How to Create a Custom Lock Screen Message in OS X and iOS

Starting with the release of OS X 10.7 Lion, a feature was added that permitted the creation of a custom text message and have it emblazoned on the Mac’s login screen. The message could be a affable one of warmth and welcome. It could be a straightforward “If found, call so-and-so” kind of message communicating all the necessary contact information. It could even be a stern warning promising an eternity of torment and affliction if attempting access without proper authorization.

The Lock screen on the Mac, showing a Lock Message

OS X allows you to configure a Lock Message which appears on the Lock screen

Setting a Lock Screen Message On Your Mac

First, for this to work, you must have Automatic Login disabled in OS X Lion or later. I am certain that you understand that the need for this precaution is a good idea, particularly when going out-and-about with your MacBook Pro or Air. By the way, – and this will be touched upon below –  if you have FileVault enabled, Automatic Login isn’t even an option.

Let’s dive in and have you try this out for yourself:

The Users & Groups Preferences panel

Automatic login needs to be disabled in the Users & Groups preferences panel

1. If you have FileVault enabled, skip to step 2. If you don’t have FileVault enabled, Go to System Preferences > Users & Groups, click on Login Options at the bottom of the user column on the left. Verify that Automatic Login is disabled (set to Off), which is required for this feature to work. You may first need to allow changes by clicking the lock icon at the bottom, and authenticate when prompted. When the change is complete, don't forget to click the lock once again to prevent further changes, then return to the main System Preferences panel.

2. Click on the Security & Privacy preferences, and make sure the General tab is selected.

3. Allow changes by clicking the lock icon at the bottom, and authenticate when prompted.

The Security & Privacy Preferences panel

The Lock Message is set in the Security & Privacy preferences panel

4. Enable Show a message when the screen is locked and click on the “Set Lock Message…” button.

5. In the resulting dialog, enter the text you want to appear on the Lock screen, and click OK.

The Security & Privacy preferences panel and a text entry field for the Lock Message

Any text entered here will appear on the Mac’s Lock screen

6. While visiting the Security & Privacy preferences panel, you should review your settings for Require password [time interval] after sleep or screen saver begins. I set mine to 5 seconds for convenience.

7. Finally, click the lock to prevent further changes, and close System Preferences.

You’re done. Now, whenever you – or your designated unauthorized user – power up, reboot, or wake your Mac, you’ll be greeted by the OS X login screen with the resplendent message inscribed for all to see.

Setting a Lock Screen Message On Your iOS Device

So, what about your iOS device? A nice customized message right there on the Lock screen would be nice when needed.

There is no built-in Lock screen message creation process in iOS as there is in OS X, however there are a couple of things you can try: either manually create the wallpaper containing the Lock screen message, or use one of many commercial solutions via an iOS app dedicated to this particular function.

Manually Creating a Lock Screen Wallpaper for Your iOS Device

To make a custom wallpaper, it’s best to be comfortable using an image editor program like Adobe Photoshop Elements, Acorn, Pixelmator, or the free GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program).

You can design your wallpaper to take advantage of the new iOS 7 parallax motion effect feature. To do this, you simply need to add at least 400 pixels to each native dimension (height/width) of your device's screen for the best effect. This is because, in iOS 7, the built-in accelerometer technology is utilized in order to slightly shift the wallpaper image to simulate the parallax effect when the device is tilted.

If you don’t like the parallax effect, you can create regular static wallpaper by creating images at the standard screen pixel dimensions for the device in question.

Here are suggested starting points for pixel dimensions (height x width) to crop to for the respective iDevice models:

  • iPhone 4s – parallax: 1,040 x 360 pixels; [standard: 960 x 640 pixels]
  • iPhone 5, 5c, & 5s – parallax: 1,536 x 1,040 pixels; [standard:1,136 x 640 pixels]
  • iPod touch (fifth gen) – parallax:1,536 x 1,040 pixels; [standard: 1,136x640 pixels]
  • iPad (third & fourth gen plus Air) – parallax: 2,448 x 1,936 pixels; [standard: 2,048 x 1,536 pixels]
  • iPad mini (first gen) – parallax: 1,424 x 1,168 pixels; [standard: 1,024 x 768 pixels]
  • iPad mini with Retina display – parallax: 2,448 x 1,936 pixels; [standard: 2,048 x 1,536 pixels]

For iPad, you need to take into account that the lock/home screen can be used in either portrait or landscape orientation. For best results, use the longest of the two dimensions as a basis for a square crop. For example, try a 1,424 x 1,424 pixel image for the iPad mini (1st gen), and a 2,448 x 2,448 pixel image for all Retina display iPads, including the new iPad mini with Retina display.

When placing text, be sure to center it in your final wallpaper image so that it appears centered in both orientations.

If you already have an image you'd like to repurpose for this task, use the software apps mentioned above to add your message text plus anything else you'd like to show off when your device is turned on. If you are starting from an image that is larger than the pixel dimensions cited, use the crop tool to compose and crop the image to the appropriate size. Avoid up- or down-scaling the image to mitigate image quality issues.

The icon for the Contact Lockscreen Info app

Be sure to select the correct app in the App Store

As for iOS apps that allow you to create and manipulate wallpapers specifically for the purpose of applying a message, I like to use a free universal app called Contact Lockscreen Info by Homegrown Software Ltd. The app shows up on-screen named “Contact Lock.” This handy app doesn't restrict you to placing contact information on the Lock screen; you can add any text you want. And, it's pretty flexible. I like it.

Three iPhone screens showing the creation of a personalized Lock screen

The Lockscreen Info app lets you personalize text that appears on your iOS device’s Lock screen

With the Contact Lockscreen Info app, you can create a multi-line text message on any wallpaper image you choose. You can adjust font size and choose from a palette of message background colors as well as set transparency.
Wallpapers are appropriately sized for the device on which they are created - both with and without the parallax motion effect enabled.

In conclusion, whether for security reasons or just for the sake of vanity, the personalization of our Lock screens is yet another fun way to make our tech uniquely our own.