Professional Image Collage Processes

This chapter includes information about:

  • How professionals use Photoshop for different projects
  • Examples of professionals’ design processes

Professionals combine images, often using Photoshop, for a variety of purposes: magazine and book covers, print and web advertisements, posters, brochures, murals, product packages and more. Here are some examples where designers shared part of their process.

Magazine Covers

Many people outside the design world assume it’s easy to “just Photoshop it,” but extensively changing an image in Photoshop is time-consuming and difficult. This timelapse video about the creation a Macworld Magazine cover shows how much care and effort goes into shooting exactly the right photo before taking that image into Photoshop. At the end, a different designer adds type using Adobe InDesign, which is most frequently used for page layout and typesetting.

Browse many more magazine covers at Cover Junkie.

Photo Illustration

Artist Idris Khan has a distinctive style of blending multiple photographs to create new compositions. For a New York Times Magazine story about British men joining Islamist militants, he used more than 800 images from the Internet and explained his process in a New York Times Instagram post:

To create the central figure — Mohammed Emwazi, who later became known as Jihadi John, a ruthless executioner of Western journalists and aid workers — the artist selected images of Emwazi that avoided eye contact. As a result, “the head seems to move from side to side without anything for the viewer to fix their eyes on,” he wrote. “The viewer is then allowed to look over the whole image as one, picking out different faces and bodies from the dense layering at the bottom of the image.”

A post shared by The New York Times (@nytimes) on

Book Covers

No matter how often people are warned, it turns out we do judge books by their covers. So a successful book cover – one that gives a sense of the book without giving too much away – is critical for sales, and designers often go through many iterations.

Here is one of several examples from the Book Covers: Before and After gallery showing different versions of a cover as it goes through the design and revision process:


Designer Peter Mendelsund, who’s created so many book covers he released a book of his own work, explained his process in an interview with NPR:

“I mark up the manuscript as I’m going — anytime there’s something I think could be potentially that symbol, that thing that could represent the text as a whole — and then I look back over those notes and I start sketching from them. …

When I have a sketch that seems like it could be compelling in some way, I render it more fully. I make a collage or I’ll take a photo or I’ll work on the computer or I’ll set the typography. There’s a lot of trial and error in it … but while I’m designing, I’m then looking at the things that I’ve made to see if they feel consonant with the way that I felt when I was reading. That’s really the moment that you know if you’ve made a book jacket that works.”

This video from Orbit Books, a publisher that specializes in sci-fi and fantasy, shows the process of designing a book cover that doesn’t have the budget for extensive illustration or photo shoots. Watch for an important realization during the revision process.

Movie Posters

Movie posters need to attract attention and explain a little about the movie, without giving away too much. Many posters use visual formulas to quickly tell the audience what type of movie to expect.

Studios often play it safe, but amateur designers have created a thriving community online for unofficial movie posters that show the many ways to visually represent a film. Look at some of the official posters for “Interstellar” below, then compare to the imaginative fan-created posters collected here.