Blotter: Displaying iCal on Your Desktop

This post is part of a series that revisits some of our readers’ favorite articles from the past that still contain awesome and relevant information that you might find useful. This post was originally published on April 23rd, 2011.

Time management is be a daunting task for many of us. I excel in writing down my appointments and time blocks into iCal, but if I don’t assign an alarm to them, I miss them. More than that, knowing that I have a lot crammed into a day discourages me to even open iCal – which doesn’t really improve the situation!

With Blotter, you can display your iCal content on your desktop and so keep an eye on your important stuff much easier – and surprisingly enough, find that there just might be time to do everything properly.

The Idea Behind Blotter

The application is aimed at those iCal users who want to keep an eye on their appointments and scheduled tasks without having to switch to an application for that permanently.

Blotter sits on top of your desktop background, but beneath everything else: your icons and open application windows are on top of the displayed dates.

Normal calendar view of Blotter

Normal calendar view of Blotter

Of course, you could just have iCal open at all times, but then you’d have to switch between apps, enlarge the window etc. With Blotter being in the background but always present, you can simply use the Mac’s standard keys to show your desktop and have an instant view of your appointments.

If iCal Understands It, Blotter Shows It

A lot of criticism in the App Store reviews was directed at the feature set of Blotter, especially its iCal only sync. What seems to be ignored by some of the critics is that you can integrate other calendars into iCal, for example Google Calendar – meaning that you can display those events just fine. And even the color of your calendars is correctly reflected in Blotter.

Comparison between iCal and Blotter

Comparison between iCal and Blotter

The only annoyance here is that you have to actually open up iCal for a sync now and then. Since the third-party app fetches everything from iCal, it naturally can’t display any changes you made on another device/service and which haven’t yet been synced back to the desktop application.

Beware: Blotter is a display-only app. It will be part of your desktop, you can’t click anywhere or make changes to iCal data.

Tasks & Right Now

I’m very picky about having my current tasks displayed as well – and to my pleasant surprise Blotter meets this need. Tasks which are entered into iCal have their dedicated spot.

Another helpful feature is the Right Now aspect. While the normal calendar view of Blotter shows an entire day in a 7-day week, the “Right Now” view focuses on the current day and the current time. I personally prefer the Narrow view of Blotter, where I can see all my current tasks and focus on what is happening right now (or better: what I should be doing at the moment and what is coming up next).

Right Now view of current tasks and appointments

Right Now view of current tasks and appointments

The display of the events scrolls ever so slowly upwards, so that your current appointments are always in focus.

Setting It Up

There are not a lot of preferences for Blotter. On the bright side – you won’t waste too much time tinkering! You can define where on your desktop you want the calendar displayed, which is very neat if you have certain windows always in a specific spot. Also, if you have multiple monitors, you can select on which one you want Blotter to work its magic.

What I particularly like is the option of setting the size of the displayed calendar. You have three options to choose from and depending on how good your eye sight is, or how well you can deal with a cluttered desktop, you can pick what works best for you.

Settings for Blotter

Settings for Blotter

If you select either the normal or full view, you will see seven days displayed. You can choose if you want to see the calendar week or if you’d prefer Blotter to start with the current day, giving you seven days from this moment on.

By default, all calendars are selected to be displayed. You can of course select the ones that matter most to you and uncheck others.

Areas of Improvement

I personally don’t mind that Blotter does just one thing – displaying the content of iCal on my desktop. It does so well and it helps me to keep on top of things. There are some things I’d love to see improved, though.

First and foremost, the rendering of text in the calendar views needs to be improved. Readable as it is, the fonts are just not smooth enough to look nice on the desktop. The developers are aware of this issue and are looking into it.

Another small annoyance is the difficulty to access the app preferences. As it is right now, you have to go to the dock, click the application, then move all the way to the upper left of your screen and select the preferences option from the menu bar. On a 27″ screen, that’s quite a way to travel. I pointed this out to the developers as well and they are looking into it too.


I like Blotter. For the simple reason that it allows me to keep one more app closed (iCal) and still have a complete overview over my appointments and current tasks. It’s absolutely non-intrusive as it operates in the background, but it’s accessibly quickly enough to be of true help.

There are alternatives out there, for example Zipline, but you’ll have to let your personal style of work and taste decide for which app you go. If it’s Blotter, just make sure you’re using a nice wallpaper, so you’ll be able to read what it’s displaying!


Blotter displays the content of iCal - appointments and tasks - directly on your desktop, allowing you to always keep an eye on what's important.