Setting the Desktop Wallpaper Background with Group Policy is a fairly common request from administration or management. Unfortunately, the actual setup is not as straightforward as you would think. As with any Microsoft product, there are a myriad of ways to configure this and every way has a unique set of features (and drawbacks). In this guide, we will cover two ways of setting the desktop wallpaper background with Group Policy plus a few tricks that you’ll need to know first.
Before configuring even a single option – ask yourself these two questions first:
- Do you want your users to be able to change their backgrounds from one you set?
- Do you want a group of users or a group of computers (such as a physical site) to have the same background?
As you can probably guess, the answer to the first question depends on if you want to use a policy or preference to configure the desktop wallpaper. A preference allows you to set a default background for your users and can be configured to let them change it to something that suits their taste. A Policy locks down any wallpaper background settings! It is an “IT-On-High” kind of mandate.
Your answer to question 2 will determine your need for Loopback Policy Processing. It will also depend on the type of users that you manage. I work in education – most education organizations (at least K-12) tend to restrict this kind change.
Unrelated to this article, there tends to be an (overblown) fear that students will set their background to something inappropriate. In 2 years, I have had 3 cases of this. Thankfully, I have Administrators with some humor! Those three students now have this custom (and locked) background set for them:
Setting the Desktop Wallpaper Background with Group Policy Preferences
Deploying a custom desktop wallpaper with Group policy is really easy with Group Policy Preferences. Microsoft stores the wallpaper location in the registry and in clear text. The registry setting can be found at HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\Desktop\ and is named WallPaper.
You can also configure whether the wallpaper should be stretched or centered with Group Policy Preferences. This is determined by the WallpaperStyle setting in the same Desktop\ key. A setting of zero (o) equates to “Center the bitmap”. A setting of 2 equates to “Stretch the bitmap”. Zero is the default. If you are curious, you can find an explanation of the other Desktop settings here.
To deploy your wallpaper, navigate to User Configuration/Preferences/Windows Settings/Registry and create a new preference item. You will probably make these changes in your User’s GPO or a specific User WallPaper GPO. Use the screenshot below to customize the WallPaper registry setting.
You will need to ensure that your CRUD method is set to Update or Replace. If not, your settings will not apply. To let your users change this setting after it has applied once, be sure to check the box – “Apply once and do not reapply.” It can be found in the common tab for each preference.
Setting the Desktop Wallpaper Background with Group Policy Administrative Templates
If you wish to enforce a particular background and prevent users from changing it, you will need to use Administrative Templates. The setting Desktop WallPaper can be found at User Configuration\Administrative Templates\Desktop\Desktop\. Strangely, there is a Desktop Folder within a Desktop folder…
The setting will need to be enabled. You will also need to specify a wallpaper path that is accessible as your user. Finally, select the wallpaper style. Here is an example screenshot:
And that is all there is to it! In this post, you’ve learned the two ways to configure a user’s desktop background. You’ve also learned which way to choose and the benefits of each. Be sure to read the other article in this series for a cool extension of this technology! If you want to learn how to automatically change your desktop backgrounds or to sync those backgrounds to the Bing image of the day, see this guide.