How to Create a Collage Portrait in Adobe InDesign

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In this quick and easy tutorial, we’ll look at how you can create a spliced effect for a poster design using Adobe InDesign.

Love portrait photography, but looking for a fresh take? You can make portrait photographs more dynamic by combining images together, creating a cool collage effect. Quick and simple to do, “splicing” your images is an effective technique for adding interest to posters, magazine covers, or social media images. 

While Photoshop is also useful for creating collage portraits, InDesign allows you more control over the print layout as a whole, including formatting typography, color effects, and incorporating textures, to create a professional-standard poster in little time. 

Mockup Street
Image by contributor Dima Moroz.

What Are Collage Portraits?

Inspired by the anarchic, newspaper-cutting style of punk-era posters, collage portraits have experienced a recent revival in editorial design. By mixing images and media together, fashion portraits are given an edgy twist, while blending images of individuals with unexpected elements, such as botanical patterns or animals, can lend a surreal mood to conventional portraits.

In need of inspiration? Veerle Symoens and Astrid Torres are modern collage portrait artists who combine pop culture imagery from fashion magazines and newspapers to create immersive, beautiful portraits with a distinctive twist. 

In this tutorial, we’ll explore the basics of creating a collage portrait, combining a number of images in strips to make up the whole portrait. While this is relatively simple to achieve, it can be incredibly impactful. We’ll use a step-by-step example to create the design pictured, but you can apply the same techniques to your own choice of images, too. 

Collage Portrait
The beauty and energy of a collage portrait.

What You’ll Need to Create Your Collage Portrait

We’ll be creating this poster design, one of a series produced for a fictional music festival. 

As well as access to Adobe InDesign, you’ll also need to download the following images to create the poster design pictured in the tutorial:

To add text to your poster, you can use the free font Railroad Gothic CC to give the design a retro flavor.

Mockup Street
Jazz up your poster designs by incorporating collage elements. Image by contributor X10.

How to Choose Your “Core” Image

All collage portraits need an anchoring image—the image you use as a foundation for the design, onto which the other images can be mapped out. The image needs to be high-resolution, and show the complete head and (preferably) shoulders of the subject, giving you plenty of scope for adding collage elements on top. 

Let’s begin by creating our poster document in Adobe InDesign, and place the core image onto the design. 

Step 1

Open InDesign. In the New Document window, choose Print from the options along the top of the window. Set the size to Tabloid, Width 11 in, and Height 17 in. Deselect Facing Pages, and add a Bleed of 0.125 in

Then, click Create

Set Sizes
Set the size to Tabloid, Width 11 in, and Height 17 in.

Step 2

From the Tools panel on the left side of the workspace, choose the Rectangle Frame Tool (F) and drag across the whole page, up to the bleed edge

File > Place navigating to your selected “core” image, in this case this image of a trumpet player. 

Select Core Image
Select your core image. Image via Sergei Bachlakov.

In the Layers panel (Window > Layers), double-click on Layer 1 and rename it Core Image

Rename Image
Rename your core image.

How to Draw the Mapping Outline

The secret to an effective portrait collage is to “map” features onto the foundation image. The image will read better as a whole if eyes, noses, and mouths are in roughly the same position, and the angle of someone’s head is similar across your chosen group of photos. Here, we’ll draw a mapping outline onto our design to help us build up the collage design.

Step 1

Create a second layer, naming it Outline. Lock the Core Image below. 

Second Layer
Now, create a second layer.

Switch to the Pencil Tool (N) and trace some of the main features of the image sitting below. Roughly outline the ear(s), nose, eyes, mouth, and front and back of the head. This won’t be visible on the final collage, so don’t worry about making this perfect—you’re simply using this as a design aid. 

Pencil Tool
Using the Pencil Tool, trace around main features.

Step 2

Create a third layer, moving it between the top Outline and bottom Core Image layers. Name this new layer Images. On this layer, you can introduce new images, and use the outline to guide their placement and scale on the design. 

Create a new image frame using the Rectangle Frame Tool (M), creating a tall, narrow frame that extends from the top to the bottom of the page. File > Place choosing our second image. Click inside the image frame to select the image directly, then scale and rotate to fit. Map this image onto the edge of the original subject’s right eye, as shown below. 

Create Narrow Frame
Create a tall, narrow frame that extends from the top to the bottom of the page.

We can also use the same image to create a collage element over the saxophonist’s hand, at far right. Copy and Paste the image frame, rotating and scaling the image inside until it matches the angle and position of the hand on the core image below. 

