(Written by Shaun VanWeelden)
My name is Shaun VanWeelden, and I’m currently a student at Iowa State University studying software engineering. I’m also a LEGO fan and have had a long time interest in building LEGO mosaics. Over the past few years I have been working on developing a web app for creating LEGO mosaics, and I thought to share it with you today. 🙂
Since I have been a little kid I have always found LEGO fascinating. Almost all of my childhood through high-school was in some way very wrapped up with creating new things from those tiny bricks. As I got older, my creations and dreams got bigger and bolder. During my senior year of high-school I was making small furniture for my room from LEGO, robots that were actually useful, and towers taller than my two story house – just because I could. I also created my first couple of LEGO mosaics at this time, and this is when I realized the need for good software!
After seeing a few LEGO mosaics online, I knew I had to try and create one for myself. My first attempt was when I was 18. I have acquired quite a large collection of the little plastic bricks, and after seeing an abstract art piece featuring Obama I wanted to make it out of LEGO. I went online to see what tools currently existed to go from a picture to a gridded out LEGO-color image, and realized there were none that were free, easy-to-use, and with smart enough algorithm at the same time. So I set out to create one…
My senior year also saw my first major entrepreneurial endeavors. I had opened a store on BrickLink.com (the Unofficial LEGO Marketplace), buying and selling bulk 2×4 LEGO pieces – which went better than I could have dreamed, with over $30,000 in revenue during my senior year of high-school. I also started creating hand-made LEGO-based jewelry, and selling them online and at craft-shows all over the state of Iowa.
After creating a prototype of the LEGO mosaic app using the MATLAB software we had learned about in one of my engineering courses, I decided to pitch my business in Iowa State’s Business Pitch Competition. I received the “Best-Overall” and “Audience Choice” award, and from that point on I knew I had a good idea! My goal was to create a web app where you could upload a picture and get free building instructions to make a LEGO mosaic based on it. I would then sell the pieces you needed to make the mosaic. One issue: I had never done anything at all with websites!
Fast-forward a year and a half, I had changed my major to Software Engineering and was eager to test out my new coding skills. I decided to pitch the idea for my website now named BrickIt.co at StartUp Weekend Des Moines Fall ’13. Within 48 hours the team I led went from no code at all to what still serves as a strong base for the website. We ended up tying for first place, so this was another major success.
Since then in my spare time I work on BrickIt quite a bit. We have added many editing features, the ability to share LEGO mosaics on the cloud and also on social media. I keep trying to come up with improvements to the overall user experience. Publicity has continued to steadily grow as well. The website currently has the following features: Completely web-based (and client side too) – no downloads, no app, just a simple website. Ability to “brickify” an existing image or create a new LEGO mosaic from scratch. Lots of editing features so you can touch up your mosaic exactly as you want it. Full building instructions are available instantly, including a detailed parts list. Ability to upload LEGO mosaics right to the cloud and share easily on social media. Up next I will be focusing on allowing users to create a profile to showcase their mosaics and a community gallery.
Also my goal is to eventually be able to provide you every piece you would need to build your BrickIt mosaic out of LEGO bricks. You can find the pieces required for your mosaic as well as an estimated cost by downloading the “Inventory List”. At this time, we are still in the process of sourcing our bricks and are unavailable to sell directly to you, but you should be able to find all the LEGO elements you need at BrickLink.com.
To demonstrate the software for you, I created a mosaic of theBrickBlogger’s mascot, the LEGO crash test dummy. After about 30 seconds of touching up, here is a preview image of the LEGO mosaic, and also the building instructions. And you can also print out the parts-list so you know exactly how many of each element you need.
I think a lot of LEGO fans would really enjoy using this software, and I strongly believe it is a game-changer for making LEGO mosaics, so if you like, please go ahead and try it out at BrickIt.co and let me know what you think. Also, if you have any questions or request for additional features, feel free to ask in the comment section below. I definitely plan on continuing to make improvements to the site and hope you like it! Thanks for reading! 😉
And you might also like to check out the LEGO mosaics section for more tips, tricks and useful resources or select from the following posts: