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How to make the best custom Gmail theme

Gmail background
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If Google’s figures are to be believed (and as usual Google is a bit vague on the numbers ) Gmail has recently overtaken Microsoft’s Hotmail as the largest cloud email service.

Gmail background

Reports say that the Google service has between 350 million and 425 million users – Google, naturally, preferring the larger to the smaller number.  Whichever number is more accurate Google is no doubt pleased that its email service has seen such consistent growth since its launch in 2004.

Apart from Search, and even more than Google+, Gmail, along with Android and Chrome, is key to Google’s attempt at building its web operating system. But until recently Google’s services have been uniform and largely limiting in the customization options available.

That’s changed this year -Google+ got a snazzy new redesign with more customization options and last week Google rolled out customizable backgrounds for Gmail. Previously, Gmail did allow you to select from a small list of available designs (as well as change some colours) but it didn’t allow you to change your entire background image.

Changing your Gmail background

The ability to change your Gmail background can be found under the Themes option in Settings.  From here Google will allow you to select from a series of pre-chosen images, or images from your Google+ account, as well as images from the web (you just need the URL).  You can also upload images from your computer directly.

This all sounds great but here’s the problem.  Gmail automatically resizes the images you select to fit your screen size.  The advantage with this is that you can be sure that you won’t be left with an ugly tiled background image (as you will see with any number of Twitter backgrounds).

The disadvantage is that it’s tricky to select an image that fits onto your screen.  If you select an image with text on the bottom, this will likely be cut off on most screens or if the main area of interest is on the right this too will likely be cut off.

Our tips for Gmail background images

When you are selecting your Gmail background images there are a few simple rules that’ll ensure your Gmail experiences looks great.

  1. Make sure that the focus of the image is on the top-left or top-center of the image.  If it’s too far right or too near the bottom it will probably be cut off when resized.
  2. Crop images before, if you can.  From what we can see Gmail displays images in four sizes;
    • 1050px by 600px
    • 1280px by 800px
    • 1440px by 900px
    • 1920px by 1200px

    Obviously the larger the picture size the better quality the image will be when displayed so it’s better to go for an image on the larger end of this scale but do try and crop your picture to the proportions.

  3. Don’t use images with lots of small text, this will look too confusing. Large text is, however, okay.

With these tips you should get great Gmail wallpapers each time. If you don’t have access to Photoshop, Google+ and Picasa (the desktop version) both have image editing tools that will allow you to complete minor edits on images, so they will display correctly.

Gmail background with focus on top left
This image works because the main area of focus is on the top left. The dark colors also mean that it’s not too distracting.
Gmail background with focus on top center
Although this image could be cropped better it works well because of the consistency of the color scheme and because the area of focus is in the center and to the top
Gmail background with focus on bottom center
While the photo of the Moon would work as a background image it would be better if the Moon was higher in the frame.
Gmail background with focus on bottom
This image doesn’t work because the text is too low in the frame.

 

Gmail background with focus on bottom right
The area of focus on this sunset photograph is a windmill on the bottom right but you wouldn’t know it with the way Gmail is displaying the image. Reversing the image and cropping it would turn this into a better Gmail background.

2 Comments

  1. Chrome will always crop your image, even if you set it the right size. You have to float your image on a larger page size. E.G. if your screen res is set to 1920×1080 you have to use a document size of 2360px X 1190px and float the actual 1920px x 1080px image you want to use in the top left corner of the document. and save that.

    1. Interesting. Thank you Simon. Although, I’ve yet to “float” images per se, and off hand, am unable to muster up an image of that process in my mind though I’m quite sure I can figure it out pretty quick. Open image editor>Create 2360px X 1190px canvas document and by float I am going out on a limb to define that as moving/pasting in, etc. the 1920px X 1080px image I’ve either taken, downloaded, or sketched, unto the very Top-Left corner because in fact, Google’s cropping engine will ultimately cut it in such a way where that portion is the part of the entire canvas document being used? Thanks. I think I understand.

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Piers Dillon Scott
Piers Dillon-Scott is co-editor of The Sociable and writes about stuff he finds. He likes technology, media, and using the Oxford comma (because it just makes sense).