Live Wallpaper For Mac? It’s Easier Than You Think

Justin Pot 04-02-2014

Maybe you’ve seen a list of Android Live Wallpapers and wished you could use them on your Mac. Sure, they’re a waste of processing power, but they’re also a lot of fun. Search all you want, however, and you won’t find a way to add these live wallpapers to your Mac’s desktop.


But there is an alternative. I showed you how to add beautiful information to your Mac desktop with Nerdtool. What I didn’t tell you is that this program can also add any Quartz animation to your desktop. These files are created by Quartz Composer, and provide a lot of the animated elements in your favorite Mac apps – but they’re perhaps most commonly used to create screensavers.

So here’s how you can use Nerdtool to add almost any screensaver, and a variety of other animations, to your computer’s desktop – and where to find the coolest ones.

Quartz Animations

You’ve already got some Quartz animations on your Mac: the default screensavers. Let’s go ahead and add one of those to our desktop to begin with, okay? Open NerdTool, then add a new Quartz object:


Once you’ve added the object, click the “Locate” button below the “Path” box. On you system drive, browser to “/System/Library/Screen Savers”, then pick any of the .qtz files. Arabesque is a simple way to start:



Now you need to configure the framerate – the default will basically not move. I recommend around 30fps, adjust to your taste.


Resize the file manually, or hit the “Size To Screen” checkbox toward the bottom-right. The result is an animated desktop, with Arabesque imposed over whatever wallpaper you happen to be using. It works best with a solid color:



Of course, you’re hardly limited to the default screensavers added by your Mac. Let’s find a few more, shall we?

Recommended Animations

If you’re a big fan of winter – and really, you should be – I recommend the seasonal animation, snowflakes.



A series of unique snowflakes drifts across your desktop. Magical.

Of course, winter isn’t for everyone – but space is. Longtime Mac users remember the amazing animated effect of the original Time Machine. That animation’s been removed from Apple’s backup program, but it’s been brought back as the Time Machine screensaver – and it makes a great desktop:


It’s a great way to add a little adventure to your desktop, and it looks great too.


These screensavers work great, and any screensaver with a .qtz extension will also work. But screensavers aren’t the entire collection: you can browse to find a number of animations. Here are a couple of highlights I found:

  • SunBurstFire can overlay flames on your desktop.
  • EarthWeather adds a spinning earth, complete with a moon. It’s supposed to also show live cloud coverage, though this function seems to be broken.
  • BinaryEarth gives you a Matrixesque spinning globe.


Want more? Artist Mamoru Kano offers a variety of interesting Mac screensavers, including 20th Century Voyage (which combines 20th Century headlines with current RSS news) and Full Color Bossa (which explores color and language with interesting visuals). Both make for excellent animated wallpapers, so check them out.


Even More Interaction

Not sure about animation, but like the idea of bringing your Mac desktop to life? You could consider Satellite Eyes, which makes your wallpaper a satellite image of your location. It offers a variety of map effects:

Or, if you’d like, you could try these Mac dynamic wallpaper sites for the perfect desktop background.

Did you set up an animated wallpaper? If so, how do you like it? Maybe you prefer to stick with a static desktop background 5 Places to Download Free, Funky Wallpapers for Phones or Desktops If you like wallpapers then these sites and apps will give you a free wallpaper that speaks to your sense of style and taste. Read More . Share your thoughts, and any other .qtz files worth checking out, in the comments below. I’m looking forward to it.

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  1. ekki
    August 9, 2016 at 10:06 pm

    How do i get the time machine screensaver?

  2. FrostChilas
    June 8, 2016 at 5:20 pm

    Hi, I have a question, I followed all of the steps thoroughly, but when I clicked on the screen savers folder, it did not have any qtz. files in it. All it had were default collections. Can someone please help me?

    • Nubli521
      September 28, 2016 at 1:26 am

      You could always just download a qtz file and locate that one and use it

  3. Greg
    February 9, 2016 at 9:46 pm

    I can't figure out how to display the animation on both of my monitors. It only shows up on my primary monitor. Is there a way to select which monitors to output on?

    • Justin Pot
      February 10, 2016 at 5:04 pm

      So far as I know this can't be done, which is unfortunate. Sorry. :(

  4. Ned
    November 21, 2015 at 11:04 pm

    I could not find anything when I typed in the command and I am not sure what I did wrong could you please help?

    • Justin Pot
      November 23, 2015 at 3:15 pm

      Not sure how that could be, or how I could help you from here. Sorry.

