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What is the Difference Between Screensavers and Wallpaper?

B. Miller
B. Miller

The difference between screensavers and wallpaper is that wallpaper is a static image that acts as a background image for the computer desktop, whereas the screensaver is a computer program that places a moving image on the computer screen while it is not in use. The screensaver hides the computer desktop, both to prevent damage to the monitor and for security purposes. Sometimes, the screensaver on a computer will activate other computer programs that can run in the background, such as an antivirus or anti-spyware scan. Both wallpaper and screensavers are commonly used on both personal and business computers.

Screensavers at one time served a more functional purpose than they do now. Older computer monitors used cathode-ray tube (CRT) technology, similar to old television sets. If a static image was left on the screen on these CRT monitors, or plasma monitors as well, the image could potentially "burn" onto the screen and cause damage. The moving images of the screensaver prevented this image burn from occurring on the screen. This is no longer a concern on LCD monitors, but many people still use screensavers for aesthetics and privacy, as well as to allow antivirus programs to scan the computer while it is not in use.

Cathode ray tubes that project the same image for a long period of time can damage the screen.
Cathode ray tubes that project the same image for a long period of time can damage the screen.

It is possible to set the screensaver program to require a password when someone tries to take the screensaver off and resume looking at the desktop. This is very helpful in office environments if one frequently walks away from the computer; setting the screensaver password is a quick, basic level of security to prevent others from logging on to the computer. Aside from these functional purposes, both screensavers and wallpaper serve decorative purposes as well. There are many different screensavers and wallpaper options pre-loaded onto most computers, or one can create a new one using favorite family photos, for example.

Screensavers and wallpaper can be created using a favorite family photo.
Screensavers and wallpaper can be created using a favorite family photo.

While screensavers serve a practical purpose on the computer, wallpaper is just for decoration. Wallpaper, or a background desktop image, simply fills up the desktop on which the program icons are located. It is possible to make the desktop image anything that one wants it to be; many people use favorite photos, or there are a nearly endless desktop wallpaper options that can be found for free online. Desktop wallpaper can be changed as often as one wants. Both screensavers and wallpaper are great, free, and easy ways to personalize one's computer and to increase its security.

Discussion Comments


Thanks. I love aquarium background and fish screensavers. I'm using Digital Aquarium Screensaver as my screensaver. This screensaver has lots of fish.


I always thought that screensavers were for both security and to prevent burn-in on the screen!

I am particularly glad to know about LCD technology meaning you no longer have to worry about burn in! I have left our LCD tv on the pause button when I am watching a show that I DVRed and walk away from the tv for long periods of time and completely forgot about the tv being paused.

So for us absentminded folks this has been a great upgrade. Now how do tell if my computer is an LCD screen?


@bluespirit - I have a mac now but I remember the best way for me to change such settings was to go to the "start" button at the bottom left of the computer and then in the search box put in "screensaver."

Then your computer will come up with the results and one of them should be something along the lines of "change screen saver." So one of the pluses should be that you could pick a fun screensaver while you are there, and then on the same screen it will probably say something about "wait" time.

This is where you want to change the number. The wait time is how long the computer waits until it goes from screen to screen saver once no activity has been monitored.


I remember when screensavers and changing your screensaver was all the rage even when the computers memory was not the greatest so you would slow up your computer in the name of a cute screensaver!

I guess because we have better pop up blockers, we are not getting new screensaver ideas as it seemed like half the time the screensavers were from pop-up ads that we could not pass up.

Now that I know the difference between a screensaver and wallpaper, I can say that it is my screensaver that is driving me crazy! I seem to get up from my computer for a second, or even just daydream for a second when my computer goes to screensaver mode and I have to reenter my password. Since I work on my computer much of the day, this can get rather annoying!

Any idea on how to fix this problem? Or is this best for my security?


I remember the days of worrying about an image sticking on the screen. In fact, until a month ago, I still used one of those old monitors that really needed a screensaver to prevent this.

I don’t think I had any cool screensavers. It was set to switch to a black screen with a bouncing ball after fifteen minutes of being idle. That was okay with me, because if I wasn’t using it, it meant I wasn’t in the room to see the screensaver.

I remember hearing the same thing about our old TV. My dad told me never to pause the Nintendo for very long, because the image could stick on the screen. I wanted to save my game while I ate supper, so I would pause it and just turn the TV off while leaving the Nintendo on, and this worked just fine.


Since I have an absolutely awesome digital camera, I often take my own photos to use as wallpaper. Often, my subjects are my dogs and flowers, and it’s nice to have pieces of home at work.

