That Magic Squares Trick


Isn’t that just the niftiest thing you’ve ever seen? I made it myself, and I’m about to tell you how so you can do it too. Now, to begin with, I’m not sure why WordPress keeps bunching my paragraphs together. I’m sure it’s a format thing that I’ll figure out soon.

This is another in my series of Photoshop & Photography tricks that I’m going to add to my blogs. This is mostly for CS2 and above, but it may be doable in Elements with a few work arounds. This is an image that I took some time ago, then played with in CS3 to make it look like a kinda mosaic or bunch of small photos laid on the table, puzzle fashion, to make the larger image appear. There are several ways of doing this, which are similar to the “out of box” look that many, including myself, like to play with, but just handled slight different. I’ll describe that “out of box” trick in another post.
I’m not sure if I’ll be able to completely describe how I did this image, so that it makes sense to anyone but me, but I’ll give it a try. If anything, you’ll at least have a good time reading this, and a starting point to experiment – Which is what this fun craft of Photography and Photoshop is all about, ain’t it?
Alrighty now, on with the lesson. Before we begin – Remember back in Grade School, how you were taught to always duplicate your image first, and rename it so that if you totally bugger this image up, you’ll have that original safe image, still sitting there with a smiley little grin. Do it now! Don’t worry, we won’t watch. I know, I know, some of you will probably ignore this sane bit of advice, thinking you know better – But you’re probably the same kids that were told that it’s really not a good idea to shove those Monopoly pieces up your nose, but you did it anyway. You were wrong then too, so again, just do as your told!
Essentially, you draw each of the squares by making a selection with your Marquee Tool, right over the top of the image. It may help to pre-draw the location, angle and number of squares on a piece of paper first, so you’ll have an idea of how they’ll layout. Put each piece of the main image that you’ve selected on it’s own layer – Layer>New>Layer via copy, or Comm-J/Ctrl-J. As you’re drawing each of the squares, hold the Shift key to produce a perfect square and have your Info Window open (View>Info) so you can verify the sizes match as you’re dragging your mouse. That is of course, if you would like all your squares to be the same size. I dunno, you’re the artist here, maybe mixing up the shapes looks cool too. I’ve got other images where I’ve done just that, with varying levels of success, or not – Experiment is the word of the day.
After you’ve got all the sections selected and placed on their own layers, select the background layer and turn off its Visibility Eye (the little eye icon to the left of the layer), which is like hiding it. Sha-zamm! You’ve now got the beginnings to this magic looking piece of art. If needed, go back and tweak, and/or redo any selections that don’t quite look right by repeating the above paragraph.
Now, with the background layer still selected, click on the Adjustment Layer button (you know, that Ying-Yang looking circle) and chose Solid Color (or Pattern, or Gradient – Again, you’re the artist here – But for now, solid color’s easier to explain). Since you had the background layer selected first, this new layer will appear above it, but below all your pretty squares. In the next window, chose a color you like and hit OK, this will become your new background below all the squares. On mine, I also added a Pattern Layer above the color to add some texture, so just repeat the last sentence and play with the Opacity of that layer as needed. I’ve also added an additional canvas extension, with a complementary color to mine too, which if you’re so inclined, you can do too. It’s under Image>Canvas Size. Turn off the “Relative” box, type in the size of extra Canvas you’d like and hit OK. Remember, it’s going to be spread across both sides, so if you’d like 1 1/2″ added to each side of your image, type in “3” on the height and width.
Looking good now, aren’t we? Well, hold on Bucko, you’ve still got a bit more work to do before heading over to that blender filled with enough tequila and ice to stun an elephant.
Select one of the square’s layers, then click on the Layer Style button, which is the small fx button at the bottom of the Layers pallet, and chose Stroke (in Elements, you’ll have to dig around to find the Style features, as it’s slightly different in each version, and it’s been awhile since I’ve done this in Elements). Now you get to chose a Stroke color (the line around the outside of each square) and thickness. On the pop-down, chose Inside. I’ve stayed with White here, and increased the width to something that looked pleasing. OK, while you still have the Layer Styles window open, chose Drop Shadow, making sure Global Light is checked (this insures that all shadows will go the same direction, which is after all, how nature intended it), add a bit of drop shadow to your square – Now remember, like any other seasoning, you add enough for good taste, but not so much that others could get sick. Go ahead and do these steps with your image now… We’ll wait. When you’re done, hit OK. Next, you get to Ctrl-Click on that layer (Or Right-Click for those of you on PC’s that rhyme with Blindoes) and choose “Copy Layer Style”, then go to each of the other layers, Ctrl/Right-Click and chose “Paster Layer Style”, which, if you’ve properly followed along so far, should produce a pretty border and shadow to all your neat little puzzle squares, exactly like the first one you made.
How’s it look? Isn’t this a fun and pretty thing you’ve made now? I bet you’re so excited you can’t wait to chose another image to try it again. But first – You need to print this one out and hang it on the fridge with one of those lovely magnets you picked up in Las Vegas, just to make a mother proud.
Well, that’s the jest of it. It’s not one of the easiest or quickest Photoshop tricks, but fun. So, you may need to tweak, adjust, say a few ‘choice words’ to your screen if things aren’t going as you’d like, experiment some more, go get a drink of something strong (like that blender full of tequila and ice that you told me about earlier), come back, maybe read your emails or some humorous web-sites, then get back on that Photoshop horse and try again until you get something you like.
My next step for this image, since we also print photos onto ceramic tiles at That Photo Shoppe, is to print each of these squares onto individual 4″ square tiles, and mount them as they’re laid out here, to a colored background, with maybe a watercolor paper or fabric below them – That’s the next experiment. If it works, I’ll post a picture of it here. If not, I’ll punt, then join you for that drink.
Thanks for reading along, let me know if you have any questions/suggestions for future posts,

About masterofmadness

Semi-pro photographer & musician. Co-own a photo gallery with a digital photo-lab in a small tourist town, on an island in the Pacific NW of USA. I also teach and ongoing series of workshops in photography, Photoshop and Apple computers. I shoot mostly landscapes, in the mountains - Giving me a great excuse to go climb them. I also do a lot of fine art, macros and abstracts.
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