Making a mosaic of squares in Photoshop

In this Photoshop tutorial, we’re going to learn how to turn a photo into a collage of squares. This is a very interesting way, which is also easy to do, since most of the work is a simple repetition.

Here is a photo that I took.

And so it will be after completing the lesson

Since I said that most of the work is a simple repetition, when you understand the essence of the lesson, you will do it without thinking. Creating this effect you will have fun.
Well, let’s get started.

Step 1. Duplicate the background layer.
Having opened the image in Photoshop, I by now have just one layer, the background layer, which contains my photo.


The layers palette shows the original image in the background layer.

I’m going to duplicate this layer, for this you can use the keyboard keys Ctrl + J (for Win) / Command + J (for Mac), which add a copy of the selected layer in the layers palette. Photoshop automatically names the layer “Layer 1” (layer 1).

Step2. Add a new layer between the two available and fill it with white.
We need to add a new clean layer between the two existing layers. To do this, click on the layer named “Layer 1” and hold down the Ctrl key (for Win) / Command (for Mac) and click on New layer (new layer) at the bottom of the layers palette. Usually, Photoshop adds a new layer above, but holding down the Ctrl / Command key tells Photoshop to add a layer below.
Translator’s note. It is not known why the author simply did not select the background layer and did not click on the New Layer, the effect would have been the same.


Hold down Ctrl (for Win) / Command (for Mac) and click on New Layer to add a new layer between the two existing layers in the Layers palette.

Now I have a new layer “Layer 2” (layer 2), between two other layers:


New clean layer between the Background layer and “Layer 1”.

A little note before we continue. By the end of the lesson we will have a mass of layers, and many will want to make sure that all the layers go in order. You will probably make insane attempts to come up with a name for each layer, but in this case I would not worry about naming the layers when creating this effect. In fact, the designation of layers should become a habit to you.

Now we can continue. We need to fill this new layer with white, since we are going to use white as background color, press D on your keyboard, and then selecting a new empty layer, press Ctrl + Backspace (for Win) / Command + Delete (for Mac) to fill the layer with white.

You will not see any changes, because layer 1 blocks layer 2, but if you look into the layers palette, you will see that the layer is filled with white.


When viewing the “Layer 2” layer, we see that it is filled with white, even if “Layer 1” blocks it in the document window.

Step 3: Select the square in the image.
I’m going to click on a copy of the background image “Layer 1” in the layers palette to select it. Now you need to select the Rectangular Marquee tool (rectangular selection) on the toolbar.


Select the Rectangular Marquee tool in the toolbar.

I can also click M on the keyboard to quickly select this tool. Then with this tool, I’m going to select a part of the image. I highlighted the area around the face of the boy on the right.


Use the Rectangular Marquee tool to select a part of the image.

To make the selection square, you need to hold down the key. Shift

Step 4. Add a layer mask
After highlighting a part of the image, again make sure that “Layer 1” is selected in the layers palette, press Add a layer mask (add layer mask) at the bottom of the layers palette


Click Add A Layer Mask at the bottom of the layers palette.

This will add a layer mask to “Layer 1” and since I had selected a part of the image, after selecting Add a layer mask Photoshop will leave visible only the selected area with the boy’s face. The rest of the image will be hidden; in the document window we will see a white layer below.


The square area around the boy’s face is all that remains of the image. Now we see a white background behind.

Step 5. Unhook the layer mask from the layer
If you look at the layers palette again, you will see a layer mask that has been added to “Layer 1”. The entire mask is filled with black, except for a small square. This white square is the area around the boy’s face, which is visible in the document window. If you look closely, you will see a small image of the connection between the layer and the layer mask.


The icon between the layer and the mask shows that they are connected.

If you can see the image of the connection, then the content of the layer (image) and the mask are well connected. If you move one of them, then move the other. We do not need it. We want to move the mask without moving the image. To do this, you need to click on the link image, and it will disappear. Now the layer mask can be moved regardless of the image. I’m going to click on the link image to delete it.


The image of the connection between the layer and the mask has disappeared. Now we can move the layer mask without moving the image.

Step 6. Add an external glow.
So that we can see the edges of the squares, we need to create an effect, I’m going to add “Outer Glow” (external glow) to layer mask. First, I’m going to click on the layer mask to select it. On the black frame around the mask, I can understand it is selected or not. With the mask selected, I’m going to click New Adjustment Layer (new layer adjustment) at the bottom of the layers palette


With the layer mask selected, click on the New Adjustment Layer icon.

Now i will choose Outer glow (external glow) in the drop-down list.


Select Outer Glow

This will bring up a layer dialog box with glow options. The default is yellow. I want to change it to white, for this I click on the color pattern.


Click on a color swatch to change it..

When I click on a color swatch, it appears Color picker (color selection). I’m going to choose white in the upper corner of the window.


Click in the upper left corner of the Color Picker.

I click ok to exit Color picker. Now my outer glow is white.
I will not change anything else, so I click OK to exit the dialog box. Now the white outer glow is added to the mask. We will not be able to see this glow, but only for the time being, because white light is not visible on a white background. But when we start adding additional square sections, the glow will be immediately visible.