I have a really cute shot of my dogs drinking from the water faucet. I also have one of each dog sniffing a tulip. The camera takes such good photos that when the images are blown up to fill the screen, you can see vivid detail.

I made a screensaver using several of my own photos. I set the computer to zoom in slowly on each one, and once it reaches a certain magnification, it switches to the next photo.


I never put too much effort into selecting my screensaver, because it would only appear when I left my desk, anyway. However, I wanted to have a really interesting wallpaper, because I had to look at it all day.

Since I’m a graphic designer, I decided to make my own using the software at work. I wanted to have several seasonal wallpapers that I could easily switch out, and since it was the end of September, I started working on one for fall based around the word “October.”

I colorized the letters with a color gradient that faded from red to orange to green like autumn leaves. Then, I made a background that faded from gold to orange to deep red diagonally from the top left corner to the bottom right.

I made custom brushes from the shapes of various leaves, and I dragged the brushes across different areas of the image. I adjusted them so they would scatter far and wide. It looked like the leaves were falling naturally across the wallpaper.


A few days after I started my job, I had a little bit of spare time to look through a folder of screensavers already on the computer. Many people had added to that folder through the years, so I had quite a variety of both feminine and masculine designs to choose from. Though I had my wallpaper set to a solid blue color so I could easily see the icons, I wanted to have an elaborate screensaver.

I settled on one named “moonlit valley.” It would zoom into different scenes, and all of them had exotic looking flowers in cool shades of purple and blue. Everything was illuminated by the moon.

When an image first appeared, it was zoomed out, and the image would stay on the screen until it had zoomed way in and you could see a flower up close. Then, it would switch to the next image and do the same thing again.


I really prefer a blank white or blue for my background. I am really bad about cluttering up my desktop with icons and files and folders so if I have a complicated image as my wallpaper it becomes really hard to see. I remember I once has this colorful brick pattern that must have had at least 75 different colors in it. It was an awesome image but it was impossible to see the icons. I had to click on each one just to see what is was. That wallpaper didn't last for very long.


For me the best screensaver always was and always will be the block of text that floats around your screen. You can change the text to say whatever you want.

I think I like this one because it is so variable. Sometimes I feel like something profound. Sometimes I feel like something silly. Sometimes I just want it to say "broccoli." It's a screensaver for every mood.

Its also great for pranks. I can't tell you how many times I've been rolling on the floor because someone comes back to their desk from lunch and finds the world "smelly" bouncing around their computer screen. Maybe its juvenile but it gets me every time.


@manykitties2 - I know what you mean. I used to be absolutely crazy for screensavers. It seems like I used to download a new one every day. I had a few websites I would check all the time that were dedicated only to screensavers.

But now I have my screensaver set to just black. It has been this way for at least 4 years and I have never seriously thought about changing. I'm not sure what caused this switch, but all of a sudden I don't seem to care at all about screensavers.

Maybe it has to do with Youtube and internet videos. We see so many cool images/animations that we no longer need to pick just one to play on our computers over and over


If you are looking to download some screensavers for your computer make sure to run a virus scan on them before you install them. I made the mistake of downloading a screensaver only to get a virus on my computer.

With wallpapers things are a lot safer I think. I have never gotten anything from copying an image online, though I now have a warning system on my computer that tells me when there is malicious software on a site. This has saved me more than a few times.

The best bet if you want a screensaver is to download one you like from a reputable company. For example, a lot of movies have sites that provide wallpapers and screensavers free of charge.


I remember back when I got my first PC how important it was that I let the screensaver run. Nowadays I pretty much never use one unless I find something super cute online. I recently came across a few screensavers that were dedicated to some of my favorite animation put together by fans. Nothing is better than finding some great fan-made screensavers.

With most screensavers you can get a matching wallpaper image for your desktop. While I usually don't match things up, some people come up with really nice overall desktop themes that include everything you need to give your desktop a fluid look.

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    • Cathode ray tubes that project the same image for a long period of time can damage the screen.
      By: Vasiliy Timofeev
      Cathode ray tubes that project the same image for a long period of time can damage the screen.
    • Screensavers and wallpaper can be created using a favorite family photo.
      By: imtmphoto
      Screensavers and wallpaper can be created using a favorite family photo.
    • Both screensavers and wallpaper can be used to personalize one's computer and increase its security.
      By: Syda Productions
      Both screensavers and wallpaper can be used to personalize one's computer and increase its security.