Creative Process

Rule of Thirds in Photoshop & Illustrator

Magoz - rule of thirds theory and guides in photoshop
Written by Magoz
4 min read 30.4k views 19 comments

Using the rule of thirds in Photoshop & Illustrator is very helpful when composing an image and deciding to place the elements in the format.

The way you compose has a massive impact on the final result. A bad composition can ruin a good image and idea. It is as important as the color palette or the style.

Setting up guides is the first thing I do when I start working on a final illustration.

The guides give me certainty and direction. The elements and shapes aren’t floating around; they are placed, built and based on those powerful invisible lines.

The Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds is a simplified version of the golden radio. It is based on Phi, a mathematical ratio, and has been used since antiquity, extensively by people like Leonardo Da Vinci, Dali, and Le Corbusier.

The rule of thirds involves dividing the composition into nine equal sectors using two vertical and two horizontal lines.

How I Use the Rule of Ninths, My Particular Version of the Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds is very practical because you can use it unlimited times over the resulting sectors, getting as many divisions and guides as you need.

I use the rule of thirds twice, which creates 3 times more thirds. So, I call it The Rule of Ninths.

This is extremely helpful because:

  • You end up with guides that allow you to define margins. For example, I rarely surpass the external sectors. I like to give space to the composition.
  • The rule of thirds creates 4 attention points where you can place the most important element of the composition. If I have two important elements, I place them on diagonally opposed points.
  • I use those guides as lines or shapes like the horizon line, or other vertical or horizontal reference lines in my illustrations.

Break the Rules

Some images require breaking those rules, and I don’t have any trouble doing it.

The guides are just for reference, and the nature of each image is distinct. Each composition should respond to each brief, as they produce different effects.

There are dozens of different composition diagrams. Rikard Rodin has a marvelous article about composition diagrams about it, where he analyzes the composition diagrams of more than 50 posters.  

I highly recommend it!


I create the guides based in the rule of thirds in one click. I use the awesome Photoshop & Illustration extension by Cameron McEfee called GuideGuide.

In addition to the rule of thirds’ guides, I like to add the vertical and horizontal midpoints guides. This is very useful to center elements. You can import my set of guides using this link in GuideGuide.

Paying attention to the composition has a huge impact on the final result.

Working with the rule of thirds and guides gives me direction. My steps are firm. But I trust my eye and my experience most. I break and ignore those rules when I need to. Every image is unique.

 Do you use guides or any theory for composing? How do you use them? As always, I would love to hear about your workflows in the comments !

PS: My online course Strategy & Business for Illustrators is now available for pre-order!


Nomadic illustrator. Thinker. Seeker.


  1. Loving your posts, Magoz! Good job with the blog so far, looking forward to more :)

  2. That’s awesome Magoz, thanks for sharing with us!

  3. Thanks for sharing, Magoz! One of my ‘rules’ is to try not to use more than two different stroke weights in illustrations. It gives my artwork a better rhythm.

    • Awesome Wijtze!
      Thank you for sharing your stroke rule. When I use strokes (very rarely) I use a similar rule, using only one brush size. As you said, it gives a better rhythm and harmony.

      Which other rules do you have?
      Thanks fella!

  4. Hi Magoz, going behind the scenes feels like a brave step (for me at least) so thanks for doing this, I think it’s really interesting for illustrators to see how others work

    • Hi Timothy!
      I’ve been working and learning alone for a long time, so it was time to open the doors.

      I’m very glad to have you here. Thanks for commenting! :-)

  5. P
    Pierre-Louis Anceau

    Thank you for sharing ! It’s so interesting.
    In the new photoshop you can set a guide layout easily via view>guide layout.
    It has remplaced guide guide for me. Hope this helps !

    • I didn’t know this one! It’s very useful!
      But how can I add the ninths at the same time than the center guides (horizontal and vertical)?
      If it’s possible to do it, it will replace Guide Guide for me as well :-)

      Thank you very much, Pierre-Louis, for contributing to creating a much better blog!

  6. Thank you Magoz! All stuff that you are sharing are so interesting.

  7. C
    Charlotte, Contagious

    Interesting post Magoz!

  8. Hello, thanks for this great post! Would love to see more examples of this structure in your work, with diferent compositions. Can you write a little more in depth about attention points in an image, I tend to think that these are not always very clear, or even that are not the same for everyone… Can’t seem to find Rikard Rodin’s article. Do you where it is available? Thanks
    Please keep making these, their quite helpful. :)

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