Digital Printing Solves Problems

Close Up of DTG Print - Car on White Shirt

There has been many articles written expounding the virtues of digital garment printing over the years.  Most just discuss why it’s a good thing, or compare it to traditional screen-printing.  Not many articles are available discussing exactly what problems a DTG printer can solve though.

So, let’s address why using a digital printer could solve that tricky problem for you, and if you use Visual Impressions, make you more money with that order.

Tight Turn-times

Regardless of how many colors your image uses, using a digital printer to push that order out might be just the trick for those crazy rush ideas your client throws your way.  With traditional screen-printing, there is a production delay as the art has to be approved, and then the screens burned, washed out, dried and made ready to register on press.

With digital, we can handle the art and get the shirts printing with a push of a button.  When your client says “I need these shirts ASAP”, and you are scrambling to figure out how to get it handled…this is the perfect answer.

Photos on a T-shirt

Your client really wants to get that head shot enlarged and printed on a lime green t-shirt.  With any type of screen-printing you are faced with using halftones to replicate the image.  Halftones have that inherent quality problem though in that they are composed of a series of dots, and sometimes these don’t look so hot on a t-shirt when printed.

To make matters worse, occasionally other, less quality-minded  printers that don’t use computer direct to screen imaging systems can get a moiré pattern introduced, and that just never looks right.

Digital prints always make photographs look fantastic because they don’t use halftones as part of the printing process.  If you want to wow that customer, use digital printing instead of screening.  You won’t regret it.

Trade Show Product Shot

Your client is introducing that new gizmo at the next trade show and needs some t-shirts to give away.  How are you going to make that gizmo look fantastic on a t-shirt?  Digital of course.  Remember, there’s no halftones, so you can get a magazine quality photograph on the shirt.

Imagine the high-fives you’ll get when you pull that one off.

High Color Count, Low Order Volume

Fifteen color job for 24 shirts?  Sounds like a perfect DTG order.  Why?  Well, start counting screens and throw in those screen charges and it’s easy to see that either that art has to be drastically changed, the client disappointed, or someone is eating some of the cost.

That doesn’t have to happen…just print it digitally as there’s an unlimited color count as everything is printed CMYK.  Need one more shirt the following Tuesday because someone forgot to register for the event?

No problem.  We can whip one more out in no time, as the art is already saved on our printer server.

Managing Inventory for a Catalog Program

Don’t want to preprint a bunch of shirts and have to sit on that money?  Why not just do them digitally as needed and have them drop shipped to the end user?  Talk to us about what you need to help your customers, we can assist you in building a seamless program.



So How Does Digital Printing Work at Visual Impressions?

Simple.  Just like any other order, you would send us the art and Purchase Order for the job.  We’re on the PSST network with SanMar, alphabroder, and S&S so you can drop ship us the inventory for free.  We’ll put the order in and schedule the work.  The goods will be received and we’ll print your order and ship.  You’ll get an shipping tracking number automatically sent to you.

If you need help with art, pricing or just simply understanding this stuff we’re here for you.  Our job is to make you a success in the eyes of your client.

Want to see some examples of what we’re describing above?  Click here.

We use a state of the art Kornit Avalanche digital printer, and use a gas powered dryer to cure the inks on the shirt.  Like everything else at Visual Impressions, we do things with best industry practices and the utmost quality.

Want a quote or to learn more?  Click here.


Boost Your Sales Revenue with Contract T-shirt Printing

Auto Press Squeegee Stroke with Light Blue Ink

According to the December 2015 issue of Wearables Magazine, 2016 is going to be “the year of the t-shirt”.  So, if you are a promotional item sales person what exactly does that mean to you?

If you do it right, basically more money in your pocket.   Want to learn how?  Here are some tried and true methods that come across our shop on a daily basis:

Use a trendy shirt.

Right now that’s a heathered tri-blend.  The incredibly soft feel of this type of shirt, partnered with a creative piece of artwork can really get things going for you.  Want to really add some value?  Let us relabel the garment with a custom tag or neck print, and then polybag the shirt for easy distribution at that trade show or event for your customer.

