Jigsaw Puzzle Tips & Strategy

There's no better time to start puzzling then right now! A lot of people are home and with their families, and a great activity that you can do is put together a puzzle or two. If you're new to it or are just looking for ways to get better, we've put together a guide on jigsaw puzzle strategy, tactics, technique, and have a bunch of tips to have you finding pieces more easily. While puzzling should be a more relaxing hobby, that doesn't mean you can't try to be efficient!

Basic Jigsaw Puzzle Strategies & Techniques

Here's a look at some of the basics if you're just starting out in putting together puzzles.

Sort through and separate out all of the edge pieces

Edge pieces are often quick to identify in a sea of funny-shaped puzzle pieces, which makes them an easy target for the initial sorting process. Putting together the edge pieces also makes it clear where each section of the puzzle will be, how large it will be, and give you the starting point for getting sections together further on in the process.

Pro tip: I like to pull out the corner pieces as I find them so I can quickly locate them for when I start to put all of the edge pieces together.

Look at the picture and identify the most obvious sections or areas by colors, patterns/textures, or subjects

You'll want to build the puzzle by sections, so you'll need to locate and separate pieces for those sections

If you're working on a puzzle of a beach, you'll likely want to sort through and create piles of picture-side up pieces for areas like: the highest point of the sky, horizon line (where the water meets the sky), water, and beach.

Here are some common subjects you'll find in jigsaw puzzles, which often translate into sortable sections that can be worked on one at a time. You'll want to try to sort through all the of the pieces and pull out the ones that seem like they fit for each section to separate them out.

  • Sky
  • Water/ocean
  • Beach
  • Animals
  • Plants
  • Logos/writings

Pro tip: The larger the puzzle, the more sorting required.  It's better to sort through larger sections, like all red pieces, and then do a second sort on the section when you go to put the section together. This way, you have a more manageable set of sections to sort through initially.

Start putting together pieces from sections that overlap with edge pieces, like starting in one corner, or for more obvious or defined objects

By starting in a corner or from the edge, you're working with some pieces already put together. It's like having an outline to guide your work as you move forward.  If there was a red apple, this object would likely be easier to put together than a mass of all-blue sky. If you see a logo or artist signature, those are some of the easiest to fit together and also know exactly where they go.

If the sections you've sorted out are more in "piles," you'll want to spread out the pieces so that they're all photo-side up and laying flat on the puzzling surface.

Advanced Jigsaw Puzzle Strategies & Techniques

If you've been puzzling for a while, here are some more advanced strategies you can adopt to increase your speed and proficiency!

Sort and organize by depth and direction

When you're separating by colors, patterns, or textures, you'll want to pay attention to depth and direction. For example, roof tiles will often have an easily recognizable pattern, but if there are multiple areas of the roof, you will often see that each roof section is a bit different, possibly one appearing darker from shadows.  If you're working on an ocean section, it might be clear the direction of each piece because there are faint texture lines going horizontally.

By organizing the pieces into the direction that they're intended to go, it can be significantly easier to spot the pieces you need or which ones go together.

Sort by the physical shape of the puzzle pieces

When I'm working on a section that is hard to distinguish from piece to piece, which is often an area of single color, I will place each piece row by row by the actual shape of the jigsaw puzzle piece.  If there are enough pieces to sort through, I will start to pull out puzzle pieces that have physically large or small connections because there are a finite number of possibilities when the interlocking areas are very large, very small, or oddly angled/crooked.

Jigsaw puzzle pieces have knobs (the part that sticks out) and holes (where it indents), so I will sort by pieces with one knob, two knobs, three knobs, four knobs and make sure that each grouping is placed in the same direction.

Jigsaw Puzzle Tips & Tricks

Choose a flat surface in an area that is less likely to be disturbed. You don't want to have to move the puzzle on and off a surface often, as this can result in sections breaking as well as lost pieces over time.  If you've chosen a larger puzzle, be aware that it might take longer than anticipated to put together, or if you don't have a lot of time, you'll want to make sure you don't have it sitting on your main table for weeks on end.  You'll also want to check the puzzle's size to make sure it fits appropriately (with free space for sorting and building outside of the main puzzle).

Reference the photo often and at different angles.  Depending on the lighting in the area, you may find that certain colors are harder to see, so you'll want to look at the photo to see if you've missed a nuance in texture, pattern, or color.  This can also be the case when fitting together pieces that almost seem like they go together but make you doubt it; I often take the two out and hold it up to my eye to double check. You can turn it around so you're seeing the underside only, which is often clearer whether something fits perfectly or not!

Move to another section if you're stuck.  Sometimes a section is just difficult--try working on a mass of all-black sky!--or it's not coming together visually for you, so moving onto to a different area is a great way to continue working toward building the puzzle without being overwhelmed by frustration.

Jigsaw Puzzle Strategies for Families

Choosing puzzles with defined sections or are even photos within photos is a great way to get everyone involved in the whole process.  When puzzles are less defined or have more similar colors and textures throughout, it can be difficult to have more than a few people working on it simultaneously.

With defined areas or photos within photos, each person can put together their section(s) and can reach for pieces for that section more readily without taking a piece somebody else might need as well. It can also allow each person to work more independently or in different areas to build their section before putting it into the actual puzzle.

Sorting can be an arduous task, but it is a vital part of putting together a puzzle logically. It could be a task delegated to each person to go through and look for a specific section or to have designed people be responsible for sorting out all of the pieces into sections.

Those who are more practiced at putting together jigsaw puzzles should choose to work on sections that are more challenging so that those who are still building their skills can contribute meaningfully. It also helps to keep everyone working at a similar pace.

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