Full Screen Background Images

Full screen background images are a nice feature for a number of WordPress themes. It’s also one of the few theme modifications that can be handled well through a plugin.

Full Screen Background

The implementations I’ve seen generally use the jQuery script backstretch.js– which handles responsive layouts and large images elegantly.

If you’re not a theme developer and just want to add a full screen background to your site, I’d suggest trying out one of these plugins:

If you are a developer and want learn how to add this feature to a theme, read on.

How it Works

There’s a couple items you’ll want to look out for with a feature like this:

  • Load the scripts only when it can actually be used (e.g. image is set)
  • Make sure the user has the ability to turn it on or off
  • Remove the default inline styles used with background images
  • Load the image at an appropriate time

I created a basic version of this in plugin form (on GitHub), which is the code I’ll walk through.

Add Support for Background Images to the Theme

We’ll use the built in WordPress support for background images. This line should be included in the function called from the after_theme_setup hook:

add_theme_support( 'custom-background' );

Read more about the custom background feature and additional arguments here.

Add Option to the Theme Customizer


Now let’s add an option that allows the user turn full screen backgrounds on and off. The dashboard UI isn’t very extensible, but we can add this easily to the theme customizer under the background heading:

 * Adds an option to the theme customizer for full screen backgrounds.
 * Disabled by default.
function basic_backstretch_customizer_register( $wp_customize ) {

   // Add full screen background option
   $wp_customize->add_setting( 'basic-backstretch', array(
    	'default' => 10,
    	'type' => 'option'
    ) );

    // This will be hooked into the default background_image section
    $wp_customize->add_control( 'basic-backstretch', array(
    	'settings' => 'basic-backstretch',
		'label'    => __( 'Full Screen Background', 'textdomain' ),
		'section'  => 'background_image',
		'type'     => 'checkbox'
	) );

add_action( 'customize_register', 'basic_backstretch_customizer_register' );

Note, if you already use other options for your theme, change the ‘basic-backstretch’ setting to match the rest of your theme. E.g. ‘settings’ => ‘mytheme[full_background]’.

You’ll also want to use the actual text domain of your theme for translation.

Before Enqueuing the Scripts

Before the backstretch scripts are enqueued, we’ll want to make sure that they are actually needed.

This means that a background image would need to be set and that the user has chosen the option to display backgrounds full screen.

These two checks are:

  1. if ( get_background_image() )
  2. if ( get_option( ‘basic-backstretch’ ) )

If you’ve changed the option name, #2 might be different.

If those two conditions aren’t met, the scripts won’t be loaded.

Enqueue the Scripts

There’s a lot going on in this function. I’ve added inline comments that explain most of what is happening.

The theme_mod_background_image filter will be explained in the next section.

 * Checks if a background image is present and if full screen background option is set.
 * If so, required scripts are loaded.
function basic_backstretch() {

	if ( get_background_image() && get_option( 'basic-backstretch' ) ) {

		// Registers the backstretch script
		wp_register_script( 'basic-backstretch-js', get_template_directory_uri() . '/js/jquery.backstretch.js', array('jquery'), '20130930', true );

		// Enqueues the script
		wp_enqueue_script( 'basic-backstretch-js' );

		// Adds a javascript object with the background image URL
		// This is used to load the image after other images on page have finished
		wp_localize_script( 'basic-backstretch-js', 'basicbackstretch', array(
			'background' => esc_url( get_background_image() )
		) );

		// Remove the background image from being included in inline styles
		// Uses http://codex.wordpress.org/Plugin_API/Filter_Reference/theme_mod_$name
		add_filter( 'theme_mod_background_image', 'backstretch_background_image_mod' );

		// Add script to load backstretch in the footer
		add_action( 'wp_footer', 'basic_backstretch_inline_script', 100 );

add_action( 'wp_enqueue_scripts', 'basic_backstretch' );

 * Inline script will load the full screen background image after all other images
 * on the page have loaded.
function basic_backstretch_inline_script() { ?>
	jQuery( window ).load( function() {
		jQuery.backstretch(basicbackstretch.background, {speed: 300});
<?php }

Prevent the Background Image Defaults from Displaying

When background support is enabled in a theme, inline styles are automatically added to the head of the page to display it properly. If you don’t remove these styles, you’ll likely see a flash of tiled images before backstretch has a chance to load.

In the above function I used a filter to remove the inline styles:
add_filter( ‘theme_mod_background_image’, ‘backstretch_background_image_mod’ );

With this function:

 * Keeps inline styles for the background image from outputting in the header
 * Works similar to the pre_option filter
 * http://codex.wordpress.org/Plugin_API/Filter_Reference/pre_option_(option_name)

function backstretch_background_image_mod() {
	return false;

This works by filtering the theme_mod before it renders, so no inline styles are rendered.

This might be less than ideal if another plugin needed to use the background image in some way- but I can’t really think of a good use case where this would happen.

Another way to change the output of the inline styles though, would be to pass a custom callback for wp-head-callback when registering support for custom backgrounds. That method is suggested in this backstretch tutorial by wpsites.

// Add custom background callback for background color

function custom_background_callback() {
	if ( ! get_background_color() )
	printf( '<style>body { background-color: #%s; }</style>' . "\n", get_background_color() );

Loading the Image

In the enqueue scripts section, this outputs the code in the footer of the page which triggers the loading of the image by backstretch:

	jQuery( window ).load( function() {
		jQuery.backstretch(basicbackstretch.background, {speed: 300});

There are two main hooks javascript is fired on: document.ready or the window.load. Since full screen images can be large in size, I choose to use the window.load hook. This means the background won’t fade in until all the other images on the page have rendered.

If your site has a ton of images and takes a long time to load, it might be strange to have the background load so late. But in my opinion, it’s more important for the primary site content to load first before nice design touches like the background.

Full Source Code

If you want to try this code in plugin, or read through it all in linear order, check out the demo plugin I put on GitHub. The minified code for backstretch.js is also there, but the official GitHub repo for that project is more likely to have the latest version.

About Devin

I am a developer based in Austin, Texas. I run a little theme shop called DevPress and help manage a WooCommerce shop with Universal Yums. Find me on twitter @devinsays.

7 Responses

    1. I’ve found that Backstretch actually performs better than using background-size, in my case anyway. I initially had background-size built into my Publisher theme but had to remove it due to sluggish scrolling. In my testing, Backstretch was noticeably more performant when compared side by side with background-size.

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