?What else is trending right now? Performance t-shirts.  This is a tricky blank to print on, so if you’ve been burned before by a printer that didn’t know what they were doing…why not use the shop that other’s turn to for this type of job?

It’s all about the art.

Did we mention our team of rock star designers?  Let us loose with a creative direction and we can bang out some killer concepts that will win you orders.  All we really need is an in-depth conversation and some basics on what’s needed.  Add some creative ideas and shake.  Boom.  More sales for you this month.

Get funky.

We’re the experts at thinking things through and adding some pizzazz to your program.  Ever think about adding foil to your art?  What about a high density gel or other specialty ink idea?  Thinning the inks out for a softer or more retail look?  What about a side wrap placement or something off-center?  Funkify your customer’s look for something show-stopping that’s bound to get the smiles you want.

Sustainable Printing

These days your corporate clients are looking for ways to tighten up their supply chain by going “green”.  Has anyone reached out to you about this?  It’s more involved that just using a t-shirt made from recycled plastic water bottles.  Visual Impressions has worked hard to achieve their sustainability certification from the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership.  What does this mean to you?  The value is that we’re a trusted source to help you navigate these waters and guide your client into making better decisions.  Why stop short with just ordering an eco-t-shirt?  Why not use a sustainable printer too?

Click here to learn more about our sustainability program.

Custom finishing.

Sometimes there’s more to an order than just printing the shirt.  Folding, poly-bagging, hang-tagging and adding custom neck labels or hem tags are essential for some programs.  Want to add a retail ready, high-end value to your client’s orders?  Get some help solving the challenge with the A-Team that has the skills to make it easy.

Drop shipping.

Who has a distribution center anymore?  These days that 5,000 piece order has to be broken down into 1,473 drop ships from a spreadsheet.  Who is doing that pack out?  You?  Why not let the same pros that decorate the shirt handle the drop shipping program too?  We can send these out in your packaging, on your third party account, and still hit your deadlines.   Ssshhh.  We won’t tell anyone that you didn’t do it.  So while you are closing more deals, or rounding the back nine at the club…we’re getting that order ready to ship.

Multiple Production Locations

Our main 100,000 sq ft production facility is located in Milwaukee, WI.  We contract screen-print, digitally print and embroider apparel for promotional item distributors all over the United States.  Although we can handle just about anything thrown our way, we’ve also just opened up a 10,000 sq ft production facility in St. Louis, MO.  Our goal is to make it easier for you.

We’re on everyone’s major PSST list (Pack Separately Ship Together) – so if you order your goods from SanMar, alphabroder or S&S they will ship free into us in one day ground usually.


Want to see more?  Take a quick tour of Visual Impressions by checking out our Pinterest page – just Click Here.


If any of the above sounds like something that you’d like to partner with us on, please give us a shout and let’s get the party started!

(800) 291-8337




How Far Away is St. Louis From You?

Visual Impressions - Now Open in St LouisYou know why we are asking right?

We’re opening up our new production facility and we’d love to get some of your screen-printing orders in the door to try us out.

Maybe you’ve heard about the awesome screen-printed apparel services that Visual Impressions provides to our customers out of our Milwaukee production plant.  One of our key leadership gurus, Kyle Petersen, moved down to St. Louis and we’ve built a shop around him.  So now, that expert level of apparel decoration that you’ve come to expect from Visual Impressions, is now available 386 miles southwest of Milwaukee in St. Louis.

Maybe that’s closer to you.

Kansas City, Nashville, Louisville, Memphis, Indianapolis, and all points around in a circle…got something you need printed?  Give us a holler!  Kyle is ready to hit home runs for you!

Maybe you are in the St. Louis area too and aren’t happy with your local t-shirt printer?  We’d love to talk shop and demonstrate what we bring to the table.

Here’s how you can get the party started.  Call Jay Berman at (414) 586-5606 or e-mail him at  He’d love to have a casual conversation about your printing needs and our plans for our St. Louis facility.

Making Connections at PPAI Expo 16

Visual Impressions - PromoKitchen Mixer T-shirt

If you missed us at PPAI Expo, that’s ok.  We were hard to catch.  Whether walking an average of 6+ miles a day at the show, enjoying a beverage while competing in the Rock, Paper, Scissors contest at the PromoKitchen Mixer on Monday, sitting in on the wonderful Seth Godin keynote, or making time to listen to new and existing customers plan for success for this year…it’s no wonder we didn’t connect.