  5. Stino
    November 15, 2015 at 1:37 pm

    I made a tiny screensaver that can play GIF's and can run in background. It is free and I upload the source code to Github so that every one can look how it is done and participate in further development.
    I only test the screensaver under 10.9.5 so I don't know if has issues on newer OSX releases(?).
    Here is the Github link:
    And here a ZIP of the compiled screensaver:

    Greetings Stino

  6. Anonymous
    August 28, 2015 at 1:34 pm

    Great Tutorial on how to do it, if you want to create your own quartz files you would need to load up Quartz Composer which is in the App Dev Downloads when you download graphic options for Xcode, I wish everyone good luck on figuring it out, and thank you again for this wonderfully easy way to make my desktop much nicer

  7. Anonymous
    August 18, 2015 at 2:35 am

    Excuse me, but how do I have the screensaver go behind all my icons on the desktop? Because it just covers the whole screen

    • Justin Pot
      August 18, 2015 at 5:11 am

      If you run the files through GeekTool this shouldn't happen, I'm not sure why it would. Does it cover everything, like all your windows as well?

      • Anonymous
        August 18, 2015 at 5:15 am

        No it fits the screen well, but it just doesn't show the icons. If you're thinking I have ticked the setting where it says 'bring to front', then no I don't have that ticked.

      • Anonymous
        August 18, 2015 at 5:17 am

        Its alright though. I have uninstalled it. I can't find any good, modern-looking screensavers to download. The only one I really like is the time machine screensaver.

        • Anonymous
          August 28, 2015 at 1:36 pm

          to fix that all you had to do was click on the desktop and the icons would move forward on top of the animated wallpaper

  8. Anonymous
    June 10, 2015 at 2:03 pm

    Hi Justin,

    Great article!

    Like another reader, I also can't find the pathbox. I created a new quartz object, as you said, and named it "test". The boxes showing are log (to the right), display, window, and options. I've searched the web for other tutorials or screen caps that may show the path box but I just don't see anything here named path or "locate". I've even tried creating other types of objects to see if it shows up with those.

    Here is a screenshot of what I'm seeing:

    Please point out to me where the "locate" button is, or how I can get it to show.

    Thank you so much!

    • Anonymous
      July 14, 2015 at 9:46 pm

      you must select the new quartz log, click it and the locate box will come up

    • Anonymous
      August 28, 2015 at 1:38 pm

      don't have everything chosen as active, the little checkboxes, have one of them checked, then click on the one checked and it will appear

  9. dbdavidblankenship
    June 1, 2015 at 9:53 am

    I did all the things that you said but all I get is a green screen on the desktop how can I fix it?

  10. Pete
    May 8, 2015 at 2:59 am

    Hey Justin, would you know of the best way to create custom screensavers from Mac that can be used on windows computers? Currently trying to work this out for a client

    Much appreciated

    • Justin Pot
      May 8, 2015 at 1:57 pm

      I've never heard of doing this, sorry, I think Windows and Mac screensavers are pretty different in practice though.

  11. Anonymous
    April 7, 2015 at 9:06 pm

    Is there any way to change the image behind the animation?

    • Justin Pot
      April 8, 2015 at 3:54 pm

      If you're seeing your desktop image, then just change that obviously. Otherwise you need to edit the quartz file, which is well beyond my knowledge sadly.

  12. Weston
    April 6, 2015 at 9:12 pm

    How do I get the background on my second monitor

    • Justin Pot
      April 7, 2015 at 4:48 pm

      I believe it's possible to just drag the quartz file to the second monitor, but I don't have access to a Mac to test this on right now. Sorry.

    • Weston
      April 7, 2015 at 5:58 pm

      I figured it out, just set the x coordinate to the width of your first monitor.

    • Justin Pot
      April 8, 2015 at 3:53 pm

      I'm glad you figured it out, Weston! Enjoy.

  13. egwsgs
    March 13, 2015 at 9:35 pm

    there is no path box

    • Justin Pot
      March 13, 2015 at 10:12 pm

      There is after you add a new Quartz object...

  14. urth
    April 9, 2014 at 4:08 pm
    • Dominick taylor
      February 2, 2015 at 4:20 pm

      I've never seen it what website is it called

  15. urth
    April 9, 2014 at 4:06 pm

    Can you have a terminal app running in the wallpaper? ex. htop

    • Justin P
      April 9, 2014 at 6:32 pm

      Also check out Nerdtool, I've had more luck with it. Enjoy!

  16. Noel
    February 17, 2014 at 3:13 pm

    Can you use your own custom videos as live wallpapers using this tool?

    • Justin P
      February 17, 2014 at 7:15 pm

      Not with this too, no, unless you made those videos with Quartz. VLC does what you're looking for, though. I found this piece from our friends at HowToGeek:

    • Noel
      February 18, 2014 at 6:47 am

      @Justin Yeah I heard about using VLC. But does it retain the video wallpaper when you restart your PC? Thanks for the reply btw. :)

    • Justin P
      February 18, 2014 at 4:54 pm

      So far a I know it doesn't, Noel.

    • Zyph
      February 18, 2014 at 5:21 pm

      No prob. Thanks! :)

  17. Aaron
    February 5, 2014 at 5:23 pm

    Anthony, try "Dreamscene." Search it on Google. It's free.

  18. Anthony
    February 5, 2014 at 7:14 am

    I'd sure like to know how to do this on Windows 7.