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A finished jigsaw puzzle can be a work of art—one worth framing and hanging on the wall. But that creates another set of interlocking puzzles to solve: What’s the best way to preserve a puzzle for posterity and display it for all to see? And before you get to that point, how can you safely store a puzzle in progress when you need to free up table space and don’t want nosy pets or children ruining your work?
To find out the best ways to protect and exhibit puzzles, we talked to three experts: Aly Krasny, a founding member of the USA Jigsaw Puzzle Association; Kaylin Marcotte, founder and CEO of the puzzle company Jiggy; and Hailey Ellsworth, senior manager of customer experience at Framebridge, which is our pick for the best online framing service.
Krasny and Marcotte recommend sorting trays for organizing your pieces, especially when attempting more difficult puzzles or when workspace is limited. “Sorters are great when you need to get certain pieces out of the way so you can work on a different section of the puzzle,” Krasny said. Marcotte added, “If you sort your pieces but don’t use trays, then when you need to temporarily pack up your puzzle and put all the loose pieces back in the box, it’s very frustrating.”
The right sorting tray can also help tidy up the appearance of your workspace. For years, Krasny used the stackable, jigsaw-piece-shape Puzzle Sort & Go Stacking Sorting Trays from puzzle maker Ravensburger, but she later swapped those out for a more elegant-looking set of white, square trays from Tidyboss. “I care how my puzzling looks because it’s out all the time,” she said. “The Tidyboss trays are sleeker and the white makes for better decor.” They’re also stackable and (unlike the Sort & Go trays) lidded, making them more ideal for travel.
When you want to safely stash away your puzzle mid-solve without sabotaging what you’ve accomplished so far, you have a few options that vary widely in their pros, cons, and costs.
Roll-up puzzle mats—which typically consist of a piece of felt to construct your puzzle upon, a cylinder to wrap it around, and a tote to keep it in—are inexpensive (especially if the cylinder is just a piece of plastic you self-inflate) and can be stowed in any long, narrow sliver of space on a shelf, in a drawer, or even under or behind furniture. When Krasny started puzzling, she used a blow-up, roll-up mat from Amy & Delle and liked that “it didn’t take up much space at all, especially when you’re not using it, since you can deflate the roller.” (Like many other roll-up mats, it’s also equipped with three elastic straps to fasten around it for additional security.) Marcotte particularly recommends roll-up mats if you’re planning to transport unfinished puzzles to and from friends’ houses, puzzle meetups, or while on vacation.
However, roll-up mats have an inherent flaw: The less of a puzzle’s structure you’ve completed, the greater the likelihood that rolling it up may actually cause it to fall apart. “If you’re early on in a puzzle, it’s a little bit difficult to keep all the pieces intact in a roll-up mat,” Krasny said, especially if you carry or store the mat so it’s standing vertically, which gives gravity more of a chance to wreak havoc on your work.
If transportability isn’t a concern, Marcotte said that “in general, puzzle boards are better than puzzle mats.” For an inexpensive, DIY puzzle board setup at home, a trifold presentation board, available at office-supply and big-box stores, offers all the basic elements you need: a smooth work surface, a slim profile for storage, and an extra layer of protection when you fold over the side flaps. “They give you a lot of space to work on when they’re open, and then when you fold them up, they can easily slide under a couch,” said Krasny, who relied on a simple, foam board (like this one from Staples) for years.
The drawback with the trifold board, in Krasny’s experience, is that it doesn’t look that nice when it’s out on a table. That’s why she ultimately upgraded to an admittedly splurgy option: a Zakco puzzle board. Handmade from wood, outfitted with a framed lip to keep pieces from sliding off the sides, and available in a variety of sizes and styles (you can even opt for boards that spin like a lazy Susan), Zakco boards have achieved cult status among die-hard puzzlers for their ease of use and handsome aesthetics.
Krasny initially received one on loan as part of a team puzzling competition prize and admits, “I didn’t expect to care for it. I was like, ‘This poster board is working fine.’ Then I started using it and it changed my puzzling experience.” She’s since bought herself a Zakco 1000, advertised as being sized to accommodate 98% of 1,000-piece puzzles. ”I can easily pick it up and move it, but what I like most about it is, it looks beautiful,” she explained. “Normally, puzzles make your space look messy, but the framed look of the Zakco board just changes that. It’s definitely a splurge item, but I love it. I use it so much.”
Whether you opt to frame a finished puzzle yourself or send it out to a framing professional, the first step is to make sure the pieces are secure enough to survive the process. Again, you have a few choices:
Framebridge accepts completed puzzles for framing that have been treated either with glue or peel-and-stick paper, but bear in mind that the latter should always be applied to the back of a puzzle. Ellsworth suggests adhesive sheets from Lavievert or AGreatLife, which “hold together beautifully and make sure nothing falls apart in the shipping process.” Some parents who puzzle with young children prefer adhesive sheets because they’re less messy.
A common preservation method—for sending your puzzle out for professional framing or doing it yourself—is to apply a coat of water-based, nontoxic, clear-drying glue (like Mod Podge, which makes a Puzzle Saver glue, or plain old Elmer’s), but how you apply it can make a difference.
Marcotte has found that using a bristle or foam paint brush can impart added texture that you may not want and can slightly alter the puzzle’s sheen. Instead, she recommends using a straight-edge tool—it can be a popsicle stick or even an expired credit card—to thin out the glue on top and get more of it in between pieces. You can also just flip the whole thing over and apply glue to the back to avoid concerns about the finished look entirely.
For a DIY job, Krasny claims you don’t need any glue or tape if your puzzle can withstand what puzzlers call the lift test: Grab your puzzle by two corners and pick the whole thing up to see if it stays together on its own. (In general, the more high-quality the pieces are, the better the odds that it won’t fall apart.) If the puzzle remains intact, place it down in a frame that’s slightly larger than the puzzle’s dimensions, then put the frame’s glass over it and affix. If you find that your puzzle sags a little once it’s in the frame, Krasny suggests adding a piece of cardboard or foam board behind the puzzle to tighten it up.
Most 500- and 1,000-piece puzzles don’t match up well with the length and width of standard frame sizes, so make sure you account for how much blank space might be left between the puzzle’s edge and the frame. You could do that by adding a mat that spans the width of that space, which would give your puzzle a traditional, framed-artwork look. But if you want to really show off that your creation is indeed made of jigsaw pieces, Ellsworth recommends float mounting, in which the thing being framed sits atop the matting (instead of alongside it) to make it appear as if it’s floating inside the frame. “It lets all the edges be shown and gives a sense of depth, while also allowing for enough actual depth to accommodate the thickness of the puzzle,” Ellsworth explained.
Your choices for your frame’s color, thickness, and shape are endless, of course. Some of our favorites from Framebridge (our pick for online framing services) include its Sonoma, Mercer Slim, and Irvine Slim frames; float-mounting a 1,000-piece puzzle with one of these options costs about $250 to $300. “They can look classic, they can look modern,” Ellsworth said of these frames and their simple, clean lines. “They kind of go with anything.” Best of all, they’re minimalist enough to highlight the most important part: the puzzle itself.
This article was edited by Ben Keough and Erica Ogg.
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