All is not lost though.

Most of these conversations were based on some very similar refrains.  2016 looks to be a huge year for promotional item companies and everyone wants to know how we can help them push for greater success.  To recap, here is a list of the topics of conversations we had in Vegas this year.  We would be ecstatic to have a more detailed conversation with you today.

Just reach out.

Our new facility in St. Louis

Why bury the lead?

This is big news for a lot of our customers and we’re anxious to get it going.  Our slated started day for production will be February 2, 2016.  We’re running the order admin and art through our Milwaukee facility, so the same group of fantastic creative people will be handling your order.  We’ll just use the magic of technology to shoot the orders to St. Louis, and have the inventory shipped there beforehand.

This is a super exciting time, and we’d love to have an in-depth conversation on how our new Missouri production facility can help you grow your business.

Decorating Trends

Because we’re a high volume shop that focuses solely on servicing the promotional item community, we see a lot of great ideas come through the shop.  This is an advantage that we can give you, as we can work together to develop a creative brief for your customers to ensure their decorated apparel has that cutting edge look.  Want to see some?  Check out our Pinterest page for some action shots from around our shop.  Click here.

Need some ideas or artwork?  We have you covered.  Give us a well-written creative brief and stand back for some awesome ideas headed your way.

Digital Garment Decoration Makes a Big Impact

We use a Kornit Avalanche direct to garment printer every day for our customers.  This equipment provides the best in the industry production that you need.  Some promotional item customers that we’ve talked to have had mediocre to poor results with digital, as their print partners either just haven’t understood the capabilities of digital apparel print production, or they’ve invested in inferior equipment.

So how can you use this technology?

DTG printing works fantastic for high color, low volume print runs.  Because it’s digital, it doesn’t use halftones to replicate the image.  Photographs, product shots, and images with tiny details or textures look amazing.  The colors look brilliant and the print hand is soft on the shirt.

While a lot of our orders for our DTG department are under 50 pieces, it is not uncommon to run an order of 1000 or more for a customer that needs a high end image on the shirt.  You simply can’t get this level of detail with traditional screen-printing as that technology uses halftones.  Got a project where digital could work?  Call the experts and let us help you hit a home run for your customer.

Big Orders

With our massive Milwaukee, WI 100,000 sq foot facility and two shifts of production, we can turn your large order and meet your deadline.  We produce big orders for some of the largest promotional item companies in the business, and drop ship the orders all over the world for them.  Why send that order back to your distribution center when we can take your spreadsheet and do it for you at the point of production?  Our job is to take the headache of this type of production run away from you so you can naturally do other things.  Such as breathe easier.  We got this.

Post Production

Sure, anyone can print or embroider a shirt…but what about all those order details afterwards?  One of the great services that Visual Impressions provides is our ability to go the extra mile after production with our packaging department.  We can assemble multiple items and package them for distribution for you.  Our team handles orders that need relabeling or polybagging…and we know how these orders need to be scheduled so that they can still hit your deadlines.

Let’s discuss how we can make these types of programs easier for you.  This is a value add that you can wow your customers with every single day.

Inventory – We’re One Day Away

For major apparel distributors we’re usually only one day ground into Visual Impressions.  Not only that, but because we get a lot of companies ordering and sending their goods into us, we participate in the PSST programs for alphabroder, SanMar and S&S.  (Pack Separately, Ship Together)

This is a huge advantage for you.  Check out what that might mean to your bottom line if you are still paying for freight into your current decorator.

Customer Service – It’s How We Win Together

We’re here to help.  That’s our number one job…to make you a success by being your behind the scenes partner.  Whatever you need, just let us know and our expert customer service team can work out the details to help you scale your business.

Call us today!  (800) 291-8337 or e-mail

Double Down On Awesomeness

So, it’s the new year and everyone is asking “Hey, are you going to set any major goals for this year?”

