How to Create Puzzle Pieces Template in Adobe Illustrator

How to Create Puzzle Pieces Pattern in Adobe Illustrator

In this tutorial I will guide you step by step to create a puzzle piece template in Adobe Illustrator CC 2014. We will create template which will have minimum anchor points and each and every puzzle piece can be easily selected and manipulated.

Before we start creating puzzle pieces

I did some research on this topic, and in this tutorial we will create a simple and nice puzzle piece pattern based on what I have seen as real World examples in our shops in Niš, Serbia. You can find and many other examples online like Ravensburger puzzles. In essence, most of the puzzles that I have seen have square or nearly square pieces. That's what we are going to create using the very basic tools and options, plus a little bit of math.

Step by step instructions

As mentioned before, I will use photographed, real World example to simplify things and to trace what we need to create a template. You can use any image with puzzle pieces or just take a look at sample below and draw something similar.

Step 1 Open image with puzzle pieces (if you have any) in Adobe Illustrator.

Step 2 Trace contour using the Pencil or Curvature Tool.

Step 3 Use Smooth Tool to smooth result. Hint: use Object > Path > Simplify to reduce the number of anchor points.
use smooth tool to smoth result

Step 4 Split shape into half using Scissors Tool. We want symmetrical shape to avoid any potential problem. Leave better half of the shape and delete opposite side.
use scissors to split shape on half

Step 5 Use Reflect Tool with Copy to create two symmetrical halves. Alt/Opt + click on the middle anchor point to bring Reflect dialog, choose proper Axis and click on Copy button.
alt click with reflect tool and duplicate remaining half

Step 6 Select middle anchor point using the Direct Selection Tool and use Join command Ctrl/Cmd + J.
select middle point and join

Step 7 Click on Transform link in the Options bar and change size: Width to 500px with constrained proportions on (link on the right side). Let's call it single piece shape.
reduce size to 500 pixels

Step 8 Create a new document. I will create huge document 12000x12000px because we are working with 500px square pieces. You can use and smaller dimensions for pieces, it is randomly chosen and easy to do the math.

Step 9 Create new square 2000x2000px and switch to Outline mode View > Outline. I am using this mode every time that I do not need color or stroke visible.
position precisely rectangle 2000 pixels

Step 10 Copy/Paste previously created single piece shape.

Step 11 Select single piece shape with Selection Tool and double click on the selection tool icon. Type 500px for Horizontal move and leave Vertical to 0. Click on the Copy button to duplicate a single piece shape while moving it.
duplicate base shape with the move tool

Step 12 Create 4 duplicates of the single piece shape using Ctrl/Cmd + D.
create 4 duplicates of the base shape

Step 13 Alt/Opt click on the side anchor point of the single piece shape and reflect 2 of the 4 single piece shapes.
alt click on the left anchor point with the reflect tool to reflect shape on the other side

Step 14 Join single piece shapes using Join command Ctrl/Cmd + J. Let's call this newly created shape: multiple pieces shape.
join all 4 shapes

Step 14 Duplicate multiple pieces shape and reflect it.
reflect one of two duplicated 4 shapes

Step 15 Duplicate two multiple pieces shapes and rotate them for 90 degrees.
create 2 more duplicates and rotate them for 90 degrees

Step 16 Duplicate one of two multiple pieces shapes to make 3rd of both: vertical and horizontal. You should have 6 multiple pieces shapes in total.
craete 3 base shapes of both kinds

Step 17 Position precisely square earlier created (which is 2000x2000px) using middle anchor point and remember position or look up later by clicking on the square.
position precisely rectangle 2000 pixels

Step 18 Position multiple pieces shape using Transform pop-up which appears when you click on the link in the Options bar with the same name. Use middle reference point of the square as starting point for simple math.

Example: middle of the square is at x = 1500px and y = 1500px. In essence, you should use same X value for the middle reference point of the horizontal multiple pieces shapes (1500px in my case) and to change Y values: for middle multiple pieces shape keep same value as for square and for other two multiple pieces shapes use: x = 1500px and y = 1000px for above plus x = 1500px and y = 2000px for bottom multiple pieces shape.
example how to position shapes using refrence point

Step 19 Do the same for horizontal and vertical multiple pieces shapes which will be used to create the puzzle pieces. When positioning vertical multiple pieces shapes use same Y value (1500px in my case) and change the X value as for horizontal multiple pieces shapes previously. Here is an example how things should look like at this point of time.
example of created base ready for shape builder tool

Step 20 Select entire composition and use Divide option from the Pathfinder panel (Window > Pathfinder). Go to Object > Ungroup to ungroup puzzle pieces.
use divide from pathfinder to create puzzle pieces

Step 21 Select 4 puzzle pieces on the right side and double click on Selection Tool. In the Move dialog type 2000px for Horizontal and leave Vertical to 0 then click OK.

Step 22 Select 6 pieces in the middle and double click on the Selection Tool. Type 1000px for Horizontal, leave Vertical to 0 and click on the Copy button to duplicate pieces while moving them.
move middle six pieces and duplicate them

Step 23 Press Ctrl/Cmd + D to repeat the last transformation, and you have one part finished, you have expanded puzzle template horizontally.
example of completed horizontal expansion

Feel free to experiment and expand as much as you want. The point is to use simple math and to duplicate pieces without using any other tools which can make your headache and to introduce gazillion smaller pieces as in many puzzle templates you can find online. A template created in this way is clean and can be used for whatever you want. Pieces can be selected and manipulated individually with the single click of the Selection Tool. By the way, I will use pieces in Photoshop to automate tasks of creating puzzle pieces actions.

Step 24 In the very same way you can expand template in the opposite direction, I will do that to the bottom. Move the last row using Vertical in the Move dialog. It is all about simple math, in this case, pieces are 500px and we are moving and duplicating two rows in the middle what means you should move last row for 1, 2, 3 or more thousands of pixels so you can duplicate two rows one or more times.
move bottom row for 1000 pixels vertically to the bottom

Here is an example of a finished template which have 8 columns and 6 rows.
example of finished template 8 by 6

Step 25 What if you have an odd number of rows and columns?
example of odd situation

The solution is also simple: reflect the last column or row, then bring it to position using Move dialog. You will be in situations to use and negative numbers, but principle is the same.
reflect last column using Reflect Tool

Here is an example with 7 columns and 6 rows.
example with 7 columns and 6 rows

Download my template
Here is the link to download template which I have created while writing this tutorial.


In this tutorial I tried one more time to give you an idea how breaking things down, with a little bit of math and by using the very basic tools one can create cool and useful things. If you have any problem to follow instructions, please do not hesitate to leave a comment or to contact me directly. I always have time and your responses helps me to better understand other users and to write better, more useful tutorials.

Product used in this tutorial:
Adobe Illustrator CC 2014


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