Custom-made jigsaw puzzles NOT from a photo?
February 5, 2014 6:31 AM   Subscribe

I'd like to order a custom-made jigsaw puzzle made from a map of my neighborhood, with specific addresses marked. How to do this so that it comes out clear and awesome and not faint and blurry?

I have about six small friends who are turning four in 2014. We all live in the same neighborhood.

I'd like to give them a jigsaw puzzle made from a map of our 'hood, with specific meaningful addresses marked (i.e. one another's houses). I have a designer friend who has already designed a map of our area and would probably, for a small fee, mark the addresses of "Sarah's house" "Julia's house," etc. and send me the file.

But all the online make-your-own jigsaw puzzles involved uploading a photo.

What can I do to make sure that this turns out looking really good rather than faint or blurry or otherwise not beautiful? And can you recommend a specific puzzle-making online store?
posted by Ollie to Grab Bag (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Shameless plug: My retired dad makes puzzles and sells them on etsy. They're usually about 4"x6", and I'm not sure what his max size is. If you contact him and send an image that will come out nice on a consumer grade photo printer, I bet he'd happy to do it. The puzzles are made of wood, cut with a an actual jigsaw.

posted by paper chromatographologist at 6:43 AM on February 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

The solution will involve making sure that the image you're uploading is of a very high resolution, and that the jigsaw store is printing at a very good resolution as well -- and bear in mind that the bigger you want the image printed, the higher the resolution (and file size) you need.

Pixels/dots per inch are going to be a function of image size -- if you blow up an image to twice the size, it's only going to be half the resolution; making it bigger doesn't make it so there are more pixels. Here's a helpful chart that helps you understand how pixels and dots per inch scale with printout size.

For print, you're going to want a minimum of 300 dots per inch for an acceptable, readable image -- but to look good on your screen it usually only has to be 72dpi. But if you print that 72dpi image out, it's going to look blurry and pixellated.

I highly suggest you take the image you want to upload and print it out yourself on a photo printer (but not on photo paper) at the size the jigsaw puzzle is planned to be -- or maybe a little higher. Some printers will even let you specify a resolution to print at. See if you're satisfied with the result; if the image is small or low-res, you may not get an acceptable result -- you may need your friend to turn it into a vector graphic. Then ask your jigsaw company what resolution they print at.

Good luck! This is a really neat idea, I hope it works out for you!
posted by Andrhia at 6:45 AM on February 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

I used to work with a woman who quit her day job to make custom jugsaw puzzles with her husband.

This is her website
posted by St. Peepsburg at 6:54 AM on February 5, 2014

Sounds like the problem is getting a print-quality digital image, as opposed to anything specifically puzzle-related

To correct above: if you make an image that's 1500 pixels across, it doesn't matter if your resolution is set to 72dpi or 300 dpi -- you've still got the same number of pixels. 72dpi isn't inherently blurrier than 300dpi. Those numbers are for printers trying to print 'actual size' -- at 72dpi, your 1500 pixels will be 20 inches across; at 300dpi, 5 inches. This isn't a critical factor in your case, since the puzzle place is going to print what you send them at puzzle-size, not dpi size.

When you're looking at pixels on a screen, there's something called anti-aliasing. This is because screen pixels are big enough to detect with your eye. So, when your image creation program is creating an image, it anti-alises by creating approximated pixels around the edges of your image, to approximate the actual line across the jagged edges of the big pixels. Photoshop and other photoediting software automatically try to antialias to make images look good on your screen.

If your puzzle-printer is printing at 300dpi -- which is pretty common -- there's no smaller pixel to fill in an approximation of the line, so those antialiased lines just look fuzzy. So, if you want to print nice, crisp lines, you need to create an image that has an *effective* dpi higher than the printed puzzle, *and*/or turn off antialiasing. So, if the puzzle is 8" x 10", you want the number of pixels to be at least 300dpi, so your image will be 2400px x 3000px. You want the edges to be absolutely sharp, so minimize antialiasing as much as possible; zooming in via Photoshop will show a jagged, boxy edge: that's fine, you want that, you're looking at the image at much closer detail than the printer can resolve. In a solid black line, you don't want two black pixels with a grey one connecting them -- that's antialiasing and looks fuzzy when printed out. Best-case scenario is to find out what specifications the printer expects: if you send them something at a higher resolution than they can print, they might resize your picture, which introduces fuzzy edges.

(My first-hand experience: I've made books and bookcovers for Print On Demand: if antialiasing is on, there's always a fuzzy edge. Anti-aliasing off at the proper resolution, very professional crisp lines both in the book and on the cover.)
posted by AzraelBrown at 7:50 AM on February 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

First thing, ask your designer friend if her map is pixel-based (created in eg, Photoshop) or vector-based (created in eg, Illustrator. If it is the latter, then there will be no problem with the resolution; any size will print crisply . Then see if the puzzle places will accept a pdf.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 8:23 AM on February 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Liberty Puzzles. Probably way more than you want to spend, but they make beautiful stuff and will do custom work:
posted by nnk at 11:27 AM on February 5, 2014

Thanks all. paper chromatographologist's dad is turning out to be an awesome collaborator in this project! The finished product is going to be cool. (One idea he had, if you're considering this for your kids, is to print the map-puzzle on paper that's suitable for drawing/crayoning, so the kids can further personalize their maps.)
posted by Ollie at 7:06 AM on February 26, 2014

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