Of course we are.  But not just any old goal will do.  Sure, some apparel decorators might be happy with learning a new skill or improving a technology.  That’s great, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  We do that all the time too.

For the team at Visual Impressions though, it just doesn’t go far enough.  When we make a stretch goal, we want to shoot for the moon.  Our goal for 2016 is a doozy.

Which is why we are opening up a second production facility in a completely different state.  That’s right.  Now there will be two shops running for our customers!  Which leaves you asking the obvious question.

So where will it be?

Ssshhh!!  That’s the secret.

Currently, we’re busy building out the space, bringing in new equipment and supplies and hiring staff.  If this was a local space in the area, you might see the windows covered up with newspaper before the sign goes up and wonder, “What do you think they are going to do in there?”

You can’t do that online, so we’ll just leave you wondering.

In the meantime, let us know where YOU think our shop should open!  Maybe you’ll guess it right, or maybe your choice might be a good spot for our third facility…you never know.

More to follow…stay tuned!

Follow us on Twitter! 

What We Sell is Trust

Stack of Blue T-shirts

Maybe you are new to sourcing decorated apparel, or maybe you are a veteran salesperson with years under your belt.  Either way, we’re here to help you succeed.  We know you can give that PO to any decorator out there.  What sets us apart is how we approach things.

Over the years the crew at Visual Impressions has learned to do things the right way.  We’ve seen a lot of decorating and shirt style fads come and go, learned the hard way how to handle that complicated order, and helped our customers along the way navigate through growing their businesses.  We pride ourselves on learning new things every day.  Check out our Pinterest page and take a peek at our gang of creative ninjas hard at work in our 100,000 sq ft production facility: (Click Here)

Check out these nine things that makes us rockstar partners for you every day:

Customer Service

It’s not just a buzz word filled phrase, but actually something we enjoy.  Did your client just hand you a big challenge at the last minute and you need to pull it off to be a hero?  Do you need to print 10,000 t-shirts and drop ship them to 1,354 locations by the end of the month?  What about embroidering a custom backpack program and shipping them overseas to three different countries?  We’ve handled all that and more.

Our goal as your contract apparel decorator is to hit home runs for you daily.  When you hand off a job to us, you can be rest assured we’ll do whatever it takes to deliver on the expectations you’ve set with your client.

We’re experts at doing the right thing.

We know you need answers.  That’s why we are staffed with industry experts that have been around the block or two.  We’ll make you look good.  That’s our job.  Just let us know how we can help.

Shirts Ship To Us Free for Decoration

We’re leading members of PSST programs (Pack Separately Ship Together) from SanMar, alphabroder & S&S, and anything you order from them comes to us one day ground for free.  Just place your order with them as you normally would, and they will take care of the rest.


Got a big order and a deadline?  How about consistent orders for programs that are only a few dozen pieces, but you need to ship them 100% complete?  What about printing on red polyester, or maybe a fashion forward tri-blend?

We operate on two shifts with thirteen automatic presses and four manuals to maximize our production capabilities.  All M&R equipment.  Got a deadline you need to hit?  Pantone color to match?  Funky location to print?  Picky customer to satisfy?

Our expert crew won’t let you down, like your last printer.


Corporate logos, we love ’em!  Whether it is a company store fleece jacket program, logo’d uniforms, event merchandise or just a regular baseball hat order, our embroidery team excels in pleasing your customers.  All digitizing is handled in-house, so we can be assured it’s correct for our machines and the garments you’ve selected for your order.

We employ 105 heads of Barudan embroidery equipment on two shifts to sew excellence into your sales orders.

Digital Printing

We have one of the fastest Direct to Garment printing machines on the market in the Kornit Avalanche.  It can print on any color cotton substrate with brilliant white, amazing color and superb detail.

Maybe your last apparel printer had DTG capabilities, but you didn’t like the results.  The devil they say is in the details, but also in the equipment.  Let us show you the difference using the right printer can make.

We also preflight all of our images before sending them to the DTG to make sure that they will print well on the garment you have selected.

Heat Transfer

One of the best ways to handle a corporate catalog program is using pre-made heat transfers of the logo.  We usually make these ourselves ahead of time, and then as your order comes in for the client, we get the shirt and complete the process with a heat transfer.  It’s a great way to build this into your sales arsenal, as there’s no inventory to worry about.

