How-To: Make your own photo mosaics

bill gates

This week's How-To shows how to take just about any ordinary image you've taken with your digital camera (or from the web) and make a photo mosaic. A photo mosaic is one large image made out of hundreds and thousands of tiny images from your personal stash, from google images or even frames from a movie. There are a few applications that do this for free, on Macs / PCs, and we'll show you where to get them and how to use them.

Getting starting...
Awhile back we saw a post on "The Future of Television," which had a picture of Bill Gates made out of all the company logos Microsoft bought up, sued, or was sued by over the years.

While we thought the image was kinda amusing, along with the ones of Dick Cheney made of oil, what was more interesting to us was how they did it. Since it didn't tell us, we started looking around.

Once we found a few free tools and made our own, we figured a lot of other people might want to make their own posters, giftwrapping paper, and more. Once you make these you can go to just about any print shop and have them run off a high quality print at almost any size.

We also realize there might be other and better applications that can accomplish the same thing we've got here, so please feel free to post them up in the comments.

Ingredients for this How-To

Download and install Andrea Mosaic.

Make sure to have a folder full of images, at least 100 or so, somewhere on your hard drive (My Documents / My Photos, etc.). The images should all be in the same folder, but can have sub-folders within the main folder. These are the images you'll use to build the photo mosaic. You may need more or less than 100 images for your mosaic, but after you build one you can always add or remove images to get the best results.

Start the application Start > AndreaMosaic.


In Step 1. Click Find Tiles, this is where we will locate the images on our hard drive. Click "Create Collection" and browse to the folder with the images.


We had a folder on our desktop called "puppy" with about 150 images of our puppy. Type in the name of your collection in the file name area and click Save.

save doggie

Click "Load Collection," and choose the collection your just created. Once loaded you will see a dialog with the total number of images and how long it took to load them.


There are other options such as updating collections, making the photos black and white (while keeping the final image color) as well as extracting frames from a movie to make a mosaic, which you can explore once you get the hang of making mosaics.


For now, click close.

Next up, in Step 2 there are seven default values: final size, number of tiles, distance between duplicates, modifications, algorithm, movie parameters, and lines around each image. For our sample, we used the default settings and it worked out pretty well. Feel free to change these parameters to get better or different results.


Click "Create the Mosaic" to, you know, create the mosaic. A new window will appear along with a status of image processing. You'll also see a preview when the processing is completed, you can close it and modify the parameters or just use your image.


The image will appear on the desktop or whatever location your original image is located.

Here is our before and after.

doggie before

Before. Click here for full sized image (warning big file).


After. Click here for full sized image (warning big file).

To get the full effect of these, it's usually best to print them out and stand back, or squint your eyes to see the main image and stand close to see the individual ones.

Andrea Mosaic also offers AVI to Mosaic (or movie to mosaic) so if you have any movies in the AVI format (many digital cameras store movies as AVI as well as many movies found on the web are usually AVI).

Other applications
On the PC, here are a couple more free apps we've seen, but haven't tried yet.
Rick and Steve's Photomosaic Program.

Download and install MacOSaiX.

For the Mac walkthrough we're not going to use a collection of images like our first example, although with this application, MacOSaiX you can, of course. Instead, we're going to use Google image search as our image source(s). This is a really cool feature so we're just going to show this part (otherwise making regular mosaics is really simple). It's also really handy to use Google image search as your source because you're likely not to have hundreds of images on one specific subject, but google does.


Start "MacOSaiX" and select "New" in the File menu (File > New).

In the menu area click "Choose" image to make mosaic from. For this example, we're going to use a picture of Phillip Torrone (me) who rarely smiles.


In the "Shape of tiles" pull down list you have a few options, rectangles, Puzzle Pieces and Hexagon. We're going to stick with rectangle.

The default number or tiles down and across are 20 each, we're going to boost those up 25 and 25, that way we get more images and a better mosaic for a total of 625 images.

Under Image Sources, the default is your Picture folder, we're going to select that and remove it and then add the google images.


Click "Add source" and choose "Google Term" for this example, we typed in "robot" we're not sure what's going to happen, but here it goes.

After that click "Go!", MacOSaiX will now go out and grab 625 images from google to make the final mosaic.


As it finds the images, you'll see them fill in on the left pane. At any time you can zoom or pause the process to see what's going on and what images it's grabbing.

When it's finished (it will say "idle") you can save the image (File > Export Image). If you're not happy with the quality, try increasing or decreasing the number of rectangles and/or trying another google search term.


Before. Click here for full sized image (warning, big file).


After. Click here for full sized image (warning, big file).

Same drill as before; to get the full effect of these, it's usually best to print them out and stand back, or squint your eyes to see the main image and stand close to see the individual ones.

As a bonus tip for the advanced user, you can also open up PhotoShop or GiMP and overlay the original over the mosaic and alpha it out a bit to make the image pop a some more. Have at it and experiment!

Mosaics from Movies...
If you want to take the beta version for a spin, its newest feature offers the ability to pull images from QuickTime movies, so in theory you could make an image like this, every second of Star Wars. Just set the image to something blank (or one of the characters for added geek).



Phillip Torrone can be reached via his personal site: