Back in 2012, shortly after Apple got the whole "Retina" ball rolling, the pickings for beautiful high-resolution desktop wallpapers were pretty slim. The list I compiled in October 2012 highlighted just five sites, and I had to scour the place to drum that many up.
Thankfully those five were terrific, flush with beautiful imagery, much of it captured and cultivated by professional photographers, talented artists and enthusiasts of eclectic cultural miscellany. They've more than kept my 2800 x 1880 pixel workspace happy. But we're a ways from 2012, and with 4K and higher screens on the rise, the world's filling up with post-1080p (1920 x 1080 pixels) content.
So here's my list of picks updated for 2014, including the five original sites -- still some of the best around -- but with several lovely additions. Keep tabs on these, and you're looking at enough art to swap your desktop or mobile device's wallpaper several times a day for years to come.
If I had to pick one site, it would still be this one (it was my favorite last time, too). The photographic and post-shot editing talent on display in this joint is second to none, and the images now roll up past my 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro's 2880 x 1880 resolution to 3840 x 2400 (as well as 3860 x 2160, the 4K ultra high definition TV standard). The site itself is also one of the most elegantly designed and easy to navigate, each picture annotated with the photographer’s capture device specs and post-processing notes.
You won’t find many photographs at Vladstudio, but you will find some of the best eclectic digital art on the web. Russian artist Vlad Gerasimov’s collection of desktop wallpapers is gorgeous, a trove of clever, imaginative and occasionally humorous themes that range from seasonal showcases and riffs on maps of the world to playful musings on digital life. Note: the desktop resolutions currently top out at 2880 x 1880, but the site includes support for most Apple and Android devices as well as multi-monitor (up to three) ultra-wide images.
Cost: Free for lower resolution images, $14.99 for a premium membership that unlocks the high-definition versions (the membership cost is one-time, and thus for life).
Think of WallpapersWide as the grab bag of Retina wallpaper sites, offering everything from cartoons and celebrities to “motors,” music, nature and “vintage” backgrounds (you can sort by any of those categories, and dozens more). The site auto-detects your resolution, too, though if you're running a scaled interface, like most Retina MacBook Pros, you'll need to manually input your native resolution since the site detects the considerably lower-scaled one.
The only caveat: Some of the wallpapers top out below resolutions like 2560 x 1600 or 2880 x 1880, so be sure to use the handy “Filter By” resolution option on the left column. That said, sorting by 2880 x 1880 turned up well over 12,000 pages of material (in 2012, there were just 4,000 at this resolution) and the site now supports crazy-high resolutions and ratios, up to 5:4 and 10240 x 4096.
Another multifaceted digital art site, Digital Blasphemy offers splendid 3D-rendered original art by Ryan Bliss, who’s been selling his work through the site for years. While many of the compositions are intentionally idiosyncratic, you’ll find glamour shots of beautified landscapes here that in some cases look so photorealistic you'll be hard pressed to discern fantasy from reality. Resolution coverage is excellent, too, running up to 7860 x 1600 (triple-screen 16:10).
Cost: Free in the “free” gallery, but most artwork is membership-based. Memberships range from $15 for 100 days to a lifetime option for $99.
Like WallpapersWide, WallpaperFX offers a hodgepodge of high-resolution pictures (celebrity, animals, nature, etc.) as well as rendered and tinkered-with artwork, with resolutions running up to the 4K TV spec (3840 x 2160). It sports a notably smaller collection than most, but has its share of zingers, like the one pictured here.
2048pixels doesn’t support the Retina MacBook Pro family’s 2560 x 1600 or 2880 x 1880 resolutions, but it remains the go-to site for the the Retina iPad and iPad Mini (2048 x 1536).
Before you download one of 2048pixels’ wallpapers, be sure to fiddle with the “FX” button in each image’s upper-left-hand corner, where you can actually custom-tailor the properties like blurring, textures (lines, mesh grains) and pixelation.
Another site with a smaller collection but plenty of gems, MrWallpaper has you covered up to 2880 x 1880 and offers a fast, simple, ad-free interface that lets you sort by general categories, filter by resolution or drop keywords into a search box.
I mentioned Google Images last time in passing, but it's really become a pretty terrific alternative to using a fixed site, surfacing content across the spectrum of crawled art sites and blogs, and you can restrict your search to high-definition images using Google's search tools (including the option to sort by exact pixel sizes). If you're doing a general "larger than" search, be sure to turn on the helpful "show sizes" option in the menubar, too.