Heat transfers are also used for names and numbers, and also any type of vinyl cutting.  We handle those challenges too!

Post Production

Need your shirts relabeled with a custom tag?  How about polybagging all of the shirts for you and having them marked with sizes so they are easy to hand out later at the trade show event?

Maybe you need some custom scenario where a hat, a shirt and a provided printed piece all go into a mailer.  We’ve done those and more.

You’re not still bringing it all back to the office and working until midnight to package your own order are you?  Let us take the worry out of fulfilling your orders.  We can ship on your third party account and special packaging too.


There’s lots of talk these days about “greening” up the supply chain.  Who do you turn to that knows what they are doing and can help you with this challenge?  Visual Impressions of course.

Not only are we Sustainable Green Printing Partnership (SGP) Certified printers, but here in Wisconsin we’ve also earned our Green Tier Certification and our Wisconsin Green Masters awards too.

We’ve put a lot of effort into our programs at Visual Impressions, because we know how important it is to protect the environment and do things the right way.  Want to learn more?  Click here.

We Contract Decorate for Other Shops Too

We’re where the pros go.  Maybe you don’t have an embroidery machine, or don’t have the capabilities to run that 25,000 piece three location job.  Why not outsource it to the shop that handles those jobs daily?

Scale your business the easy way by outsourcing the work to Visual Impressions.  You know you want to take that big order.  Let’s work on it together and make your shop more impactful!

Let us handle that embroidery order, screen-printing order or digital printing order for you.  Maybe you need hangtagging, polybagging or even custom relabeling.   We do it all.


Contact us and let’s discuss how we can help you succeed!

(800) 281-8337


Follow us on Twitter!

Where It All Goes

Curiosity got the best of me the other day. I wanted to know what happens to the material when our recycling partner, Pioneer Industries, picks up from Visual Impressions and hauls it away. Pioneer has been an integral part of our sustainability program for over a year now. It was difficult getting a recycler to help with our program, as even though we are a large apparel decorator, we are small potatoes in the manufacturing sense in Milwaukee. It was all a volume deal.

Marshall at Pioneer

Marshall at Pioneer

That was before I met Marty Oxman with Pioneer Industries. A second generation recycler, the guy is an encyclopedia of knowledge regarding secondary materials, and is extremely keen on helping companies achieve their sustainability goals through recycling. My goal was to get a recycling program off the ground, and make it easy for our staff to do the work. The idea was to move as much material we could through a recycling program, and have it not go to landfill via our dumpsters. Pioneer helps us with that task, as they provide, for free, large bins called gaylords that we fill with different materials. We have these all over the shop, segregated by the material and within a few easy steps for our staff. They also give us the big 90 gallon totes with wheels that are commonly used for your trash pick-up at your home, which we put to good use as well.

Recycling Staging for Pick Up at Visual Impressions

Recycling Staging for Pick Up at Visual Impressions

The gaylords have a decent size to them, and there are two kinds. One is a made from heavy duty plastic, and comes with a lid that can be placed on the box for closing. Then these become stackable. We’ve found that we like to use them for our polybag remnants and assorted mixed paper. We polybag our folded shirts for our clients, so they can be handed out easily or presented nicely to their customers. The remnants are from the automatic machine that closes and heat seals the bag, and produces a small 2” x 8” scrap of clear plastic. As we have four of these machines churning out product all day, we generate a lot of these little plastic scraps. The mixed paper is all the general paper that you would think a busy operation like Visual Impressions would generate. Any type of paper can be segregated into this bin. Some good examples that a lot of people just throw away is the waxy backing from shipping labels from your Zebra printer, or the tissue paper insert that comes layered inside button-down shirts that you have to remove before you can start the embroidery.

The other type of gaylord is a little larger and is made from thick cardboard. In these cardboard bins, we disassemble and place all of our scrap cardboard. We try to reuse boxes when we can, but a good number of these get bent, torn or arrive to us in pretty bad shape. Some clients prefer to ship their orders out in their own boxes too. Any cardboard such as collar stays from polos or dress shirts, dividers, or inserts gets chucked into this bin as well. Despite reusing boxes constantly for shipments, it is still amazing how quickly these cardboard gaylords fill up.

