Tips on choosing the right photos for your picture puzzles

When designing picture puzzles, the image is the key as it could make or break the end product. Quality and design are factors to consider.

Puzzling is fun and good for your health in many ways. People would find it even more engaging with personalized picture puzzles. Customizing it with your own photographs or designs will make it unique, an ideal gift for family and friends.

When designing picture puzzles, you may want to include your favorite photos, or an image that means a lot to the recipient. However, designing a custom jigsaw puzzle can be complicated and tricky.

In other words, choosing the wrong image could be a disaster…

There are a few things to keep in mind before you get started. Here are some tips to help you build the perfect picture puzzles for everyone to enjoy…

Possible issues when customizing picture puzzles

Assembling a puzzle is always a challenge, which is also the fun part. You may want to test yourself from time to time, which will give you a sense of accomplishment. But, it must be moderate, as you are not there to upset yourself and crush your confidence.

Choosing the wrong theme or photo could make or break the joy of puzzling. This is closely related to the difficulty, and making a bad decision here can easily boost the level too far, and ruin everything.

Picture puzzles are sometimes used as gifts for family and friends. Sure you want to see them enjoy the game, not get mad or frustrated.

Before choosing a photo, you must consider the players’ ages and experiences. It is important not to overwhelm them, especially beginners, kids, or seniors.

As the puzzle designer, you play an important role in controlling the level of challenge.

Tips on designing picture puzzles


Obviously, the number of pieces is the first thing that comes to mind when considering the difficulty. For instance, starting with 1,000 pieces is probably too much for all beginners.

Moreover, it is also related to the age of the player… It is always safer for children to start simple, and progress step by step. This is supposed to be a good tool for learning patience and problem solving. Therefore, the goal is not to discourage them in the first place.

Once they can complete the set at a reasonable pace, then it may be time to up the challenge.

Kids love puzzles, which are good for development. But, complicated picture puzzles may discourage them from playing. Choosing the right image is the key.
credit: Ksenia Chernaya


Apart from the difficulty concern, you definitely want the photo to look good on the cardboard. This is obvious: low-quality images will not work.

Some custom jigsaw puzzle services have a “photo rating” system that advises if the quality is good enough. The print on the final product can be vastly different from what you view on a computer screen. You do not want to see a blurry image in any picture puzzles. It needs some preparation to avoid wasting money and leading to disappointment…

The golden rule is to strive for the best possible quality. For example, images on social media are not recommended, because the resolution or quality is reduced to help the page load faster. So, always get the original version if possible!

If you want a figure for the optimal resolution, then 200 to 300 DPI (dots per inch) is probably the minimum. With the “dots per inch”, you can easily calculate the required dimensions (width in pixels and height in pixels) of your theme image. e.g. 20 x 30 inches, the image should be 4,000 x 6,000 pixels or larger.

This is for reference only, it is subject to overall quality, sharpness, and other factors. 150 DPI may be alright in some cases…

Converting old photo prints into picture puzzles…
If it happens to be a photo print, then do not count on capturing it with a smartphone or even a camera. Satisfactory results are doubtful to achieve, due to shaky hands, poor lighting, and crease marks on the prints.

If you insist, try converting it to a digital format using a scanner. Please set the device to the highest possible resolution, like at least 400 DPI. Or, simply seek help from some photography/photo printing stores. Better leave that to the experts!


Photo selection is always a key factor. One of the challenges in puzzling is having many very similar pieces. They come in a wide variety of colors or patterns, but it is hard to tell them apart. It could be a T-shirt with some crazy patterns, a movie poster, or a big background of a brick wall.

Again, you should make a decision based on the age group or experience of the players. As a little challenge, there is no harm in introducing a small area of intricate patterns.

Solid color
So, to avoid any complexity, how about trying the opposite, i.e. solid colors? No, not really, plain colors seem harmless, but are actually tough to play, if not tougher.

Let’s take a real scenario: celebrities such as Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg like to wear plain t-shirts. If you do too, then beware… Having several pure black pieces may not be a big deal. But, you can be stuck for hours with more than 40 pieces of them…

Again, the same goes for the background. You may avoid picking a photo with a broad blue sky, painted walls, or snowy mountains in the background.

A safe bet is to try to use colors or textures that “separate” from each other. For example, pink, green, and white can each stand out if putting them together.

Single photo

Let’s move on to the next step: finally, you decide on a photo… If you opt for a single photo for this picture puzzle, then it is better that the subject takes up a large portion of the image.

Again, this is to control the difficulty level, by reducing the impact of:

  • Complex background, e.g. a flower bush (even though the pieces actually look different, they are hard to distinguish)
  • Unique background color (as the pieces look very similar)
  • Blurry big background (i.e. depth of field, usually seen with a small object in the foreground)

So, in this case, if you want to balance the difficulty, you may consider picking an image with a larger subject or character (assume it is not complex itself), in order to reduce the size of the background.

You may be tempted to use the favorite photograph, or a photo that means a lot to you and friends. But, not every image makes a good picture puzzle theme.
credit: samer daboul


If you cannot settle on a single photo for the theme, a collage may be the best way to go. It allows you to add multiple images…

There are a few other advantages:

  1. In case the photo is not good enough to print on its own, then it can be part of a collage and published in a smaller size. That way, it does not expose the lack of quality as much…
  2. If there is a large area of solid colors or complex patterns, it is helpful to downsize the image this way. Basically, you reduce the number of confusing pieces to a minimum, and thus lower the overall difficulty.
  3. It helps you get started quickly: images are usually separated by borders that act as guides, just like the edges.

A general guideline for assembling a puzzle is to start building the frames, as they have a unique shape. Borders or dividers are similar in that a thick line (straight or curved) is drawn on the face of the pieces. This is useful for guiding the players through any picture puzzles. Let’s start by building the frames first, followed by the borders… then, it gives you a decent foundation to continue.

Some services even allow you to customize the border color, giving you design flexibility here.

Adding Elements

If you insist on printing a specific photo, but are concerned about “Complexity” or “Solid Colors”, you can add elements to the images, before uploading them. Or, some services actually allow customizations on top of the design…

The easiest method is to add some emojis, stickers, or graphics. It effectively covers a portion of the uniform colors or complex patterns, and hence eases or eliminates the problems.

Adding text is also a good and simple solution, perfect for family photos. It is like a caption, storing information such as the people in the photograph, date, or occasion.

If you prefer something subtle, you can opt for gradients or other effects instead. That way, it is less dramatic and keeps it as original as possible. The narrow changes are enough to help separate similar pieces, and bring down the difficulty level…


It is better to have a plan for the collage: try to fit the images into the right slot, according to the ratio. Not only does this bring out the best in your images, but it can also save you from unnecessary resizing or repositioning. Any slip during dragging could disrupt the aspect ratio, which can lead to image distortion.

Puzzling is supposed to be fun. It is important to pick the right image, and have the right design, to avoid increase the difficulty level.
credit: Karolina Grabowska

Challenge Management

If you happen to want some challenges, you can simply do the opposite of “Complexity” or “Solid Colors” above. However, make sure you do it right, or you may get frustrated in the game. Don’t spoil the fun!


Picking or designing an appropriate present for family and friends is never easy. All in all, the key is to go with the best photo quality. It is also advised to start low, rather than risk overdoing it, and getting frustrated later.

It is not just about your favorite photograph, or how much it means to you or the recipient. You may want to take into account the overall design, colors, and textures. Unfortunately, not all images make great picture puzzles.

Puzzling is meant to be fun. You do not want to see your self-designed picture puzzles abandoned in the basement…