Designing a Mosaic




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The purpose of this instructable is to show you how to design and layout a mosaic from line art. This will be especially useful for anyone creating larger mosaics. And anyone who is leading a mosaic instruction class can follow the steps to create your own design templates for students.

This step-by-step guide illustrates how to design a mosaic using a scanner, source artwork, and a PC with a printer.

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Step 1: Obtain Source Image.

Locate a simple line art image you want to use for creating a mosaic. Make it 8x10 in size, super low resolution is ok in this step.

Step 2: Refine Image and Make Outlines Heavier

Print your image, then with a pencil first, followed by a heavier pen - create your outlined shape.

Step 3: First Trace

The outlined shape page is set under a sheet of graph or tracing paper. Then you outline that design in pencil - defining the edges of your outlined shape underneath. Please look at the second photo on this page to view the process!

Step 4: Refine Trace 1 - Outlines

Now sketch out the tile placement for the outlines only.

At this point I stop, make a photocopy of the image and then from then on I continue working off of the copy. This is primarily because I like to have version control with my drawings, and copying and setting aside the working copy at each major design step has it's advantages.

For example, I like to give a client a few options for design, and this streamlines that process by enabling a very methodical approach to creating multiple copies without needing those to be redrawn from scratch or digitally reproduced and altered in an image editor.

Step 5: Ink Outline

On a photocopy - outline the tile layout in thin sharpie. After you are done outlining the tiles: photocopy again, and set aside the original.

Now its time to play with lines and color. This is where you go wild with options. Make a few copies and determine the highlights and shadows of your piece. I chose to be very specific about the inside-the-lines tile design. You could be freeform here- and just go ahead with the tiling process if you like.

Step 6: Final Tile Design

After the inside tile shapes were drawn, they were outlined in fine point sharpie.

Step 7: Final Design Sketch

This is the final drawing colored. Make an extra copy of this to be used as reference when making the mosaic, without endangering the original.

Step 8: Poster Printing

Scan your final sketch at a decent resolution, then select the option to print the image.
In the printer options window that pops up, select printing properties button.
That opens a Printer Properties window, in that you navigate to the Page Layout Tab,
Then select the Multi-Page box, then select the radio button Poster Printing.
(Select poster page options (2x2, 3x3, etc) that best suit your needs.)
Then click OK, and printer will print your image over the number of pages you selected.

*Note - The pages will all have around 1/8" margin at the edge of the page. You will need to trim that off so the image is not broken up over the pages.*

Step 9: Transfer Image or Use Indirect Technique

There are so many ways to transfer the design. Here are a couple in addition to my choice of technique.

On backerboard:
1. Apply photocopied image face down, saturate with rubbing alcohol (70-90%). This will transfer image to backerboard from paper. Optional - trace over these lines with a pen to darken.

On wood:
2. Lay image face up over surface, then outline the tile shape with a rigid and pointed tool. You are engraving the lines into the wood. Then lift the image, and trace over the engraved lines with a pen to make the image visible.

Using Fiberglass Mesh:
You can have the illustration under a sheet of plastic film, with a layer of fiberglass mesh over that - the mesh being the layer which you glue the tiles onto, RIGHT side up. This is the direct technique.

Using Indirecto:
Heavier paper was used because of the mosaic technique I apply, called indirecto (the reverse technique), where the pieces are applied face-down with a water soluable glue.The artist never sees the work until it is completed and the back of the piece is glued to a substrate. Only then, when the paper is soaked off the image face, does the artist get to observe the work of art.

Step 10: Voila!

The completed mosaic, which is glued onto fiberglass mesh - ready for installation.

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    31 Discussions


    10 years ago on Step 10

    nice result! i have some questions: what did you use to glue it on the fiberglass mesh? is the adhesive strong enough to keep the pieces from falling off the mesh while you set it up on a wall? what did you use to break the pieces to the shape you want? just a hammer, or did you use something else?