Visual Impressions Cardboard Gaylord Truck Loading

Visual Impressions Cardboard Gaylord Truck Loading

The 90 gallon totes are used for recycling smaller items such as aluminum soda cans, plastic bottles and strapping, glass, metal shipping banding, wickets and small parts. We have these judiciously placed all over the shop, near where the material is usually generated, but out of the way enough that people can still work. These totes take longer to fill, but using them is an easier way to divide up the materials, and makes it more convenient for our staff to do the right thing when the big gaylord is too large to fit into a work area.

When any of these containers are full, we pull them out of the line and bring them all to one spot in the building and replace the full container with an empty and start over. We’ve worked a convenient schedule out with Pioneer, and they pick-up every Wednesday and haul off usually 12-16 gaylords of material a week. Visual Impressions started our partnership with Pioneer in March of 2013, and as of today (June 28, 2014) we’ve recycled 44.17 tons of material. This is all stuff that isn’t going to our local landfill. Are we 100% zero waste and landfill free? Not yet, as we still have that dreaded embroidery stabilizer challenge to contend with; but you have to start somewhere. (See “You Can’t Unbake a Biscuit” for more details on that challenge).

Knowing all this you can see why I might be curious as to what happens to all this stuff after the truck pulls away each Wednesday. Marty graciously accepted my “invite myself over” tour, and provided an excellent overview of his operation. So, when his friendly driver Jim backed the semi-truck into one of our shipping docks and our crew loaded up our materials, I pulled my car around and followed him back to Pioneer.

Pioneer IndustriesTruck at Visual Impressions Loading Dock

Pioneer IndustriesTruck at Visual Impressions Loading Dock

The first surprise was that it was only about five miles away. Nestled between an aging old Milwaukee neighborhood and a spaghetti maze of train tracks, Pioneer Industries occupies several large, rambling buildings. I pulled in and parked, and as I was doing that the truck was slowly gliding onto a large truck scale. Marty told me later that this is one method on how they verify the weights for the material for each load. All of the material that is unloaded is weighed individually on smaller scales in the building so they can send us a documented report after each pick-up, but weighing the truck when it comes in ensures that it all adds up correctly later. This is how we know exactly how much of each material type we’ve sent in for processing.

Pioneer Industries Gaylord Scale

Pioneer Industries Gaylord Scale

After I parked, I walked around the building and found the front door. I was buzzed in, and Marty greeted me and issued me my PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) – hard hat, brightly colored ANSI safety vest, and eye protection. Walking through the rabbit-warren like maze inside the Pioneer buildings, I was impressed on how many different types of material they actually handle. If you didn’t know, Milwaukee is one of the largest printing industry communities in the country, and Pioneer handles a lot of their scrap paper, cardboard and other printed waste that is discarded after the manufacturing process. Each of these different types of printed material scraps are baled, banded and segregated by type into huge stacks of material. Once they reach a full trailer load, these are shipped out for processing to become new sheets of paper, cardboard, plastic or other material.

Pioneer has a staff of fourteen people, and they were all busy working while we toured. Numerous forklifts and bobcat tractors were nimbly moving material around and into balers. Other staff were checking in materials and grading them, or getting a shipment loaded so it could reach its final destination and be recycled. Lots of clipboards, finger and arm gestures and really heavy stuff being moved around with coordinated effort. It’s a ballet really, just without music.

Based on my observation, paper and cardboard is the majority substrate that they handle, which is segregated by type as the material arrives. In one large area they have cordoned off a bunch of different bays made with large, heavy concrete blocks. Each bay is about the width of a small garage, and contains a large pile of a different type of paper or cardboard. From flimsy loose newsprint that is obtained from our Milwaukee newspaper, to thicker printed cardboard scraps that comes from local printing houses, all of the material is piled up like leaves in your front yard in the fall.

