How To Do Jigsaw Puzzles Like an Expert

Updated on January 8, 2016

Jigsaw puzzles are a fun and relatively inexpensive hobby that are also good for your brain! Jigsaw puzzles build great spatial reasoning and logic skills. They make a wonderful family activity, especially on long winter nights.

In order to put puzzles together faster and with less frustration, there are a number of tricks you can use. Here are some tips:

Getting Started

The first thing you should do when you open up the puzzle and spread it out on the table or other flat surface is to turn every single piece over so the picture side is facing upward.

This sounds tedious, and it is, but believe me, it will make putting the puzzle together much easier!

While you're turning pieces over, start sorting them.

ALL edge pieces should be set aside into a separate pile and it is a good idea to begin sorting interior pieces into smaller piles based on what section of the puzzle they appear to be from. For example, if you're doing a puzzle with some mountains that have a house in the foreground, a sample group of piles might look something like this:

  1. every single edge piece you can find (don't worry if you miss a few - they'll turn up later)
  2. pieces with house on them
  3. pieces with other bits of foreground on them (grass? trees? garden?)
  4. pieces with mountain on them
  5. pieces with sky on them (sometimes separated further into blue and cloudy)

My family usually starts a puzzle with about 4-6 rough groupings of pieces.

Photo by tcp909
Photo by tcp909

Putting Together the Puzzle

Once you've got the pieces separated out into a few piles, you can start assembling the puzzle.

It's best to start with the border, because that defines the space you'll be working in. Again, don't fret if you're missing a couple pieces. They'll turn up soon enough.

Next, start working through your other piles. (If you're doing the puzzle with family or friends, it's a good idea to assign one pile per 1-2 people.) We usually start with the easy stuff to avoid getting frustrated early on and giving up. In the example mountain scene above, the easy stuff is likely to be the house and foreground.

For most people, color is the easiest way to find matching pieces, but also pay careful attention to lines and other patterns on the puzzle piece. Sometimes the color is right, but its on the wrong side of the piece to work, or there's the edge of a wall or window or bush or something that shouldn't be in the piece you're looking for.

Another important thing to pay attention to is the shape of the piece. Jigsaw puzzle pieces come in six basic shapes, ranging from zero "knobs" and four "holes" to four knobs and zero holes, and all permutations in between. The more experienced you are, the more easily you'll be able to tell at a glance if an individual piece has the slightest chance of fitting where you want it to go.

In fact, as the puzzle progresses into the harder sections, many experienced puzzle users start dividing pieces into small piles with similar colors, patterns, AND shapes. So, all blue sky pieces with 2 holes and 2 knobs go together in one pile, all blue sky pieces with 3 knobs and 1 hole go together in another, etc. That way, if you have a hard to find puzzle piece and you know it has at least 2 knobs, you can easily ignore every piece from the 4 hole and 3 hole piles without wasting your time sorting through them or testing them.

Jigsaw Puzzle Timelapse

One Last Tip

Like I said, jigsaw puzzles make great family activities.

In the interest of family harmony, however, it's very important to be sure that you spread the jigsaw puzzle out on a table or other flat surface big enough that nobody is bumping heads trying to put it together, and nobody is blocking anybody else's light! If you don't have a table big enough, consider investing in a puzzle mat.

Also try to make sure that nobody hogs the box with the picture of the completed puzzle. :P

Questions & Answers


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      • profile image

        MarianDom 5 weeks ago

        If you also like playing online, here is plenty of pictures to choose:

      • profile image

        Mahogany 16 months ago

        We just recently received a puzzle that has 33,600 pieces and when converted to inches and feet is 18 ft in length x 5 ft in height. How exactly do you find a something to build this on? The floor is out of the question, a table top/pool table not big enough. Plus we are going to want to have this framed when done. My concern will be moving the puzzle when done. Any suggestions regarding both my problems will definitely be appreciated.

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        Ayano 17 months ago

        Recently decided to take a break from gaming and focus on something i enjoyed in school, now i'm in uni i've decided to take up puzzling again but on a larger scale than before i'm now master of "The Bombardment of Algiers" [9000 ravensburger version], my next challenge will be "Paradise Sunset" [18000 ravensburger version] although i think Algiers is harder than this 18000 one because of its limited colour palette *cough* smoke and water, this guide was useful to me because it showed me how to better colour code my pieces and with 18000 of them that will be really important. I would also ask what are people's strategies for taking on large puzzles (9000 to 32000) i know one is do it in its separate bags but i prefer to do the puzzle whole to say i have beaten that size not two or more smaller ones but anyone got any other tricks?

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        Johnny&Carole 18 months ago

        Three ziploc bags of puzzle pieces with no picture or title was left on our porch as a challenge by a neighbor. 82 hours later we completed a 2000 piece picture of Neuschwanstein Castle and surrounding mountains, etc. in Bavaria. We have done several since then and thoroughly enjoy the challenge.

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        katie woolsey 2 years ago

        the puzzles can surely help the kids develop their brain development.. these educational puzzle games for kids can also help them a lot with the brain development

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        Susan 3 years ago

        How do you do the worlds most difficult jigsaw puzzle both side picture any tipscpleasd

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        LINDA 3 years ago

        Putting 5000 piece New York Bridge and Twin Towers puzzle together and have 14 pieces left that don't fit in open spot. Can't figure out what is wrong. Any ideas?

      • profile image

        HereBeDragons 6 years ago

        Wow, that looks so hard but really worth it in the end. I LOVE jigsaw puzzles, and when I'm finished one I always glue it to a sheet of cardboard and keep it! I've tons of them, but Ravenburger's are the bets, I'm struggling with The Bizarre Bookshop at the moment. Wish me luck! :)

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        Madelyn Arena 6 years ago

        Jigsaw puzzles are so hard

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        cb 6 years ago

        Anyone ever tried to put together a Pomegranate Artpiece puzzle called M.C. Escher Relativity? Variations of gray patterns and objects. I easily completed the green frame but now am having a tough time figuring out where to begin the rest of the puzzle. Any suggestions?

      • Diana Grant profile image

        Diana Grant 6 years ago from London

        Pleased to say I already do most of those things, except for sorting out the shapes - holes and knobs - into separate piles - what a good idea! I shall certainly try that next time!

      • chasemillis profile image

        chasemillis 7 years ago

        Haha I love the video and the whole Hub! Jig saw puzzles are awesome! And I love how they help your mind - people like us are never going to have those diseases like dementia or Alzheimer's that result from mind inactivity. We're going to be puzzlin' it up at age 90! Heck ya!!

      • MindField profile image

        MindField 8 years ago from Portland, Oregon

        I've always hated jigsaw puzzles because I have, it seems, no spatial reasoning skills. My dad had the same problem. But you've provided some wonderful tips here, Kerry (e.g., I never before considered the role knobs and holes could play in solving the puzzle) that I think I might give them a try again.

        If they can sharpen my mind in areas that are sometimes more than a little dull, it will be well worth the effort!

      • Triplet Mom profile image

        Triplet Mom 8 years ago from West Coast

        Kerry - I am a huge Jigsaw Puzzle fan. I even have a mat which is great for rolling out and putting away a large puzzle that is being worked on. Puzzles are really great fun for the whole family.