Create a puzzle sphere with transparent pieces

  • Photoshop :
    CC, CS6 Extended
  • Advanced

This tutorial will show you how to create a 3D puzzle sphere and make some pieces Photoshop CC or in Photoshop CS6 Extended.

Begin with opening one photo of landscape aspect ratio in Photoshop. Wide format photos (16:9 or wider) will produce better results.

If your computer has plenty of RAM, and a powerful processor and graphics card, you may keep the original image size intact. Otherwise, if your photo is very big, I recommend you resize its width between 1500 and 2000 pixels.

Load the "PFx PUZZLES 2D - Classic" actions in Photoshop and run the "210 pieces" action to create the puzzle:
2D puzzle

When the action execution is completed, go to the Layers panel. Select the first layer, named "Row 1 - 1"; scroll down the end of the layers stack; hold down Shift and select the layer of the last piece, named "Row 14 - 15".

Select the menu command: 3D > New Mesh from Layer > Mesh Preset > Sphere

In a few moments your 2D puzzle will be turned into a 3D puzzle sphere:
3d sphere before

You may stop here, or you can make the effect more interesting, by making some puzzle pieces transparent. Please follow carefully the next steps.

TIP: To learn more about how to create transparency in Photoshop 3D objects, refer to this tutorial:

Go to the 3D panel (Window > 3D) and click on "Sphere_Material":
select sphere material

Go to the Properties panel (Window > Properties).
Click the small icon to the right of the "Diffuse" property:
properties panel select diffuse material

and select "Edit Texture":
properties panel select diffuse material 2

Select the menu command Image > Duplicate
Name the new document as "Transparency" and hit OK.

Select the Diffuse Texture Photoshop document (its document tab should be called "210pieces4.psb") and press Ctrl-w (Mac: cmd-w) to close it.

Now you should have two open documents in your work area: The 3D sphere and the "Transparency".

Right click on the first piece that you wish to make transparent, and select its layer from the pop-up menu:
right click to select piece

Go to the Layers panel and click the little eyeball icon, to the left of the selected piece:
turn visibility off

This will turn off the visibility for this piece, and will make it transparent.

Repeat the same steps for every other piece you wish to make transparent (right-click on the piece, select its layer from the pop up menu, and turn off the layer's eyeball icon).

When you finish, go to the Layers panel, scroll up at the top, and select the "210 pieces" group:
select layers group

Select the menu command Layer > Merge Visible, or press Shift-Ctrl-E (PC) or Shift-cmd-E (Mac)
This will merge all visible pieces into a single layer, called "210 pieces"

Press V. Then press Shift-F5. Click to check the "Preserve Transparency" box:
preserve transparency

Click the "Contents" dropdown list and select the "White" color:
fill with white

Press OK to fill.

Hold down the Alt key (PC) or the cmd key (Mac) and click the "fx" button below the "210 pieces" layer. This will collapse all layer styles in the Layers panel:
layers panel collapsed styles

Now click the eyeball to the left of the "210 pieces" layer, to turn off its visibility. Then click the eyeball icons to turn on the visibility of all layers (pieces) below the "210 pieces" layer. When you do so, the Layers panel should look like this:
reverse visibility

Click on the first visible layer (piece) to select it. Then select the menu command Layer > Merge Visible, or press Shift-Ctrl-E (PC) or Shift-cmd-E (Mac)
This will merge all visible pieces into a single layer. Rename it to "transparent"

Press V. Then press Shift-F5. Make sure that the "Preserve Transparency" box is still checked. Click the "Contents" dropdown list and select the "Black" color:
fill with black

Press OK to fill.

Click the eyeball icon of the "210 pieces" layer, to restore its visibility. You should now have two visible layers in the Layers panel:
restore 210 pieces visibility

Finally select the menu command: Layers > Flatten Image.

Save the document as PNG: if you have Photoshop CC, select File > Export As and export as PNG. In Photoshop CS6 Extended select File > Save for Web and save as PNG-24.
Select File > Close and close the document (without saving it).

Now you should see the 3D sphere on your screen.
Go to the Properties panel. Click the little folder icon on the right of the "Opacity" property, and select "Load Texture":
properties panel opacity folder icon

Load the PNG file you saved earlier, and hit OK.
Presto! The selected pieces have become transparent:

3d sphere

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