Run a Screensaver as Your Desktop Background

A little-known trick will allow you to run your Mac's screensaver as a desktop background. You can use this to have an animated desktop, display useful information, or just for fun. It could be useful in situations where you have your Mac just playing music in a shared space and want something more interesting being shown than just a static image.

Video Transcript / Captions
Closed captioning for this video is available on YouTube: Run a Screensaver as Your Desktop Background.

Here's a fun little thing that you can do with your Mac. Say you like your screensaver. But you would like to see more of it. You can make your screensaver your desktop background. Yes, even if it's an animated screensaver. So here's how to do that.

The first thing you want to do is go into System Preferences and check your screensaver settings. So go into Desktop and Screensaver, Screensaver and choose one. Here I've got that flurry one, you can change to this one. It might be more appropriate for a desktop background. So let's leave it at that.

Now you want to run Terminal. I'm going to hit Command Space and run Terminal. So I'm going to type this command. Actually I'm going to paste it in. The only part of this is an actual command is this ScreenSaverEngine which is actually going to initiate this app that's hidden in here at this path. Then you're going to do it with, space- (dash) background. Basically what that's going to do is it's going to initiate the ScreenSaver in the background. I'm going to include this in the text for this post at so you can just copy and paste it from there.

So what happens when I hit Return? There we go. Now the ScreenSaver, and you can see if I move these windows out of the way, the Screensaver is actually running as my desktop background. I can continue to work here. I can open up Finder windows, do apps, things like that. Of course this is going to impact performance somewhat but it can be fairly fun and sometimes useful depending upon which Screensaver that you're using. It could provide kind of a useful function. It's fun to do.

Now, here's the thing. You've got to keep this Terminal window open. You can see it's actually running the app. It actually didn't even go to the next line. It's kind of paused there. You can simply hide Terminal and put it out of the way. There it is in the Dock and bring it up. But if you were to quit this, and you can do that with Control C, there in the Terminal or simply quit the Terminal app then you can see the background goes away. Which is probably desirable because I don't know if you really want that as your default thing. Maybe something you do from time to time.

If you don't like playing around with Terminal or want to do this without having to remember the command or copy and paste it each time, you can run Automator and you can create a new, let's do this just as an application, and if you search here for shell, you can see it runs shell script. Drag that over there and paste that command in here. Then I can Save it, and let's just save it on the desktop, and there it is. I can quit Automator and when I run this it does the same thing. You can see since I'm running an Automator app I get this little spinning wheel here at the top right. I can click that and you can see it's zero percent completed because it's kind of paused there. I can quit it at anytime. So it's a little handy thing. I can put that in my Applications folder. I can even have this launch automatically in System Preferences under Users and Groups when I restart my Mac.

There are various ways to get this going. But it's really just kind of a fun thing to do. Maybe a little trick. Maybe something that you might like to have say if you're just listening to music and you want to have this running in the background but still want to be able to check your email every once in a while. That kind of thing.

Here is the command:

Comments: 7 Responses to “Run a Screensaver as Your Desktop Background”

    Jerry Morris
    2 years ago

    I dod see the terminal command on the web page. I am visually impaired, so I can not see what you entered in the video.,

    2 years ago

    Jerry: Just added it. Sorry.

    Greg McMillan
    2 years ago

    Gary, this is awesome. I have one issue though. When I run the app that was created in Automator and try to stop it, the spinning wheel goes away but the screensaver keeps running as my desktop. Any suggestions?

    2 years ago

    Greg: Not sure why that is working differently for you. I guess you could always just use System Preferences, Desktop & Screensaver to make the desktop switch back.

    2 years ago

    I cannot quit this either.

    2 years ago

    Yep same problem here. it keeps running even after quitting but I think because Automator installed it some how when I ran it ? How can we find it and delete it again ? Thanks

    2 years ago

    Update. I had to quit it under Activity monitor. Kill the process but I don’t know if that is the solution really?

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