In a cosy little corner sits a journaling enthusiast surrounded by Post-its, wax stamps and washi tapes as they carefully circle-punch the corners of a freshly Instax-printed butterfly stencil. They then whip out their prized blue tape runner before ASMR-ing adhesive onto their Moleskine notebook. All of this is done under the lull of a mushroom table lamp with Lofi Girl playing in the distance. The creator is at peace with their thoughts and so are the viewers, who mentally flush their stress away for ten seconds before resuming their routine TikTok doom scrolling.
Fast forward to September 2022, everyone’s FYPs across social media platforms are now swamped with photo dumps. But this time around, the images are not manifested as haphazardly-static Instagram carousels made out of camera rolls tied together with a single caption. Meet cutout collages, the visual trend all about living your dynamic life and scrapbooking the heck out of it in the process.
In order to understand cutout collages theoretically, I’ll first give you a refresher about the two basic concepts of photography: foreground and background. While foreground is the element of an image that lies closest to the camera, background is the part that lies further away. Let’s say you have a teenage dirtbag picture of yourself sprawled with no care in the world on a rent-free couch. In this instance, you and the couch are the foreground while all the other elements in the photo are just background noise.
Now that those concepts are out of the way, cutout collages are essentially a trend playing with the background and foregrounds of multiple images. Here, photo dumps are edited in a way that isolates the two elements in question from the second picture in the sequence and overlays them as stickers over the first before panning to feature the actual image.
Think of the background and foreground as separate teaser elements that you place over the previous image before telling the full story with the actual unedited photo that will follow. The result is a perfect loop that resembles a green screen-based journal of all your memories—where the possibilities are endless and the creativity is immaculate.
If you still need a visual explainer, this Instagram Reel does a pretty swell job at summing up the trend:
I know what you’re thinking at this point: cutout collages are just the repackaged, gen Z take on a concept that has gripped photo editing apps for over a decade. Well, yes. At the end of the day, the trend is hinged on the image erase tool to nail its scrapbooking aesthetics.
But that’s exactly what makes it so appealing. With BeReal, meta and 0.5 selfies pushing the boundaries of candid, low-effort distortions, cutout collages are a breath of fresh air for photo dumps in a video format. Gone is the age where you create slideshows in the name of memory albums. Cutout collages are instead a 3D render helping you romanticise your life in the most dynamic way possible.
In fact, its rise can be credited to a relatively-hidden feature that was introduced by Apple as part of its recent iOS 16 update. Popularly titled ‘photo cutout’ by netizens, the new feature lets iPhone users lift the foreground of an image by simply long-pressing on the subject (be it a person, animal or an object), copying and pasting it somewhere else. You can also keep holding onto the cropped image and drag it directly onto another app—such as your Notes app—or simply click on the ‘Share’ option to automate the entire process.
I can’t begin to imagine all the effortless possibilities this tool has just introduced into our lazy Picsart-wannabe lives.
Cutout collages in 2022 can’t be mentioned without addressing the new invite-only app from Pinterest called Shuffles. First released in August, the app has already hit mass popularity with its gen Z audience—who now hail it as a platform that inspires ‘creativity over competition’ by being more about community than creator-focused.
Shuffles essentially connects to your Pinterest account and allows you to create moodboards using the pins on your board. “Cutout, collage, animate,” the app’s description rightfully goes on to read. Here, users can also take their own pictures, choose them from their personal gallery or search for images in the built-in library. They can then add animations to their cutout collages before sharing them for others to like, comment, share and even remix. Just like TikTok, Shuffles also has an FYP that refines to suit your tastes the more you interact with your timeline—complete with dedicated hashtags and fandom content to follow.
So, will Shuffles ultimately make Pinterest cool again? Only time will tell if the platform will end up being a cult favourite for gen Zers. But with more people fishing for an invite across the internet, it seems like the image-sharing giant might have hit the jackpot with the parallel rise of cutout collages as a trend in itself.
Everyone you love is doing it and everyone who’s doing it, loves it. As of today, cutout collages seem to have established a collective chokehold on Instagram and TikTok—with the latter featuring over 5.8 million views on #collagetrend. On both platforms, users are seen jumping on the trend with their own ‘POV’ takes as others share tutorials and recommend apps to achieve the perfect cutouts.
The best part? There’s no particular audio used for these creations. While ‘POP DANCE’ by Bensound seems to be a relatively-popular choice, the trend is edited to upbeat music in general—be it nightcore remixes of Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God)’ or ‘Move Your Feet’ by Austin Millz.
Now, if you’re someone with an unstable hand or merely have zero patience to sit and edit numerous photos into a cutout collage, don’t fret just yet. I’d like to take this golden opportunity to mention that there’s a filter on TikTok that does the job for you, hassle-free. Yes, you read that right, and maybe I should’ve led this article by stating that beforehand but, oh well.
The ‘collage’ filter on TikTok first lets you choose between two to five images from your gallery, upload them onto the app and automatically create a cutout collage that experiments with the foreground of all your images. It’s that simple. Now, everyone rise and say: ‘Thank you AI!’
On the other hand, if you’re looking for some inspiration to get the ball rolling, we’ve got you covered on that front too. Here are some of the best cutout collages on TikTok to date. And might I say, photo dumps have never looked better: