Everyone knows how to make a collage with scissors, glue, and paper. But, when it comes to digital collage, there’s a range of new techniques to use.
Collage, which comes from the French word coller, meaning “to stick together,” is a catch-all term that describes any visual graphic that collects, blends, or splices together a range of different images. Collages, at their simplest, can be a great way to collate your ideas as a mood board. More advanced collage designs also use layering and visual juxtaposition to create unique, eye-catching artworks.
Whether you’re wanting to create a quick and simple collage for social media or looking to learn more about advanced collage design, here you’ll find four ways to create striking collages — from super easy to collage pro.
Creating a Collage: Simple Tips to Get Started
Collages were traditionally created using pieces of material, newspaper cutouts, paint, and other found objects, which an artist assembled together onto paper or canvas. Once seen as a novelty technique reserved for children and family entertainment, collage became a staple in the art world thanks to the use of the medium by Pablo Picasso in the early 20th Century. Collage later became widely used on punk-era posters and flyers, giving the medium an anarchic and individualist association.
Today, collage can give designs a range of moods and associations — from surrealism to horror, anti-establishment to nostalgia. The mood of the final design depends on image choice and the way in which the design is arranged.
To create a digital collage, you’ll need a range of images and software to create your design. A collage can include as few as two images, or as many as you can physically fit onto a page. It’s really up to you how busy you want your collage to appear.
Below, discover four effective, easy-to-follow techniques for creating striking collage designs, from simple grids to more advanced spliced and multi-layered effects.
Collage Style One: Simple Grid
A grid-based collage is simple and effective, allowing you to create a Pinterest-style design in very little time. Designers often use grid collages as mood boards to think through ideas or demonstrate concepts to clients. However, grids are also an effective way of presenting a collection of images that share a theme or color scheme.
Online collage tools like Shutterstock Collage Maker allow you to create a collage for use on social media, providing preset sizes for Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and YouTube. Collage Maker also offers thousands of images for you to browse and use. In-built editing tools allow you to crop, edit, and position images, as well as add captions and background colors and graphics.
After working on your collage, you can download the image as a ready-to-use JPEG, alongside the images included in the design.
Collage Style Two: Splice
- Level: Easy
- Software: Adobe Photoshop
If you want to experiment with giving your collage designs a surreal or double-exposure effect style, this quick and easy technique makes a big visual impact. It’s also perfect for creating eerie, Halloween-themed graphics.
To create this style of collage, you’ll need two photos or images and access to either Adobe Photoshop or other photo-editing software. This style of collage can produce creative and surprising results with a wide variety of images. However, generally you’re looking to create juxtaposition, contrast, or symbolism with your choice of images.
This spliced collage uses a black-and-white portrait of a girl as the base of the design. A coastal landscape photo is placed behind the image, and the top part of the face has been cut away to reveal the landscape.
Here’s how to create a quirky splice-effect collage with your two photos using Adobe Photoshop. This collage uses a vintage portrait of a couple spliced with a photo of the Milky Way to create a nostalgic, ethereal effect.
Begin with our base image. This image will sit at the top of the two layers and act as the main image for the design. Use the Lasso Tool (L) to trace around the silhouette or area that you want to cut away to reveal the image beneath. Then click Select and Mask in the top Controls panel.
Refine the edge of the selection using the Smart Radius checkbox and Edge Detection Radius before clicking OK.
Hit Delete to remove the selection.
File > Place your second image onto the canvas, placing it behind the original image in the Layers panel. Allow the image to fill the cut-out area.
Double-click on the top image (the one with the cut-out area) in the Layers panel to open the Layer Style panel. Check Drop Shadow at the bottom of the left-hand menu, and adjust the options to create a subtle shadow around the edge of the cut-out area.
And you’re done! Now try experimenting with different images and themes to create unique collage combinations. You might be pleasantly surprised by the results!
