Create a DIY Desktop in Adobe Illustrator

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Is it time to clean up your desktop? Maybe your desktop full of files and folders? Do you save screenshots and bookmarks right onto your desktop?

Are you getting overwhelmed but all this digital clutter? Don’t fret. I’ve been there, too.

Tutorial: How to clean up your desktop and make it pretty. Are files and folders cluttering your desktop? Discover how to easily take care of the mess and create a custom desktop background designed to help you stay organized.

That’s why I created this step-by-step tutorial. Discover how to clean your desktop (and make it pretty!) in just a few minutes. And say good-bye to digital clutter.

Clean up your desktop and create better habits

Is your desktop a cluttered mess, too? Is it time to clean up your desktop? You’re not alone. I love to be organized, but I am not immune to digital clutter. I often treat my desktop as a temporary storage dump. 

I’ll save project related files, use them, and move on. That’s how I end up with dozens of screenshots, font files, pictures, project files, and folders.

The good news is we can clean up your desktop and organize it at the same time. We’ll create a custom background image and swap it with your current desktop image.

If you follow this tutorial you should be able to clean up your desktop and implement your new desktop image in less than twenty minutes. 

About this Tutorial

This tutorial was created on a Mac, but you can use the same method on a PC (remember that most of the time when it’s COMMAND on a Mac, it’s CONTROL on a PC).

Let’s dig right in. Apple ships their computers with gorgeous photography to use as a desktop image. That’s great but can also be distracting. Today we will design a custom background that will help clean your desktop and organize your files and folders at the same time.

We’ll go from a cluttered background like this…

Tutorial: Messy Desktop needing to be cleaned up and organized

to a much prettier and more organized desktop background like this…

Tutorial 15: Clean up your desktop

Step #1 – Clean up your desktop: Figure out your monitor’s display size

We will need this information to set up our design file.

  • On the Mac navigate your mouse to the upper left-hand corner where you see the little apple icon.
Tutorial: Clean up your desktop
  • Click on About This Mac and a medium-size window will open up. By default, you will be in the tab ‘Overview’, just navigate to the next tab ‘Displays’
  • Look for the resolution size. In the example mine was 5120 x 2880 pixels.
Tutorial Step 1: Clean up your desktop

 Once you have that information, make a note and close your window.

Step #2 – Creating a Custom Background

Use your favorite vector or image editing app. You can use online editors like PicMonkey or Canva or download, a free editing app like Gimp. 

Or use a premium desktop apps like Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator. Basically any app that allows you create basic shapes and add a text overlay. 

I chose to use Adobe Illustrator, because it’s my go-to program for creating graphics. If you don’t have Illustrator you can get a 30-day free trial here

Set up Your Document

  • Create a New Document. Depending what program you’ll use, your dialogue boxes or prompts will look different, but the process i pretty much the same.
  • Enter the dimensions of your desktop. In my case the width is 5120 pixel and the height is 2880 pixels. Hit done.
  • Now you will have a blank canvas and are ready to design. 
Tutorial Step 1: Create a custom background

Step #3 – Design your Custom Background

Create your custom design

  • Create your background. Look for the rectangle tool. On my version of Adobe Illustrator, it is the fifth icon from the top of the left-hand side toolbar.
Tutorial Step 3: Create a custom background
  • Once you have selected the Rectangle tool move your mouse over to your document and left-click once.
  • A new modifier window will open.
  • Enter the number of pixels (5120px by 2880px) that match the size of your document. That’s the rectangle for your background.

How to assign the Fill Color and Align your Rectangle

Tutorial Step 4: Create a custom background
  • Assign a fill color of your choice for your rectangle by double clicking into the fill icon icon (see below)
Tutorial Step 4: Create a custom background
Tutorial 4a: Clean up your desktop
  • Line up the rectangle with the edge of your document. You can do this manually or go to WINDOW -> ALIGN.
  • The Align Window will open.
  • If your window looks like the one in the picture below and you don’t see an “ALIGN TO” dropdown menu go to the hamburger menu on the top right hand and click “SHOW OPTIONS”
Tutorial 4b: Clean up your desktop
  • Once you have activated that option, select your rectangle and choose “ALIGN TO ART BOARD” from theALIGN TO dropdown menu.
Tutorial 4c: Clean up your desktop
  • Make sure your rectangle is selected and click on align horizontally (2) and vertically (3).
  • Your background rectangle will now be perfectly centered on your art board.

Create your organizational units

  • Create four additional rectangles. Or how ever many make sense to you.
  • Choose a fill color. I made all of mine the same but you can be creative and choose different colors or patterns.
  • Distribute them evenly on top of your background rectangle.
    Tip: To prevent your background rectangle from slipping out of place, select the gray rectangle and press command+2. This locks the selected background layer temporarily
Tutorial 5: Clean up your desktop
  • Repeat the last step and create four additional rectangles. Those will be your headers.
Tutorial 6: Clean up your desktop
  • Now it’s time to add the header text for your organizational units.
  • Select the text type tool from the tool menu.
Tutorial 7: Clean up your desktop
  • Create headings that will work with your workflow. I chose TO DO, WORKING ON, TO FILE, AND RESOURCES but you could also use headers like HOME, KIDS, WORK, CLIENTS.
Tutorial 8: Clean up your desktop

We are in the home stretch. Next we’ll need to export our file as a jpg.

Export and Save

  • From the file menu select: File -> Export -> Export As
Tutorial 9: Clean up your desktop
  • Once you select EXPORT AS… you a save window will pop up. Name your file and select jpg from the format drop down menu and select EXPORT.
Tutorial 10: Clean up your desktop

The next two steps are optional but I recommend them (especially if you want to make changes to your file in the future).

  • You want to preserve an editable document so you need to save the Illustrator file. Select FILE -> SAVE AS…
Tutorial 11: Clean up your desktop
  • Name your file, select a location on your hard drive. The Illustrator format is already preselect so all you have to do is press save.
Tutorial 12: Clean up your desktop

#Step 4 – Changing the Desktop Image

Now it’s time to change the background image.

  • Go to your desktop and right click anywhere. A contextual window will open. Choose CHANGE DESKTOP BACKGROUND.
Tutorial 13: Clean up your desktop
  • Locate the folder you previously saved your image to (I saved mine to the Pictures folder).
Tutorial 14: Clean up your desktop

#Step 5 – Arrange your files and folder

And now it’s time to arrange your files and folders and your desktop is pretty organized. This is a perfect time to clean up your desktop and delete old files!

Tutorial 15: Clean up your desktop

Organize your files into the categories you’ve created and voila cleaned up your desktop. Now you’ve made it pretty and your own!

And because we’ve saved the Adobe Illustrator file you can always go back and change the layout and make it work with your aesthetic and workflow.

Let me know in the comments if you have any questions. And tag me on Instagram or Twitter with a picture of your organized desktop!

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Hi, friends. My name is Maike. Nice to meet you. I am the blogger behind the Cheerful Cook. A Comfort Food blog where we celebrate easy German American recipes all year long

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Hi There, I’m Maike! Welcome to the Cheerful Cook. Here’s were you’ll discover easy German American comfort food everyone can cook. 

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