Everyone knows how to make a collage with scissors, glue, and paper. But what about a digital collage? Here’s what you need.
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. Whether a traditional or digital collage, consider this artform as a way to collate your ideas into a mood board. More advanced collage designs also use layering and visual juxtaposition to create unique, eye-catching works.
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 five ways to create striking collages—from super easy to mega collage professional.
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, collages became a staple in the art world thanks to the use of the medium by Pablo Picasso in the early 20th century. They later became widely used on punk-era posters and flyers, giving the medium an anarchic and individualist association.
Today, the collage technique can give designs a range of moods and associations—surrealism, horror, anti-establishment, and nostalgia (to name a few). The mood of the final design depends on image choice and the way in which the design is arranged.
Grid vs. Freeform Collage
Two overarching collage styles are grid and freeform. The latter is represented in the example above. It’s a menagerie of images, compiled in its own unique form, as the artist decided. In contrast, a grid collage has distinct cells for images, graphics, text, etc. Both allow creators to tell visual stories.
To make a digital collage on your computer, 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 five effective, easy-to-follow techniques for creating striking collage designs, from simple grids to more advanced spliced and multi-layered freeform designs.
1. Make a Grid-Style Digital Collage in PicMonkey
Our friends at PicMonkey make it exceptionally quick and easy to create beautiful collage designs. Make a grid-based collage, or try your hand at something more experimental, like a photo montage collage.
Step 1: Start a New Project
In PicMonkey, click Create new > Collage. From there, you’ll be prompted to select the size of your canvas. PicMonkey has hundreds of pre-sized canvases for all social channels and other mediums.
Or, you can use the dimension boxes in the top-corner to create your own size. Then, click the Make it! button.
Step 2: Choose Your Collage Layout
Once your canvas is open, choose a collage layout. Click on one to preview it in the Editor. Don’t worry—you can always change the look later on, if you want.
To change a cell’s background color, click on the cell, then click Background color in the left tools menu.
Step 3: Customize Your Design
Now comes the fun part—customize your collage with images, graphics, and text.
To add images or video: Click the Photos & Video tab, then click Add photo or video. You’ll be able to upload one or several of your own images or videos. Then, just drag them into the desired cells.
Need photos? Use PicMonkey’s stock photo library—it’s chock full of Shutterstock images!
To add graphics: Click the Graphics tab. Browse graphics by category, or use the search bar to find something you want. All of PicMonkey’s graphics are customizable. Change their colors, fill them with images of their own, and easily resize without having to worry about distorting the graphic.
To add text: Click the Text tab. Choose your font, and it’ll add a text box to your collage. Type your message, then use the Text Tools menu on the left to change text color, or try trendy text effects like outline and drop shadow.
Step 4: Download and Share
Once your design is finished, click Download on the top toolbar. Download your work as a JPG or PNG (images), or as an MP4 or GIF (video). You can also share to various social channels directly from PicMonkey.
Whatever you choose, make sure that glorious collage gets in front of some eyes. Fast!
2. Make a Splice-Style Collage in Adobe Photoshop
- 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!
3. Make a Mapped Overlay Collage in Adobe InDesign or Photoshop
- 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.
4. Make a Multi-Layered Collage in Adobe Photoshop
- 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.
5. Make a Grid-Style Digital Collage in Shutterstock Editor
Free 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, background colors, and graphics.
Step 1: Start a New Project
Open Shutterstock Editor and choose a size for your design. If you need to change it later, that’s fine! You can easily resize in the Editor.
Step 2: Customize Your Digital Collage Design
After your canvas is open, the rest is up to you. Use the design icons on the left to add your own images or choose from our massive stock collection, add text and graphics, and/or start with a pre-made collage template. We have two-, three-, and four-grid collage layouts that’ll help you quickly make a simple collage design.
Select a layer on your canvas to customize it using the tools that appear on the top editing toolbar.
Conclusion: Five 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 via popovartem.com.