Once the pile gets large enough, it is scooped up with the tractors and placed on an enormous conveyor belt that feeds a 20 foot high baler. The belt is about six feet wide at least, and an amazing amount of material travels up the belt and into the hopper bin at one time. The baler squeezes out the compressed material into bales about as big as your couch, but square in shape, and I couldn’t help but think that it resembled a gargantuan Play-doh pumper set that I had when I was a kid. They stack the bales by type of material in another huge room, and just patiently wait for the collection to grow until it reaches the point it can fill a semi-truck trailer. It is then shipped off. Some material is easily processed, as it is very common and there is a known pipeline. Other material, such as paper that has foil or adhesive on it, is harder to find an avenue for processing. Eventually it all goes somewhere though.

Pioneer Industries Bale Emerging

Pioneer Industries Bale Emerging

Pioneer Industries Baler

Pioneer Industries Baler

It was surprising to me that some recycled materials actually go overseas, not processed domestically. Marty showed me a gigantic wall of spice-bags. These bales were made of former industrial sized bags of food spices. Heavy thick brown paper on the outside, but lined with a plastic bag on the inside. Separating the two materials isn’t something that is handled anywhere but China. Once they get enough to fill the truck, these get shipped off to join many others and will go overseas for processing. Evidently over there the labor is cheap enough that these are pulled apart by hand for recycling. The paper goes in one direction, the plastic in another.

As I was driving back to my office at Visual Impressions, I reflected back on my time spent at Pioneer Industries. Finding value in the materials that previously we were discarding is something that is pretty amazing. In fact, Marty and I had a good discussion on the fact that there is a tremendous movement afoot in the world for actually “mining” previously manufactured or processed materials for the core elements that have value. Not everything can be saved obviously, but unlocking the minerals, metals, and other substances is big business these days. When our sustainability committee identified recycling and trying to get to just 50% savings to landfill as our targeted goal for work this year for SGP (Sustainable Green Printing Partnership), we had a difficult time finding a recycling partner that made the work easy on our end. After all, we’re in the decorated apparel industry… not the move stuff around, and sift through trash industry. Building a recycling program is hard work, but finding a company that gives you tools, makes it easy and values customer service makes that chore a little easier. I’m very happy that we were able to start our sustainability journey and build a great relationship with a partner like Marty Oxman and Pioneer Industries.

Making Our T-shirt Shop Promotional Video

Before starting this article, check out our new shop video!  Here’s the link:  Visual Impressions Shop Video

As part of being named a Top Shop from Stitches magazine for the March 2014 issue, they asked us to submit a short video that illustrates Visual Impressions as a company. Sounds easy, but once you get started it’s a daunting task; especially if you don’t have “movie making skills”. Daryl Cardwell, our talented web master for Ink to the People, and I were the main members of our staff selected to build the video. We leaped at the chance to try to learn something new. Soon afterwards, we met and brainstormed, and with some input from Todd Richheimer and Jay Berman, the company’s owners, we put together a game plan. (Also a shout out here to Ross Brandt, a creative and knowledgeable source from Coil Media in Atlanta who gave me some great phone advice during the initial discovery phase)

By the end of the process, we had a great video, learned some valuable lessons and will definitely be doing more shop videos in our future!  I’m definitely not Martin Scorsese, but here’s a step by step outline of how we constructed the video, and some tips that might save you from making the same mistakes we made.

1. Outline & Basics. Our first thought was “what are we going to film”? We discussed interviewing different staff members, and also filming multiple shots of things happening at Visual Impressions. We also Googled tons of other shop’s videos, non-industry business videos and other sources to see what others had accomplished and give us a basic knowledge base. The basis of every video we liked had some sort of narrative, some action shots of processes being completed, on-screen text to describe things, and an overall theme.  We had a series of meetings, and through those narrowed down some key elements that we wanted to discuss. Our core concepts that we would use for the interview portion of the video were decided: Trust, Quality, & Dedication. Tip: Do research. Watch what others have done. Find what you like and take note of it. Think about how it was done.

2. Storyboard. I spent some time storyboarding what we wanted to shoot, and working on arranging the sequence of shots.  For this I just scribbled out some notes and cartoons of people on individual Post-It-Notes. I stuck these to the back wall in my office across from my desk. From here, I would arrange and rearrange them to see if we could come to some sort of agreement on what we needed, and how it would come together. Our goal was to keep it to a short video, and keeping it simple looked like it was going to be a challenge.  This is definitely harder than it looks. Tip: Plan. Storyboard your ideas, and create a solid concept. Don’t just shoot and wing it. Talking about what we wanted to do made the filming much, much easier.