    2 replies

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Hi Daniel! Mesh is for a few reasons: 1. Ease of transportation to install site. 2. Ability to wrap around a curved surface! 3. In this case I could not do my install for a while, so I wanted a mesh instead of rigid backerboard. With the technique I used, I had to transfer it to a surface. That is why I used the mesh. For a direct technique mosaic you can go straight to a mesh, or onto another base material. About the adhesive, I used tile mastic, which IS good for tiling wall or ceiling tile, but NOT good for flexibility. NOW I recommend that if you are going to use fiberglass mesh to be the backing - use either Titebond flooring glue, or DAP plastics flexible adhesive. About the pieces - I used a hammer and hardie, both with a sharp point, and made the shapes by chipping them between the hammer and hardie. These are handmade Italian tools, I got them for a grecoroman mosaic job. They cost about $125, and are amazing tools, I love mine!

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    Question 1 year ago on Step 10

    Could a thin (large) sheet of polymer clay be the base for a mosaic, instead of wood or backer board? I'm thinking that it would be easy to transfer a design by using a stylus to trace the image, which would impress on the clay below it. I'm considering doing a mosaic that would embed clay 'stones' and colored glass on top of this sheet, to form the design image. I'd probably fit the clay sheet into one of my baking sheets (one no longer used for food). This way the sheet would have support going into the oven (low temp), to bake. thanks, I really like your tutorial.


    4 years ago on Step 9

    so cool, so creative tecnique... very instructable

    Lizzie Chi

    9 years ago on Step 2

    do you think this could be done with a sheep shape as well? I'd love to make a sheep (or dachshund) mosaic. Any tips?

    2 replies
    aryanaLizzie Chi

    Reply 9 years ago on Step 2

    : hi there, thank you for the question. Here is what I would do.
     Look online or at the library for a coloring book that has a nice simple picture of a sheep, or daschound. Let a professional artist do the outline- you will focus on the mosaic part. You can reduce the colors to a few between 5-10 is a good amount.

    If you don't know how to reduce colors - there is a great free web based tool that I use- for putting more complex images into and getting a nice palette. It's called Vectormagic, go here: for that.

    Start with only an outline, that means that you are going to be interpreting the design, and adding your own creativity to the design.

    Good Luck!


    11 years ago on Step 10

    Why is it glued onto fiberglass mesh?


    11 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks so much! I will have some great creative fun with my grandchildren using these ideas - beginning with cardboard mosaic. Who knows where it will lead? filpa


    11 years ago on Introduction

    Great stuff, With the pieces face down onto the cardboard design how did you attach the backsides of the pieces to the mesh in the last picture? I can only guess at a stone epoxy of some kind that would have to leveled off very carefully and quickly... Hope to see more of your work. Later.

    1 reply

    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    Hi - I used tile mastic, which I would not reccomend. Mastic is best for rigid environments, and started to crack along the edges when the fiberglass mesh was bent, some pieces fell off. I recomend using thinset, which is the best universal adhesive for mosaic. You can buy white and add color pigment if concerned about thinset showing through the grout. I don't actually recomend doing a mesh mount for reverse technique unless you simply have to, like in the case of a ceiling. I am now using a product called titebond - a flooring adhesive that dries almost clear and super thin for any mesh mounted mosaic work I do.

    Good instructable for if you really like to plan out your moasaic. I also make mosaics, but I prefer to free form the layout of the tiles and only plan out the main outline. I print out a line drawing to the size I want and trace the lines onto my source. Then I just fill each section using color tiles work from the edges to the middle thinking of it kind of like a backward puzzle where I cut the pieces to whatever shape feels right.

    1 reply

    11 years ago on Introduction

    very nice, i wonder if u can recommend me where can i find about techniques to make a mosaic like that? :)

    1 reply

    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    My favorite places: the library, and google. If you like this style, of stone work, then look into ancient mosaics on the floor in from Greece, and the Roman Empire. Contact SAMA here in the US - Society of American Mosaic Artists to find artists near you who might teach. BSP - Stay tuned - I'll be putting up my own mosaic how-to.


    11 years ago on Introduction

    You can also use glass which looks awesome. The easiest is to purchase the glass from hobby lobby (comes in sheets) and use a tile cutter to cut the pieces.

    3 replies

    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    Question, are you talking about a manual tile score/cutter (looks like a paper cutter) which goes for $15-30 american, or the motorized tile saw? I have not thought about sawing glass before, I guess a diamond blade would work? Anyone have experience with this?


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    It looks like a hand sized hedge trimmer but it's made for cutting like 45 degree angles off corners of tile.