— Set details —
Price: £99.99 / $129.99 / €99.99 Pieces: 4,502 Minifigures: 0
— Build —
LEGO combined with art may seem like a fairly new concept to The LEGO Group, but if you were to look through its rich back catalogue, there are numerous sets even the most ardent LEGO fan might be surprised to know existed.
For instance: mosaics in LEGO can actually be traced as far back as 1955 with historic sets such as 1300/1301 Mosaik, followed by some DUPLO versions in the ’80s, and later again with LEGO System during the early 2000s. More recently, the LEGO Art range has proven very popular in the last year, giving builders the chance to construct complicated mosaics ranging in subject from Star Wars and Marvel through to Harry Potter and even The Beatles.
40179 Personalised Mosaic Portrait may be a new addition to LEGO.com in 2021, but it’s actually not the first time we’ve seen it. That was back in 2016, when the UK flagship LEGO store opened in Leicester Square and introduced the world to the Mosaic Maker booth. In premise, it’s reminiscent of a photo booth – but instead of a passport photo, you receive a giant pixelated print of your face along with a box of LEGO plates allowing you to recreate it in brick form.
This year – probably given the amount of dust gathering on unused Mosaic Maker booths in closed stores around the world – the LEGO Group wisely decided to bring the experience of the personalised mosaic into the comfort of our own homes with the release of 40179 Personalised Mosaic Portrait.
The software is available as an app on its website, which means it is now possible to upload any photos (adhering to strict guidelines regarding copyright) and manipulate them to your heart’s content before saving them to use as your own unique set of instructions. Simply purchase the set from LEGO.com and away you go.
Another significant upside here is that anybody who might have previously paid £99.99 for a one-off photo experience in a brand store now has the opportunity to re-build and re-use their set again and again.
We don’t usually focus too much on the box that sets come in at Brick Fanatics, but it’s worth mentioning this one because it’s quite unique compared to most these days.
Older LEGO fans here will likely have fond memories of either their own sets or browsing the LEGO aisle in toy shops back in the ’80s and ’90s, when many of the bigger LEGO boxes used to have a cardboard flap on the front. Lifting this up would often show you alternate set images on the underside, and reveal a transparent plastic covering so you could actually see the pieces and minifigures included within the set. It was a wonderful way of tempting buyers and mesmerising children.
This experience still holds extremely strong nostalgic value for many adult fans of LEGO today – just ask one!
Whilst 40179 Personalised Mosaic Portrait does not contain a plastic cover, lifting the hinged lid after cutting the security seals will reveal the contents presented in a neat fashion, differing from the usual bagged pieces and instructions you might find in some of the LEGO Ideas or Architecture releases, which often share the same style of box.
The inside of the lid displays the base plate, while the bottom cardboard insert holds five smaller boxes, each containing roughly 900 1×1 square plates (in black, white, dark grey, light grey and yellow) as well as one orange brick separator (in case you’ve lost the other 357 you own). It was an unexpected yet welcomed surprise in this pizza-sized box of delights.
This is perhaps the first set we’ve opened that doesn’t contain any sort of instruction booklet, which makes sense considering the premise of customisation, but somewhat surprising that not even an advert for other LEGO or a ‘Welcome To Your New Set’ introduction was deemed necessary.
In order to begin the process of building your mosaic, you’re required to log in (or create an account) at LEGO.com and find the Mosaic Maker page. After you’ve decided on a photo to upload (keeping within the company’s guidelines), it’s just a matter of toying with the various options – all while keeping an eye on the preview box – to determine what results you think you’d be happiest with. This is fairly enjoyable and only takes about five minutes or so. Once you’re done, simply save the image to your computer or smart device and you’re ready to begin.
The images below show you the original reference photos next to the digital Mosaic Maker render. Scroll on to the picture gallery below for the brick-built results.
We started by emptying each colour of 1×1 plate into a small container for ease and accessibility, but found as the build went on that it was actually easier (and quicker) to have them spread out in close proximity to the mosaic itself (you’ll no doubt find your own preferred method of building). Unlike the LEGO Art mosaics, there’s no frame or base to build, so as soon as you’ve opened the bags, you’re ready to make your photo a brick-built reality.
It’s a very unique LEGO-building experience, because unlike step-by-step instructions usually provided, it’s literally a matter of copying what you see stud-by-stud. This can be approached in a number of ways: counting studs to make sure the placement is correct; building certain shapes and patterns one colour at a time; creating an outline of a monochromatic area that can then be filled (without requiring much concentration); or working your way up or down row by row.
We found a combination of all these techniques were used at one point or another along the way.
If you bought this set from a physical Mosaic Maker booth, then your instructions would have been printed out for you to follow. The drawback is that it would be harder for more people to get involved using just one reference ‘blueprint’, whereas anyone who wants to help out now just needs a copy of the photo sent to their smart device.
For those that prefer hard copies and have access to a printer (especially an A3 one), the option is still available to simply print your image. It’s certainly not necessary and perhaps preferable for most to save on ink and paper. (And the environment!)
We used a smartphone initially because of the way you can quickly zoom in and out of images, swapping to a tablet later on just for a slightly bigger screen. A laptop would work too, but being able to rapidly navigate with our fingers to different parts of the image made it much more convenient.