Step 7. Duplicate the layer.
Remember, at the beginning of the lesson, I said that most of the lesson is a simple repetition? So this moment has come. All subsequent steps will be simple repetition again and again, but do not worry, they are easy. First, I’m going to duplicate “Layer 1”, and I will do this using the Ctrl + J (for Win) / Command + J (for Mac) keys. Now I have an exact copy of the layer at the top of the layers palette.


Now in the layers palette there is a copy of the layer. Layer one”.

When I said “exact copy”, I meant an exact copy. Not only does the copy contain an image, it also contains a layer mask and mask style, so we don’t have to add another mask and style to it. In addition, since the original layer and the mask are not related to each other, they are not connected to the copy, this is what we need.

Step 8. Move the layer mask to create a new square.
I’m going to select the Move tool on the toolbar.


Select the Move tool.

I could also press V on my keyboard to quickly select it. Then, I will click on the thumbnail of the copy of the layer mask in the layers palette to select it, make sure to choose a mask, not a layer. A frame will appear around the mask thumbnail, indicating that we have selected a mask.


Click on the layer mask thumbnail to select it. A frame appears around the mask..

With the selected mask, I’m going to drag it to a new place, where there will be a second square. I will drag down and to the left, so the upper right corner will align with the lower left corner of the original square.


Drag the layer mask to a new location to create a new square.

Now I have two squares, and if you look in the upper right corner of the square that I just created, you will see a white glow, showing the edge of the square.

Step 9. Continue to copy the layer and move the mask to create more squares.
Now we just need to repeat the last two steps until the main details of the image appear in the squares. So, press Ctrl + J (for Win) / Command + J (for Mac) to copy the layer. This part is very important, select the mask of the layer you just created, make sure that you select the mask, and not the contents of the layer. If, when you try to drag a layer mask, you see how you move the image in the square, then you have mistakenly selected the contents of the layer. In this case, press Ctrl + Z (for Win) / Command + Z (for Mac) to undo the last action, and then try again by clicking on the layer mask.
Continue duplicating the layer and moving the mask until all the important parts of the image appear. Do not be afraid to leave empty space between the squares, it will only add effect.
I’m going to duplicate the layers until all 4 people show up in the photo. That’s what I did when I showed a boy.


The image after adding enough squares to make the boy appear on the right.

After duplicating the layers, I made my mother visible to the boy and the younger boy’s brother.


After adding enough squares, the mom boy and his younger brother are visible..

Finally, I added enough squares to make the main areas visible. I also made sure that the faces of all 4 people do not overlap the edges of the squares. Otherwise it would not be beautiful.


Now I have added enough squares to show the main areas in the photo.

Step 10. Duplicate the layer and reduce the size of the squares by 50%.
Most of the work has been done, I only got 36 squares, but you may have more or maybe less. It depends on what image you use and how many squares you need to achieve the desired effect. Lastly, I’m going to add a few smaller squares in the corners and around the outer edges.
To do this, I’m going to duplicate the layer, and then select the layer mask, just like I did it 36 ​​times before. This time instead of moving the mask I will click Ctrl+T (for Win) / Command + T (for Mac) to call Free Transform (free transformation), then I drag one of the markers inside to reduce the size of the area by about 50%. When dragging, I held Shift + Alt (for Win) / Shift + Option (for Mac) so that the mask was an ideal square and the size changed from the center of the square.


Use Free Transform to change the size of the square.

As soon as I change the size of the square, I press Enter (for Win) / Return (for Mac) to accept the changes. And then I will do the same as I did with other squares, with the Move tool (move), I will move the square to a new place, this time outside the collage.


Using the Move tool to drag a small square to the edge of the collage.

Step 11. Add small squares along the edges of the collage.
Continue to duplicate small squares and drag them to the edges. Add as much as you need in your opinion. Here are my final touches for this collage. I also added a few small squares inside the image.


Image after adding enough squares.

Step 12. Merge all layers into one.
After adding all the squares of them I got 56, that is, I have 56 layers that contain squares. To complete the effect, I want to add a shadow, but this is hard to do when my collage consists of 56 layers. I need to merge them into one layer. To do this, I will select the topmost layer and hold down the Shift key and select Layer 1, which is the very first layer of the collage. This will allow me to select all layers at once.
Now I need to merge them, for this I press Ctrl + E (for Win) / Command + E (for Mac), this will merge them all in one layer on top of the white layer. Now in the layers palette we will have only 3 layers: the background layer, the layer filled with white and the merged layer.


In the layers palette there are only three layers left.

Step 13. Add a shadow.
Select the merged layer and click again. New Adjustment Layer (new layer adjustment), at the bottom of the layers palette and this time select Drop Shadow.


With the merged layer selected, click the New Adjustment Layer and select Drop Shadow.

The Drop Shadow dialog box opens. The only thing I’m going to do is change the opacity. I want transparent shadows that do not distract attention from the collage, so I lower the Opacity to 25%


Lower the Opacity to 25%.

Click OK and enjoy the result. Here is my result.

Author: Steve Patterson.

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