Creating Mosaics and Stained Glass with Digital Tools


The following question comes from one of our readers: “I am interested in modifying pictures/paintings as blueprints for mosaic or stained glass work. I’d appreciate any info/direction as to how to digitally line photos to represent individual tiles/pieces of glass.” To answer, we’re going to look at several ways to create the look of stained glass and mosaic from photos, using Photoshop and Painter.

A look at several methods for creating stained glass (left) and mosaic tiles (right) using Photoshop and Corel Painter.

There are some differences in between stained glass and mosaic tiles, but they both contain flat shapes of color surrounded by dark, solid lines. We’ll look at some of the tools that lend themselves to creating that type of image.

Here’s the original stock photo we’ll be using for our examples.

Photoshop Tools for Stained Glass

Photoshop has a couple of good filters for creating a stained glass look. The first, not surprisingly, is the Stained Glass filter (Filter > Texture > Stained Glass). It’s fast and easy, creating nice randomly-shaped, flat areas of pure color, surrounded by lines. Before running the filter, choose a foreground color for your “leading,” since you can’t change the color from within the filter. You can, however, change the width of the lines, the size of the cells (shapes), and “light intensity,” which is a simulation of a light shining onto the glass from the other side. 

Photoshop’s Stained Glass filter is fast and simple to use, though somewhat generic-looking.

We can use the Glass Distortion filter to improve things a bit. First, duplicate the background layer, and call it “Leading.” Use Select > Color Range to select the black leading. (If you’re trying to create a layer with just the black outlines/leading, do Select > Inverse, hit the delete key, and you’re left with just the black outlines on one layer.) Do Select > inverse to select the colored panes. Now apply the Glass filter (Filter > Distort > Glass). Choose “Glass” from the drop down, and adjust to taste. I used low-numbered settings for the example here. As you can see, this makes it look much more like the real thing. 

The second option for stained glass with Photoshop is a little less obvious: the Poster Edges filter. It does a terrific job creating stained glass that resembles the traditional type found in old churches. Go Filter > Artistic > Poster Edge. Use Edge Thickness 2, Edge Intensity 1, and Posterization 4.

Poster Edges gives a very nice old-style stained glass look.

Photoshop Tools for Mosaic Tiles

Photoshop has a filter called Mosaic Tiles, which does a fair job, and it does allow you to adjust the grout color right in the filter dialogue, unlike the Stained Glass filter. Here’s what it looks like: 

The Mosaic Tile filter does not do the most convincing job. Still, it may be just what you’re after.

The Patchwork filter (Filter > Texture > Patchwork) creates a fairly convincing tiled look, but it does not have grouting between the tiles. It does, however, allow for a nice 3D effect. Play with the settings, and see what you come up with. 

Photoshop’s Patchwork filter does a pretty convincing tile imitation.

Painter Tools for Stained Glass

Corel Painter does not have a stained glass filter, but it does have something pretty darned close: the Woodcut filter. Go Effects > Surface Control > Woodcut. The results are pretty similar to the Poster Edges filter in Photoshop.

The Woodcut filter in Painter does a passable stained glass look.

To create an image with just the black lines, just click off the Output Color checkbox. 

Painter’s Woodcut filter can output just the black lines easily.

Painter Tools for Mosaic Tiles

Painter has a Mosaic Tile tool that is really different from everything else in Painter. It’s not especially hard to use, but it’s different enough to be a challenge, at first. First of all, it’s under the Canvas menu, for some reason (go Canvas > Make Mosaic). The other odd thing is that you must leave the Make Mosaic dialogue box open the whole time you’re “painting” your mosaic. Don’t click the “Done” button until you’re, well, done. Unlike the filters we’ve seen so far, this is a painting tool. You don’t, however choose a particular brush variant (told you it was weird). To create the image below, I began by creating a Quick Clone of the tulips picture. Make sure “Use tracing paper” is turned on. Then, just like any other painting, just start painting, and tiles will appear instead of brushstrokes. You can vary the size and shape of the tiles. You can also vary the grout color. I left it white until I was done, then changed it to a dark grey, and then clicked Done. To add a bit of 3D, go to Effects > Surface Control > Apply Surface Texture Using Image Luminance. Here’s the result: 

Painter’s Mosaic tool allows you to actually lie tiles down one at a time. There’s no automatic option.

The final example we’ll look at comes from Painter’s Custom Tile filter (Effects > Esoterica > Custom Tile). This allows you to vary the tiles size, the grout color, and comes with a variety of tile shapes (triangles, squares, etc.). The results are very regular and mechanical-looking, but again, that may be just what you need, so I present it here.

This may be useful to you if you’re looking for a perfectly-lined image.

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