It took the best part of three evenings to finish each mosaic, with nearly two hours simply to dismantle it between images (so seven days in all), but will vary for individuals depending on the complexity of the chosen image. Completion could probably be achieved within one long session, for example, though your thumb would likely welcome the break from repeatedly pressing in 2,304 studs.
Quick maths: a 48 stud by 48 stud baseplate equals 2,304 studs to cover it completely. The set officially comes with 4,500 plates. 4,500 minus 2,304 equals 2,196, which means there probably aren’t quite enough to build a second mosaic, even if you somehow managed to have exactly the correct ratio of colours left to attempt the majority of it. This was the conclusion we came to whilst deliberating whether we really wanted to take apart our first image so soon.
It was surprisingly therapeutic to do, and as the image is slowly pieced together there’s the familiar sense of accomplishment found when building any LEGO set.
Another difference between the LEGO Art mosaics and 40179 Personalised Mosaic Portrait is that the former sets use 1×1 round plates, whilst the latter uses square ones. This provides better coverage altogether and doesn’t allow for any of the baseplate to be visible after it’s finished, but the main drawback is trying to get them to line up as squarely as possible. Once they’re down, it’s very hard to move them again without great bother.
Extra care was taken not to make mistakes, but even for the most eagle-eyed LEGO fan it’s still easy to let your eyes wander onto the wrong part of the image every now and again. On the few occasions where one was made, it was usually spotted fairly quickly and was luckily not too difficult to fix with the help of the trusted brick separator. Unfortunately, this only works where you’ve got clearance around the studs you need to remove.
Should you find yourself fairly deep into the process already and notice some pieces are incorrect, there is a tried and tested method to remove the offending plate. Just place another 1×1 plate on top and give it a gentle pull. Usually there’s enough clutch power to bring out both pieces, allowing you to fix the error.
— Characters —
This is all about the artwork, so no minifigures are included in this set – just an awesome brick-built picture of your face. Or cat. Or your Great Aunt Mildred. Whatever you choose. (You can always mock up an accompanying minifigure yourself, too.)
— Price —
LEGO is a premium product – there’s no question about that – but still we LEGO fans love to compare models and price points and when making a decision between sets, it often comes down to the ‘ppp’ ratio, or price-per-piece.
For the average LEGO set, £99.99 for 4,502 pieces would be deemed exceptional value, but usually that would factor in a much larger assortment of elements, colours, licensing premium, minifigures and of course the inclusion of specialist parts such as motors or Powered Up functions. Ultimately here we’re getting a baseplate and hundreds of identical tiny LEGO pieces to facilitate our recreation of a personalised photo.
Taking that into consideration, is this still a good price? Our answer is a resounding yes. Even if you were to take on the unenviable task of sourcing parts from Bricks and Pieces or third-party sellers on BrickLink in order to match the inventory of this set, you’d be unlikely to make much of a saving purely because the number of pieces included is still pretty staggering.
A few years ago, one of the only ways (certainly in an official capacity) to have a brick-built portrait of yourself was via the physical Mosaic Maker booth. This was expensive, but the sheer novelty was probably enough of an incentive for those that could justify the fairly high asking price (if you happened to be passing one of the few stores that boasted the machine).
Now that the LEGO Group has granted us access to the Mosaic Maker software online, customers have limitless options, allowing us to effectively update our art on a regular basis – meaning this set will get used time and time again, and thus significantly increasing the return on investment.
— Pictures —
— Summary —
It’s a long process to build from start to finish, but it’s a very relaxing build that can be easily shared with family or friends at the same time, much like a jigsaw puzzle. Once the image starts to come together it’s very satisfying to admire your handiwork from afar, where the mosaic changes from a pixelated assortment of seemingly random pieces into a rather convincing photo replica.
There aren’t really many negatives to this set, but there are some points to take into consideration. You will probably start to get a sore thumb after a couple of hours, so we recommend spreading the build of your mosaic out over a few sessions for maximum enjoyment. Of course, you might have thumbs of steel – in which case, as you were.
The colour palette is also somewhat limited, but it does give the image a more striking look. People definitely notice a black and white image, and the optional addition of yellow only further adds to the aesthetic.
Currently there is no app available, which seems like a missed opportunity for the LEGO Group. It’s easy enough to prepare your chosen image via the website, but it would be even easier to just hit an app on your smart device and do it instantly without having to think about logging in every time. It’s also a shame there are such strict guidelines on what can and can’t be uploaded, but like most things online it primarily comes down to rights.
There are various tools online that allow for mosaic creation, though, so if you’re desperate for a brick-built image of your favourite celeb, the official Mosaic Maker page isn’t the only way.
Making mistakes can also be a bit of a pain, especially for removing incorrect pieces, so work slowly and continuously check yourself as you go. We found that removing the plates before doing the next image took longer than expected, and it’s a shame the new, wider brick separator from the LEGO Art sets wasn’t included in place of the orange one.
It’s worth noting that there is also no easy way of displaying your mosaic or wall-mounting it, like in the LEGO Art range. We got round this by purchasing a generic deep picture frame that comfortably fits the baseplate. The added glass protection means it won’t require constant dusting, either, and will make a great statement piece on any wall.
40179 Personalised Mosaic Portrait is a truly unique LEGO set and one that comes highly recommended. It’s fun, unique and provides infinite possibilities for getting creative with those selfies you usually save for Instagram. After all, everyone’s favourite subject is still themselves, right?
This set was provided for review by the LEGO Group.
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