Making a photo puzzle

I am looking to make a photo puzzle for my wife. I have read through the forums and found all the pertinent articles and read them. As it turns out, there is a diverse opinion on the substrate to use and whether to mask or not. So I am putting out a call for opinions before I make my decisions. Thanks in advance to all who answer.

Now I am going for my 7 mile walk and let the answers accumulate.


Enjoy your walk…


When in doubt, prioritize any information posted by @jbmanning5 “the puzzle guy.”


@jbmanning5 sells ready made substrate that you can use tot affix your photo. Might save you lots of time


Wow, i actually just cute a puzzle myself. I used the glowforge material tho


my advice is based on my experience following JB’s advice.

substrate just comes down to what you want. i’ve done mostly 1/8" BB, but did do one on chipboard. i know JB has done 1/4" BB, too. for image, the finish comes down to what you prefer. i’m not a glossy fan, so i use satin photo paper. but glossy will work. same for the varnish, whatever paper you use, the varnish finish should probably be the same.

windsor & newton is what i’ve used to varnish. i used brush varnish on the first couple of times, too. spray is easier and less potential of streaks.

depending on how much you care about a minor amount of burn at the edges and how much you want to clean the pieces, you can get away w/o masking if you do a good job of sealing with varnish. i’ve found it’s less work to mask if you use the mask twice and cut horizontal and vertical in separate jobs. mask, cut horizontal, pull off. remask (without moving the puzzle in the bed) and cut vertical and outside, peel off. then remove puzzle.

take the puzzle off the crumb tray and put in a bin with salt. and, as eddie murphy once said, “shake the **** out of it.” remove puzzle from salt (this can be done with something similar to a colander, but if you’re not doing multiple puzzles, you can just pick them out instead of dedicating something like that).

puzzle made.

personally i go one more step and create a box with the lid proportions of the puzzle (i.e., puzzle is 16x20, you can make an 8x10 box or a 4x5 box, just have to figure out how tall it needs to be) so the photo of the puzzle will fit perfect. i use, but plenty of options out there. glue photo to lid.


Did not know this and yes, just search the forums for JB’s work on this. He, like many many people here offer incredible priceless advice.

I’m experimenting right now. I absolutely love the feel of MDF, and the prints adhere beautifully to it, but I’m having issues with the printing flaking or peeling with handling. I’m going to try a few types of aerosol sealant/lacquer to see if that resolves the problem.

(Ignore the crappy alignment, I was working out a few kinks in my jig placement and got careless.)


All good advice, I will now check out jb’s posts and see what I can learn from the master.


MDF is unfortunately a “crumbly” material since it’s basically wood dust and glue. Not suited for small pieces or anything else where it’ll be handled often.

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In the puzzle collecting world, the desirability goes from: cardboard, mdf, plywood, solid wood. Not many use solid wood, and those that do scroll saw the pieces out. Not sure where acrylic fits in there since you can do many different styles with it. Maybe the same as MDF? Also 1/4" is superior to 1/8". You have some fun piece shapes going on!

On the plywood front, I hate doing 1/4”. The Trotec cuts it fast enough, but I can almost guarantee you that I’ll hit a void in the plywood (Baltic birch), which basically ruins the puzzle (talk about a crumbly piece!). I don’t seem to get near as many voids in 1/8” (which makes sense, less layers of material).

I’ve really wanted to experiment with acrylic, but for what I want to do, I need a UV printer and I’m not ready to pony up for that just as an experiment. :slight_smile:


Get the UV printer.

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Sell your first born if necessary…

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I don’t know anything about them. But you should always get a new fancy tool when you can rationalize it. I just spent $3K on a shaper origin (cnc). Started playing with it today. Made me feel good!


I wish, but I haven’t used one. I have heard that the Roland is good. (Large format flatbed)

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