Overlapping Layers
Experiment with overlapping various parts of the core image.

Step 3

Introduce the third image onto the design in a new image frame. This can be grafted over the back of the original subject’s head. Try to match the position of the ear to the outline you’ve drawn. 

Positioning Layers
Positioning Layers
Try to match the position of the ear to the outline you’ve drawn.

Step 4

It’s unlikely all of the images you’ve chosen will have enough height to fill the whole image frame across the height of the page. 

To blend this into the image below, choose one of the image frames and go to Object > Effects > Gradient Feather. With the Type set to Linear, angle the gradient and adjust the slider at the top until the hard edge of the image disappears. 

Adjust Slider
Adjust the slider at the top until the hard edge of the image disappears.

Step 5

You can add color overlays to your collage to add more graphic interest. Create a new layer, Color, at the top of the layer sequence. 

From the Swatches panel (Window > Color > Swatches), you can choose New Color Swatch from the dropdown menu at the top-right corner, and add your own CMYK swatches. 

Here, I’ve created red (C=1 M=76 Y=62 K=0), yellow (C=0 M=24 Y=87 K=0), and blue (C=87 M=67 Y=16 K=2) swatches, clicking Add to add them to the Swatches panel.

Create Colors
Create your colors, then add them to the Swatches panel.

Step 6

Create a strip of color over the top of each image section using the Rectangle Tool (M), giving each a contrasting color fill from the Swatches panel. 

Select each colored rectangle and go to Object > Effects > Transparency. Set the Mode to Color to allow the image details to show through while preserving the brightness of the color. 

Set Mode to Color.

How to Add Texture to Your Collage Portrait

Adding overlay textures to your finished collage design can help to give the design a vintage, hand-done look that suits the collage style.

Step 1

Create a new layer, Vignette, at the top of the sequence. Create a new image frame using the Rectangle Frame Tool (F) and extend the frame across the whole page. File > Place choosing the Vignette image. 

Choose your Vignette image.

Step 2

With the image frame selected, go to Object > Effects > Gradient Feather. Set the Type to Radial, allowing the gradient’s opacity to increase towards the edges of the image.

Set Type
Set the Type to Radial.

Click on Transparency at the top of the Effects window’s left-hand menu. Set the Mode to Hard Light, and reduce the Opacity to around 25%. Click OK to exit the window. 

Set Mode
Set the Mode to Hard Light.

Step 3

Create a new layer, Texture, above the Vignette layer. 

File > Place the film texture image into a new image frame that extends across the entire page. 

Film Texture
Place the film texture image into a new image frame that extends across the entire page.

Then, go to Object > Effects > Transparency, setting the Mode to Soft Light and Opacity to around 50%

Set Opacity
Set Opacity to around 50%.

Step 4

You can use your collage as a stand-alone design, or why not integrate it into a poster or magazine cover design? 

Here, I’ve dotted text frames around the layout (using the Type Tool (T) to create frames) and set the Font of the headings and subheadings to Railroad Gothic CC. 

Set Font
Set the font of the headings and subheadings to Railroad Gothic CC.

How to Export Your Poster Design as a PDF

Once you’ve finished working on your collage, you can export it as a PDF for printing or as a JPEG for sharing online. 

Step 1

For Exporting to both formats, go to File > Export. Choose JPEG (online) or Adobe PDF (print) for a printable version. Name your file and click Save.

Name File
Make sure to name your file before clicking Save.

For PDFs, in the Export Adobe PDF window that opens, choose Press Quality from the Preset menu at the top. 

Press Quality
Choose Press Quality from the Preset menu at the top.

Then, click on Marks and Bleeds in the window’s left-hand menu. If you’re sending your poster to a professional printer, make sure to check Use Document Bleed Settings. Also check with your printer to see if they require any of the Marks options listed above. 

Marks and Bleeds
Click on Marks and Bleeds.

Then, click Export

Your Finished Collage Portrait Poster

Your collage design is finished, and it’s cool, energetic, and fun! 

Mockup Street
Voilà! Image by contributor X10.

Now that you’ve created your first collage design, you might have been bitten by the collage bug. Try experimenting with different image combinations, and different ways of placing collage elements. Jagged image edges or newspaper-rip edging can give collages a more home-made feel, which can suit certain designs.

If you’d like to try out more how-to tutorials for Adobe InDesign, Photoshop, and more, check out these simple guides:

Cover image via Sergei Bachlakov, Taigi, Sergei Bachlakov, Yurlick, and Melanie Lemahieu.

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