I upgraded from Snow Leopard to Lion. Afterward when I would set a Desktop picture (either through System Preferences or iPhoto) it was applied to all desktops.

Yesterday I control clicked the desktop and set a picture and it was only applied to that desktop. Now, wether I use System Preferences or iPhoto it only affects the current desktop. I then have to move SP or iP to a new desktop and set that one, then the next, etc.

Does anybody know how to fool Lion back to having single desktop picture for all desktops?

I have active windows on each desktop that I would like to stay there, so closing all of my apps and regenerating desktops is not helpful. Similarly, gathering all windows to a single desktop and regenerating desktops is again not helpful.

The point is to reduce tedium, so anything that involves more steps is clearly not what I'm after.

To be explicit, for some reason previously Lion did it the way I want. Some setting in some file somewhere changed this behavior. This is the setting I'm looking for.

  • 3
    The worst thing is: You have to close system preferences when changing the background for all desktops/spaces. Because it ONLY changes the background for the desktop it was first started on. You cannot even drag it to another space and then change that background. This is clearly an inconsistency. IMHO there should be a checkbox labeled "Set background for all spaces".
    – Arne
    Aug 26, 2011 at 8:56
  • @Arne, It lets me drag it between spaces/desktops and change it without reopening it. I'm still of 10.7.0 though.
    – Jonathan.
    Sep 7, 2011 at 16:15
  • With Snow Leopard, you can drag System Preferences to each desktop and choose a desktop picture for that desktop. No closing needed.
    – GEdgar
    Oct 20, 2012 at 0:30
  • @GEdgar: Which is what I already said I do now in the question.
    – bahamat
    Oct 20, 2012 at 0:32
  • ...and what Arne said is the worst thing.
    – GEdgar
    Oct 20, 2012 at 2:42

4 Answers 4


The answer is simple (and very Apple-like!).

Simply close all extra desktops until you only have one desktop. (To do this, go to Mission Control, hold down alt and click the crosses which appear on unwanted desktops).

Then change the desktop background for the one remaining desktop.

Now any new desktops you create will inherit the background of that first desktop.

  • Yes but after having them open if I change it again it only affects one. Sorry, this does not help.
    – bahamat
    Jul 30, 2011 at 19:53
  • You can probably cook up an AppleScript to do this. If I have the time I'll take a look.
    – dan8394
    Jul 30, 2011 at 20:11
  • 5
    That is complete crap (not the answer, but Apple's solution). it goes against apple's ideas of easy of use and productivity.
    – Jonathan.
    Sep 7, 2011 at 16:17
  • 1
    This answer has problems because if you close all extra desktops, all your app->desktop assignments will be lost and you'll have to set them all up again. May 19, 2012 at 11:31
  • This doesn't seem at all Apple-like. I would describe this as a half-baked workaround, rather than a 'simple answer'.
    – Will
    Nov 7, 2012 at 19:09

The following is just a work around.

  1. Open System Preferences (go to 'Desktop & Screen Saver',
  2. Via the Dock, access System Preference's 'Options',
  3. Select 'All Desktops' under 'Assign To'
  4. Cycle through your desktops - (at least) the window will already be open to adjust the image for that desktop.

(Another benefit of this work around is that you can also easily set different backgrounds for different desktops.)

Otherwise, calling this an inconsistency is too nice: I'd call it a bug.


one simple way of doing so, is

  1. go to the last window and open Desktop preferences and change the background.
  2. drag the preference window to the left hold it for 1 second so you will shift to the next one again change it and repeat the process until you land in the first.

This way you avoid having to close and open the preference plane.

  • 1
    I know how to set them all manually. I don't want to do that.
    – bahamat
    Aug 29, 2012 at 15:27

I would recommend an app i use called stay. it's not free but it might be of great use in positioning windows just the way you want them. You could close all extra spaces, set the picture and tell stay to restore ur windows to their saved screen locations

  • Applications also have state as much as Lion does to make state a non-issue not all applications support it. Even if they did, I don't want to quit 20 apps then click 20 icons every time I change my desktop picture.
    – bahamat
    Jul 30, 2011 at 22:36

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .