Jigsaw Puzzle Techniques: Fun & Helpful Ways to Solve a Puzzle
Written by Krystal Cotriss / January 20th, 2023 / Photo: Author's Puzzle Shelf
Jigsaw puzzles are the perfect activity to decompress, relax, and unwind.
I love that there are a variety of different jigsaw puzzle brands that are great for all ages. Most of us have entirely too much screen time—puzzles are truly one of the best activities to get a break from your phone, TV, computer, video games, etc.! I am a full-time graphic designer so I truly need a screen break and puzzles are my favorite thing to relax with.
Here is a great guide to jigsaw puzzling and how to complete your puzzles in the best ways with expert strategies and techniques.
1. Pick a puzzle
If you are new to puzzles, start with a 500-piece puzzle that is colorful and has a wide variety of imagery. Avoid challenging or impossible puzzles because those can get frustrating! Please do not immediately attempt a solid-color puzzle!!
Be sure to build up your puzzle skills and experiment with 500-piece and 1000-piece puzzles before trying any larger puzzles. Puzzles should be fun and enjoyable—not overwhelming, so start small where you can. Thrifting puzzles is a good way to get affordable puzzles, but you have the risk of not having all the pieces.
2. Figure out your puzzle workspace
If you are new to puzzling, make sure you have a space to puzzle. You might want to avoid your dining room table if you need to eat there several times a day! I would avoid using a space where daily activities occur that would make it difficult to puzzle. Here are some ideas for a puzzle workspace:
1) Folding Table—This can be stored away when not puzzling. I personally use a foldable table with my puzzle board daily, it’s the most efficient for me!
2) Puzzle Board/Foldable Mat—There are lots of puzzle boards on the market, my favorite is this 1500-piece puzzle board by Bits and Pieces.
3) Foam core/Corkboard/DIY—This is the most affordable of them all! You can pick up a foam core board or corkboard at your local crafts/art store, these are great for puzzles with less than 1000-pieces. If you are working on a larger puzzle, you can combine foam core boards with tape or get a large piece of plywood from your local hardware store. Karen Puzzles DIY’d her very own puzzle board for her 24,000-piece puzzle.
Make sure your puzzle board/space will fit your puzzle. The dimensions should be on the puzzle box/or the website, don’t work on your puzzle without knowing if you will have enough room for the whole puzzle on your table or board. Don’t puzzle on the edge like I have done several times!!
Photo above: the Author's (@krystalcotriss) puzzle table
3. Sort pieces with puzzle trays or boxes
If the puzzle comes sealed in a bag (make sure you don’t throw it away in case a piece is left behind!), pour out a few pieces and start to flip over ALL the pieces upright and set aside all the edge pieces. I recommend using sorting trays (Tupperware containers and baking pans work too) and puzzle box lids to sort through pieces. If the puzzle box is smaller, grab a bigger puzzle box that you have in your collection.
While you are sorting and flipping pieces upright, you can also sort any notable pieces in different categories of color, texture, pattern, type, etc. Sorting takes up a lot of time so I only do this for puzzles 1000-pieces and above. I personally find sorting the colors and patterns very satisfying as a designer, it keeps my design skills strong! You also don’t have to sort your pieces at all if you don’t want to!
4. Solve the edge first or last
Once I finish sorting, I tend to complete the edge first—but if it’s a shaped puzzle, I save it for last. A fun challenge would be to save all the edge pieces for last! If the edge is all one solid color or all very similar, it might be best to save it to close to the end when it will be easier to assemble.
5. Sort by piece shape
If you are working on a rather difficult section that is all one color/texture/pattern, sort the pieces by piece shape. A normal jigsaw puzzle will have 6 general piece shapes (besides the edge pieces) with “ins” and “outs”. Make sure to organize the pieces in a grid and keep them nice so you can see what you are looking for. This is such a necessary step—for example, with the Soonness gradient puzzles, sorting my piece shape & color is essential—you can separate by the different colors in addition to any sections that have overlapping colors. This helps you complete the puzzle much faster! My stackable puzzle trays were the key so it didn’t get too overwhelming!
6. Start with smaller sections or solve in quadrants
Don’t waste lots of time by looking for a particular piece for too long, start a new section with a new perspective instead. If you are stuck in a certain section, perhaps turn the puzzle to a different angle or the opposite side to see if there is something you will notice from a new point of view.
Another technique is to solve your puzzle in 2 sections (left and right) or 4 quadrants—this works best for rectangle or square puzzles. When you sort your pieces, separate them into their respective quadrants, top left, top right, bottom left, and bottom right. It’s a fun challenge, especially for puzzles that have lots of details. If you are working with a spouse, family member, or friend, this quadrant method works perfectly—you can just decide who does which part of the puzzle!
7. Take your time and use natural light when possible
If you get stuck, take a break from puzzling. It’s perfectly okay to complete a puzzle over several days—don’t feel pressured to speed puzzle or finish a puzzle all in one day, it’s supposed to be a relaxing activity. It personally takes me a couple of days to complete a puzzle bigger than 1000-pieces and that’s okay!
If you use natural light for puzzling and it gets too dark, just step away from the puzzle and continue at another time. When you return to your puzzle, you will come back refreshed and ready to finish the puzzle and ultimately leading it to be a more enjoyable process. You will finish the puzzle when you are ready! (Is anyone not a fan of daylight savings time? Puzzling hours are limited. 🙁)
8. Mix it up and don’t use the puzzle box lid
When you are looking for a challenge, don’t use the puzzle box lid or poster as a guide. Try to complete the whole puzzle without looking at the box! This is a fun challenge to attempt and will help you get faster at puzzling. You could even have someone buy you a puzzle and cover the puzzle box, so you don’t know what the image is until you assemble it! A friend recently gave me a puzzle with no image on the puzzle box and I can’t wait to see what it is, it will be an interesting challenge for sure.
9. Combine smaller piece puzzles for a challenge
If you only have smaller puzzles in your collection (such as 100-pieces or 250-pieces), combine a few together in a puzzle box and complete 3-4 all at once! It would be a fun and unique puzzle to try to sort all the pieces into their respective groups. This works best if they are from the same brand or the same illustrator/artist. I can’t wait to try this out with all the Soonness gradient puzzles!
Video above: @karenpuzzles mixes three 1000 piece puzzles together
10. Intersect puzzles together
If a puzzle brand has the same cut for certain puzzles, try to combine them together and make some cool artwork! Be creative and see what puzzle art you can come up with. You can make some cool patterns, stripes, and other fun things while swapping out certain pieces. What will you come up with?
Get to know the Author: Krystal Cotriss
Krystal Cotriss (Carpintieri) is an award-winning Graphic+Web Designer, typography enthusiast, puzzle addict, and penguin lover! When she’s not puzzling, she loves listening to house music, collecting Target birds & Squishables, and exploring & going on nature walks with her husband, James. You can find her puzzling on Instagram at @krystalcotriss.