Changing OS X Lion’s Mission Control and Dashboard image backgrounds

Mission Control image background

Swapping your Mission Control background image is actually quite simple

As soon as I installed Mac OS X Lion I began playing around with all the new features. Naturally, Mission Control and Dashboard were two of the first things I tried. I immediately hated the image backgrounds Apple chose to use and began searching for a way to alter them. It didn’t take long, and it’s quite simple to do. Here are are the instructions.

Replacing Mission Control & Dashboard backgrounds

  1. You’ll need to know your screen resolution, so check it in the System Preferences>Displays panel. For example, my 30″ LCD has a 2560×1600 resolution, so if I want a nice clear image, that’s the size it’ll need to be.
  2. Choose an image you want to use for your Mission Control background to replace Apple’s gray linen backdrop and save it as a .PNG image named defaultdesktop.png.
  3. Choose a different image you wish to have as your background in Dashboard to replace the ugly lego-style turd that Apple chose and save it as a .PNG image named pirelli.png.
  4. A third image is used as the background of the Dashboard preview icon at the top left of the Mission Control Window – it is basically a cropped version of the pirelli image you just saved. I chose to crop the image myself so it was more recognizable, but you certainly don’t have to if you don’t care to. If you do choose to do this, save the third file as a .PNG image named mini_pirelli.png.
  5. Place all three images on your desktop for easy access.
  6. In the Finder, navigate to Macintosh HD/System/Library/CoreServices and find the Dock application inside. Right-click the Dock.app and select Show Package Contents. Open the Contents folder that appears, then open the Resources folder.
  7. In the resources folder, scroll down and find the three file names I previously mentioned. While holding the Option key down, drag them to your Documents folder (or somewhere other than the Desktop) to serve as a backup.
  8. Now drag the defaultdesktop.png, pirelli.png and mini_pirelli.png files you created earlier into the Resources folder. You will be asked if you wish to keep both images, or replace them. Obviously, choose replace. You’ll most likely also be asked to authenticate with your user account password.
  9. The last step is to open the Terminal application found in your utilities folder. Once the Terminal window appears, type killall Dock and hit return.
Dashboard image background

Using colorful backgrounds makes it easy to identify my Dashboard at a glance

You should be able to see the results immediately in Mission Control and Dashboard. Experimenting with different images is kind of fun, but ultimately I ended up using a fairly bland charcoal black backdrop (the same one I use as my standard desktop wallpaper) in Dashboard. Surprisingly, I went back to using the Apple-provided gray linen backdrop for Mission Control.

It should also be noted that it is most likely that OS updates will overwrite these files, so you’ll probably have to do this after each one. Thankfully that’s only once or twice a year.

19 thoughts on “Changing OS X Lion’s Mission Control and Dashboard image backgrounds

  1. I hated the idea of Desktops when I first used it, but have now really started to dig the sideways action. The biggest problem for me was not being able to tell which Desktop I was currently looking at, (as with the Leopards you could just look on the Menubar). I made a set of simple Wallpapers and put subtle markers to remind you which Desktop you were currently looking at – http://goo.gl/YQGTv

    1. That’s exactly the same reason I never got into using Spaces… it was just too much effort to figure out where I was than it was worth.

  2. Sorry for the post spam. One of the letters in the name of the file was capitalized when I renamed the image. I made it lowercase and it solved the issue.

  3. I left the linen for MC but choose a wood image 1280×1024 for the Dashboard, but it still reduced the size and tiled it. Is there a way around this?

      1. OK I must be doing something wrong the 2 files for the Dashboard show the wood image I put in when I do Get Info, but the wallpaper for the Dashboard is now the default Galaxy Wallpaper image.

  4. In Step 8 you say: “You will be asked if you wish to keep both images, or replace them. Obviously, choose replace.”

    And then later you say “Surprisingly, I went back to using the Apple-provided gray linen backdrop for Mission Control.”

    I think it’s better to instruct folks to rename their original files to something like
    defaultdesktop.old.png, pirelli.old.png, and mini_pirelli.old.png — if only to make it easier to revert (like you did.)

    If they (“obviously”) choose replace, it’s entirely possible they will regret that and not have an easy way to revert back.

  5. Yes, I’ve been using Apple’s own gray linen for Lion’s Dashboard. For some reason the “lego-style turd that Apple chose” was making me dizzy!

    For what it’s worth, the file with this grey linen is already there, in the same folder
    (Macintosh HD/System/Library/CoreServices -> Dock.app/Contents/Resources)

    It is called “ecsb_background_tile.png”

    Copy that, and rename it to pirelli.png (after rename the original to pirelli.old.png to preserve it.)

    Last, “killall Dock” and you’re good to go.

  6. I tried those Aurora Burst png files on my 13 inch mac. They were way too big. How can I make them smaller or more condensed so they won’t mess up the picture on my mac?

    1. You can choose which size to download on the site, or just use the Fill Screen option in your System Preferences>Desktop & Screensaver tab.

  7. Great tip! It should also be noted that you can restore the previous appearance of the Dashboard (overlay on desktop) by unchecking the “Show Dashboard as a space” option in the new Mission Control System Preference. I personally like the old (overlay) way better.

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