Collage Style Three: Mapped Overlay
- Level: Intermediate
- Software: Adobe InDesign or Adobe Photoshop
This digital collage technique is a little more sophisticated, involving more images and more thought into how the final design will look. However, it’s still relatively quick and simple to create, and can produce a stunning graphic effect.
You’ll need a range of related images — related in the sense that they share the same proportions. However they can have a variety of different color palettes, tones, and subjects.
Continuing with a Halloween theme, this collage design maps photos of different female subjects on top of the base image of a portrait of a woman in glitter makeup. The design also uses four other images of female subjects, all of whom were photographed at a similar position and scale.
The other images used in the collage are:
I created the collage using Adobe InDesign, but you can also achieve a similar effect using Photoshop.
Begin with the base image for the collage. Using File > Place, drop it onto the page using the Rectangle Frame Tool (F). Then drag guidelines from the top and left-hand rulers (View > Show Rulers) to map out the proportions of the face, including the eyes, center of the face, base of the nose, top and bottom of the mouth, jawline, and sides of the face. This will allow you to place other images over the top and “map” them to the same contours.
Also remember to split your document into layers using the Layers panel. This allows you to keep the collage organized as you build it up.
Use the Rectangle Frame Tool (F) to create a smaller image frame over the top of the base image. Next place a different image into the frame and resize the image inside the frame (double-click inside the frame to select the image directly) until it matches the proportions of the base image. Use the guides to help you.
Repeat, adding more small image frames containing different images across the base image.
Don’t be afraid to let some of the image frames spill over the edge of the base image. This will only add to the overall collage effect.
Once you’ve finished your design, you can File > Export it as a JPG or PNG for sharing online, or as a PDF for printing as a poster or flyer.
Collage Style Four: Multi-Layered
- Level: Advanced
- Software: Adobe Photoshop
Creating digital collages can be addictive! The process of finding images to use in your design is all part of the fun, which is why it’s helpful to have a decent stock library on hand.
This slightly more time-intensive technique uses a base image, which has a strong silhouette to a part of the image. Add other images underneath this image, with some copies added to the foreground. This creates an immersive, almost 3D effect.
The design pictured here uses a base image with a strong silhouetted dress in black. It also contains seven images of vintage botanical illustrations, layered together to create the floral collage:
First open your base image in Photoshop and duplicate the Background layer. Next, switch off the visibility of the bottom layer so you’re working on the copy above. Use the Lasso Tool (L) to select the silhouetted part of the image, in this case the dress of the subject.
Then, delete the selection.
File > Place an image behind the base image. If the image has a background, select this using the Lasso Tool or by going to Select > Color Range and delete it.
Build up the design into a collage effect by placing more images behind the base photo.
When you’ve filled up almost all of the cutout with images, select one of the images behind the base photo that’s sitting towards the edge of the silhouette and duplicate that layer.
Now move that layer up to the top of the layer sequence, above the base photo. You can then reduce the Opacity a little to allow it to blend more seamlessly.
Repeat for a few more of the images beneath the base photo, duplicating them and bringing the copy to the top of the layer sequence. Experiment with different blend settings, such as Linear Burn, to give the collage an interesting look.
In this collage design, I’ve added a Channel Mixer adjustment layer to the base photo, checking Monochrome to convert the image to black-and-white. This emphasizes the contrast between the photo and the collage elements even more.
This digital collage technique mimics the traditional 19th Century styles of collage that often used floral illustrations to create a beautiful, ethereal effect on pictures and items like boxes and chests.
Conclusion: Four Ways to Create Digital Collages
Once you’ve been bitten by the collage bug, there’s no going back! Creating unique and unexpected images using a variety of photos, illustrations, and other graphics can be addictive. What’s more, the techniques above show you that you too can create a high-impact collage with whatever experience, time, and software you have on hand.
Check out more collage-themed articles and tips below:
Cover image adapted from contributor JKstock, et al.