only they have to look at it.
Please share links to any particularly awesome wallpapers or photos you create or find in the comments below. I can’t be the only one looking for something awesome to try out.