Intro: Darth Vader Lego Mosaic
Ever wanted to know how to convert a image into the pixelly joy we know as Lego? I present one method that's super easy and results in a pretty damn spiffy lego mosaic!
EDIT(Jan 23, 2007): Recently the boys over at Pictobrick released their software and good documentation. Feel free to check them out as well.
Step 1: Source Image
The frist step in converting a photo to a lego mosaic is to start with a photo, or in my case, a snazzy graphic that someone had put together. Unfortunately, I have no idea where this graphic came from, if this is yours please shoot me a message and I'll give you credit.
When looking for an ideal photo, keep in mind that the resultant lego mosaic is going to be displayed in a pretty small resolution. For example, the source image is 225 x 169 pixels, the end image was resized down to 96x64 which equals in lego, about 30" x 20". In other words, you will loose a lot of the fidelity of the photo so don't choose a photo with a lot of details. Or if you want the details, be prepared to create a huge mosaic $$$.
Step 2: Photoshop Magic (Optional)
Photoshop is a magical tool, but it is not the only tool out there, so if you're more comfortable with some other photo editing software, please use that instead. Or if you would rather, skip this step completely and move onto step 3, that software is free and will do this step for you, I chose to use Photoshop though as I wanted more control over what it was doing. Or as another option, go ahead and grab some graph paper and sketch it out!
What we're doing isn't rocket science, we're using the tool to remove details from the image we don't want, as well as resizing the image using the various filter options Photoshop has to get us to an image that's the same size in pixels as we want with our Lego Mosaic.
I also used photoshop to "posterize" or convert the colors in the image to the colors of the lego bricks themselves.
*The first image below is the original image.
*The second image is after I removed the deathstar using normal photoshop painting skills. At this point I also made the image "greyscale." I knew I wanted to use the different shades of grey lego has so this was the first step towards making my image "lego color friendly."
*The third image is my final image that I used for the mosaic. During this stage, I resized the image down to 96x64 which is equal to 6 lego 32x32 green baseplates in a 3x2 configuration. I wanted my mosiac to be a "decent" size without being too unwieldy or expensive. Note that the image is crazy small, if you would like to see it better, save the image, and view it in a program that you can zoom into :)
During this step, I also didn't like how the face wasn't symetrical, the orginal image took the liberty of having the light source slightly off center. This looked fine when I was using 256 levels of grey, but as soon as I knocked it down to the 4 i ultimately went with, it didn't look good. After some fiddling, I mearly selected the left half of the image, copied it, then pasted and flipped horazontal to get a symetrical image. This looked much better in my eyes.
As for reducing it down to the 4 lego colors, the process went like this.
Under Edit->Mode you'll find an "Index Color..." option. If you select that, you can force the image to only use a certain pallet of colors. There's various options in there for different styles and what not, all we're interested in though is to use the "Custom Palette." When you select that, you're given a Color Table you can edit. My original image used 201 shades of gray, and only 2 of those were the same colors as what Lego uses for their grays!
You can find a list of all the colors and the various names the go by at
I decided that based on the availablity of peices, I was going to use, White, Black, Dark Bluish Gray and Light Bluish Gray as my palette, as such I created a Color table with only those four colors. (if you're interested in using those four colors, I've attached my color table to this step.)
Choose whether or not you'd like to dither your image and when you're satisfied, click OK :)
At this point, you have your complete Mosaic, you can simply blow this image up so you can see the pixels and then commence placing bricks matching the colors of the image OR.....
Step 3: Bricksaic
Instead of just using the image we created in step 2, I found this tool to be quite useful in constructing plans for my mosaic as well as giving me a piece count.
Bricksaic and be found at: http://www.bong69.com/site/pages/bricksaic.php
Although Bob Kojima has made a fantastic tool, and you really can do everything in Step 2 in Bricksaic, I was having some issues making it do exactly what I wanted. As such, I did all my tweaking in Photoshop and used Bricksaic only as the "roadmap" tool.
We're going to setup Bricksaic to interpret our image exactly as it is. Once we have all the settings as we like, we'll then click "Make Map" and the resultant images can be printed off and used to create our mosaic.
*The first image is of the normal Bricksaic screen. To some, the screen will be intuitive, to others, it won't be. Essentially, you'll want to follow the buttons marked 1, 2, and 3. The rest of the screen is the options for those buttons. If the screen is too daunting, just follow the image notes on the image below :)
*The second image is of the options dialog that pops up when you click "Make Map." Again, it's pretty self explainitory.
*The next 6 images are the different plates that are created. On the bottom of each image you'll find the number of 1x1 bricks needed for each color on that plate.
*The Final image is the total peice counts for the project. This is quite possibly the most useful aspect of this tool as it clues you in on what you need to order.
In order to keep the fidelity of these images, I've uploaded them full size. As such, I recommend clicking the "i" in the top left corner of the image and downloading the original image to view.
Step 4: Resource Acquisition
As I'm sure you're not sitting on 6,000 Lego of the exact size and color you need, where does one find the Lego!!!
My friends... welcome to BrickLink. Think of this as the Walmart Superstore of Lego! Granted, you can buy a majority of your pieces directly from Lego these days, but you will be paying premium prices for them. On bricklink you can find pretty good deals on common pieces as well as decent qualities of those hard to find Pink pieces you need for your albino lab rat mosaic :)
As my mosaic used over 5000 black 1x1 pieces, I knew I didn't want to pay $.02 per piece X 5,000 = $100 for just the black! Instead I decided to go with about 1100 2x2 black pieces at $.018 per piece for $19.80. I was able to do this as I knew i had plenty of spaces where I could substitute a 2x2 brick for 4 1x1s. If your mosaic uses some extravagant dithering to simulate every color of the rainbow, you may not be able to do this.