3. Equipment. We wanted to do it cheaply, and by cheaply I mean with whatever equipment we had on hand at the time. Other than our time, our budget was $0. Nada. We used our camera phones for some shots, but most of the filming was handled with an existing Nikon camera on a tripod. Comparing shots from the phones vs the normal camera on the tripod, the tripod shots all looked better. Tip: use a tripod if you can. Shots are steadier, and easier to take. If you don’t have a tripod, balance the camera on a box, ledge or something.

4. Filming. We decided that we wanted an interview style format. I wrote a series of questions that we would ask different people in the shop. The goal was to unearth authentic sound bites that we would use as transitions into video shots of different production processes in the shop. If you watch the video, I’m off camera (except when I was interviewed by Daryl for my shots), doing this way I think gave the video a conversational feel, and a natural look for us. We interviewed a lot more people than we used for the actual final video. Judicious editing to get the video down to 3:30 was necessary. I’m sure there are actors out there that will tell you their best work is on the cutting room floor too. Tip: Check your memory card and battery life often. We had to reshoot two interviews because our memory card on the camera was full and we didn’t realize it. Also, when something like that happens….chalk it up to rookie mistakes and don’t worry about it. It was actually kind of funny when it happened!

We took some test shots around the building to find a location that would work for sound and lighting. This took an afternoon, as we tested a bunch of locations and then would run back to Daryl’s computer and review them. We chose the couch in our lobby, because it had some great natural light and we liked the casual but modern feel. Tip: Blocking and checking where you want to film before you start helps you understand how the final shots may appear. It may also give you some much needed practice with the equipment (we sure needed it!!).

Overall, we filmed about 120 clips for the video. There is a lot of footage we didn’t use, and Daryl did a great job editing and paring it all down to three and a half minutes. Interviewing people was really fun, but the shots of the production processes were hilarious to make. We had a great time thinking up camera angles and planning shots of things moving to make the video exciting. Some of the shots were planned, but others were just us taking advantage of what was going on at the time. Tip: If you are doing an employee interview style, try to get everyone to say or do something that was the same. At the end of the video, we have all of our people smiling and getting up off the couch. I actually asked everyone to “laugh and say something funny”. At the time, nobody did anything funny and everyone just smiled and got off the couch. It actually turned out to be a good way to end the video. It was pure luck, but prompting an action was the catalyst.

 Lessons Learned. In a nutshell, here are our take-aways…

1. Plan. Storyboard your ideas, and create a solid concept. Don’t just shoot and wing it.
2. Know your strengths. Do what you know. If you are more suited talking in front of the camera, do it. If you enjoy shooting and editing, do that.
3. Daryl imported all of the clips into iPhoto and used iMovie to edit it. These were already on the Mac he had, so we didn’t purchase any special software.
4. It only took about a day and half for filming, but over twice that for editing. If you are under any time constraints, make sure you plan accordingly.
5. Don’t go overboard on humor, graphics or transitions. It may be tempting to use a spiral cross-dissolve to transition scenes, but remember…less is more. Keep it simple and professional.
6. Don’t buy background music. There is a ton of free and well organized clip sites. Just do a Google search.
7. We learned that even if you do a sound check, you won’t know the sound levels for each interviewee. After we finished we went out and spent about $10 for a lapel microphone for next time.
8. Review your footage several times to see where the good stuff is before starting to edit.
9. Check your camera battery and memory card often.
10. Take some test footage to get familiar with the equipment, software and different camera angles.
11. Don’t use everything you shoot. Shoot a lot and pick the best clips.
12. Shoot as high quality as you can. You can always make it smaller when you need to.

Well, that’s about it!! I hope you enjoyed our video and admittedly beginner’s effort. Like the former art director in me says, “Done is better than perfect.” If you do try to tackle this, post your video below and let’s share the experiences so others may benefit! You can also always leave a comment for more information or help.