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How to Do Jigsaw Puzzles Like an Expert: 6 Tips


I think that jigsaw puzzles are a great family activity, and I share some strategies that my family uses when we do puzzles together.

Find some strategy tips for puzzling like a pro!

Find some strategy tips for puzzling like a pro!

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

6 Strategies for Putting Together Jigsaw Puzzles

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

  1. Turn All the Pieces Picture-Side-Up
  2. Sort Pieces Into Groups
  3. Assemble the Border
  4. Assemble by Sorting Groups, Colors, and Patterns
  5. Pay Attention to Piece Shapes
  6. Spread It Out
Start out by flipping all of the pieces so that the printed side faces up. It's worth the time and effort!

Start out by flipping all of the pieces so that the printed side faces up. It's worth the time and effort!

1. Turn All the Pieces Picture-Side-Up

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!

2. Sort Pieces Into Groups

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.

Sample Sorting Groups

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 a house on them.
  3. Pieces with other bits of foreground on them (grass? trees? garden?).
  4. Pieces with a mountain on them.
  5. Pieces with the sky on them (sometimes separated further into blue vs. cloudy).

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

Assemble the border, then work inward from there based on your different groups of pieces.

Assemble the border, then work inward from there based on your different groups of pieces.

3. Assemble the Border

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 of pieces. They'll turn up soon enough.

4. Assemble by Sorting Groups, Colors, and Patterns

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 puzzle described above, the easy stuff is likely to be the house and foreground.

Right Color, Wrong Pattern!

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 it's 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.

You can describe the shape of a jigsaw puzzle piece based on the number of "knobs" and "holes" it has. For example, this piece has two knobs and two holes.

You can describe the shape of a jigsaw puzzle piece based on the number of "knobs" and "holes" it has. For example, this piece has two knobs and two holes.

5. Pay Attention to Piece Shapes

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.

Even More Sorting Will Help

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 two holes and two knobs go together in one pile, all blue sky pieces with three knobs and one hole go together in another, etc.

That way, if you have a hard-to-find puzzle piece and you know it has at least two knobs, you can easily ignore every piece from the four-hole and three-hole piles without wasting your time sorting through them or testing them.

6. Spread It Out

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 large table or other flat surface. It needs to be big enough that nobody is bumping heads trying to put the puzzle 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!


Nadir F. Bilimoria, Esq. on June 24, 2020:

Most excellent & informative, ta

Sue H. on February 20, 2020:

I sort out the boarder as I lay the pieces on the table. I do the boarder first while my husband likes to work with colors doing whatever picture he can find on the puzzle. I have also found if you work on the puzzle for awhile then go away from it come back you many times can find pieces that fit togher more quickly. It is good st your eyes occassionally.

patty a puzzle beginner. on December 14, 2019:


Some Art Work Comes In Sections

Maybe Somehow You Could Accomplish Smaller Sections To Hang On A Wall.

searching on October 09, 2019:

I aquired a bag that has nine puzzles in sealed bags. each bag has a code number printed on its. Can anyone help me find what thepictures are based on the codes. Some of the codes are 40699-44. 44591-4. 44292-5

CR on September 14, 2019:

Photocopy the jigsaw picture so each participant has there own copy. THEY can look at these pictures even when not putting the puzzle together to develop the visual memory of it.

glen on September 09, 2019:

i found this tip by accident if you buy a puzzle the same size from same company its cut from thesame machine you can match new puzzle with the old puzzlw

Two Min Fun on February 28, 2019:

Hmm...interesting..Will try the idea...if you like puzzles, then check http://twominfun.com

Shmuel Shimshoni on August 09, 2018:

We developed a system, after sorting out matching pieces by assembling various parts: like a horse, a house or a locomotive on separate small pieces of cardboard/ Then the more or less completed item can be "slipped" off the cardboard into its final position and connected to other sub-assemblies within the puzzle area. In that way we don't interfere with each other.

SamCC on April 28, 2018:

Has anyone tried ViewNSolve.com? It has realistically textured pieces and you can save unsolved puzzle through your browser without having to upload anything. The pieces can be intuitively rotated, unlike other sites with 90 degree rotation or none. Very unique jigsaw puzzle site.

MarianDom on March 12, 2018:

If you also like playing online, here is plenty of pictures to choose: http://puzzlefactory.pl/en

Mahogany on December 06, 2016:

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.

Ayano on November 10, 2016:

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?

Johnny&Carole on September 29, 2016:

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.

katie woolsey on November 08, 2015:

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 http://goo.gl/ELZX0l

Susan on February 09, 2015:

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

LINDA on January 22, 2015:

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?

HereBeDragons on April 03, 2012:

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! :)

Madelyn Arena on February 14, 2012:

Jigsaw puzzles are so hard

cb on November 07, 2011:

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 from London on July 15, 2011:

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 on March 27, 2011:

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 from Portland, Oregon on May 16, 2009:

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 from West Coast on May 16, 2009:

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.