Unfortunately, as the other 3 colors in my mosiac are used "here and there" I was not able to combine those pieces and instead stuck with 1x1s for the rest of my colors.
The total cost for the pieces for my mosaic (keep in mind it's a 96x64 mosiac or 6144 pixels) was just over $100. This includes the 6 baseplates and a few hundred extra pieces (I ended up ordering 1000 black 1x1 pieces but ended up only using a couple hundred). All total, i had ordered about 3500 pieces which was overkill... oh well, now I have spares :)
*The first picture is of my newly arrived box-o-lego!
*Second picture is the contents in said box.
*Third, I needed 6 green baseplates to act as my canvas. Each baseplate is 32x32 which in a 3x2 configuration gives me my 96x64 canvas.
*Fourth, now don't all the pieces look happy there, waiting for me to get my grubby little hands on them :)
Step 5: Construction
Now for the easy part, Construction.
As we're building a "Studs Out" mosaic, all you do is put the pieces where they go. It is as simple as that.
To join the plates together, I've placed 2x2 pieces along the seams. Surprisingly enough, this seems like it will hold. You can mount your plates to some plywood, or even tape them on the back, but I'm going to try this for a while. (Note: Go ahead and use packing tape on the back of the plates, this helps make them "Earthquake Proof.")
On those seams where I don't have 2x2 worth of color, I'm retro fitting my bricks with plates instead. (A plate is 1/3 the height of a brick, so 3 plates = 1 brick) This way, I'm putting a 2x2 plate on the bottom, another 2x2 on top of that, and then 1x1 plates of the mixed colors on top of that. In total, 6 pieces are used instead of 4. (Note: I did not end up doing this as taping the back was much easier and cheaper to do :)
I found a paper plate to be the perfect "Painter's Palette" for my lego. It's cheap and durable :)
Glue: I don't use it... If I get tired of the mosaic, I want the ability to take it apart. But really, will I ever get tired of Darth Vader looking down at me?
Bruised fingers: After putting 3.5k pieces studs out onto the plates, my fingers got bruised. If this concerns you, some suggestions are, "mole skin" used for hiking blisters, Sports tape, thimbles, or pretty much anything that will distribute the force of each stud.
As everyone has their little quirk, mine for this project was I wanted all of the "Lego" words on the pieces to be oriented so you can read them normally. As such, placing the pieces took longer then a non pedantic person could place them, but eh, what can you do? I even oriented the Green Plates so their little "Lego" logos are right side up. Is anyone ever going to see under the bricks? Probably not, but I did mention it was my little Quirk :)
The first 7 photos are at different steps in the process.
The next two are of the "seam pieces" i mentioned above.
The next is proof of my "quirk"
The final shot is of the mosiac completed... now I wouldn't want to drop this...
Step 6: Whoops!
Well, you can always count of Murphy's Law right.
Anyway I am currently in a photography course funded by work and our assignment of the week was to photograph something "Close to Home." Some of the suggestions were to photograph hobbies, loved ones, pets, etc... anyway, I figured hey, let's take a shot of my current creation! This was before I had fully retrofitted the middle seam with my "Plate" method and as such, there was a serious weakness in the middle of the mosaic.
Well, suffice it to say, I was moving the mosaic to get "better light" when what should happen... well, let's just say my wife was laughing as I stood in awe.
See the photos below...
Good news though, it made for a more interesting photo to present to class :)
In the end, about 200 pieces went flying all over the house. Seriously, pieces were found 10 feet away! The final image below is of the resultant damage.
Step 7: Mounting
With many of the other lego mosaics on the web, the one part of the process they fail to talk about but I feel is one of the most important things to figure out is how are you going to mount this beast to the wall?
During the whole process, I was trying to answer this question but never found a solution that I felt happy about. That was, until I went digging through our "knick knack" drawer. In there I found some "3M Command Strips for Picture Frame Hanging." These items look like velcro on crack! Anyway, the instructions claim that each set is capable of holding 3 lbs, as my lego masterpiece weighs about 5 lbs, I figured I'd be safe with 4 sets :) (a set is 2 strips, not the whole packet :) )
Before I applied the strips though, I wanted to make sure the explosion of pieces was not going to happen again. As such, I used packing tape to tape the seams on the back of the green plates. Hopefully this will hold!
After I was done taping, I applied the Command Strips. They say give them 1 hour to set, well, I gave them 3 just to be safe!
3M Command Strips
""Update:"" These things work great! My mosaic stayed on my office wall for well over a year before we moved.
Additionally, if you will be framing your image, I found "Hard Board" from Home Depot is a great thin, cheap and light board you can affix your plates to. If you will be setting your mosaic up on an easel or carrying it around to show off, this might be the way to go.
Step 8: Completed!!!
The mosaic is now hanging up in my office and the comments I have received from my coworkers are nothing but good. It's great to work in an environment where people appreciate this sort of "geeking out!"
Time: About 2 weeks worth of evenings in terms of building and planning. All total it was about a month from start to finish though as I had to order some additional parts (the retrofit parts)
Cost: about 100 bucks since I used 2x2 black pieces. By far, the most expensive pieces were the 1x1 grays. In the world of lego though, it's all about Supply and demand, there's a lot more black 2x2s out there then 1x1 light bluish gray!
Fun Factor: To the EXTREME!!!! I've always wanted to do this and to have the support of my wife, and then the recognition of my coworkers, I have to say it was definitely worth it.
Would I do it again? Yeah, I think so. But probably not another "Star Wars" themed one. When your Job is all about "Star Wars" you kind of want to do something else :)
What would I do differently? Well, I probably wouldn't drop it again :) Other then that, I'd have to say I'm looking forward to using some other methods of constructing mosaics, like Studs Up...
Thank you guys for giving this a read! I hope someone else out there has found this useful!