When I joined the military after my senior year of high school, it was primarily for one reason, to pay for college. I had always wanted to be a mechanical engineer and dreamt of building cool shit for a living. The military seemed like the perfect way to fund that ambition. As most people know, however, the military has a way of changing your outlook on life. Instead of going to school to be an engineer, I decided to get a degree in Fire and Explosion Investigation. My father is an investigator, so naturally, it seemed like a good fit. Plus, I'd get to blow shit up in class. Add in a minor in Homeland Security and I was sure to land some badass agency job doing Jack Bauer type shit. Or so I thought...
I didn't get out of the military entirely once I went to college. The National Guard allowed me to make some extra money and keep health benefits while in school, plus keeping a security clearance seemed like a good idea at the time. I drilled once a month and deployed a handful more times, which resulted in my 4-year degree taking seven years (insert Tommy Boy reference here). I didn't mind though, life was good as a veteran using the GI Bill, and the classes were actually fun.
At some point in the program, you start to realize that life as an explosives investigator is a lot more like doing a 15,000 piece puzzle and writing a report about it, and a lot less like CSI. Although fun in its own right, spending the next 20+ years sifting through debris and the occasional pile of human remains no longer seemed like the right path for me. My role was always the person responsible for reconstructing the bomb from all the fragments collected, finding the exact pieces used and tracing them back to their point of origin (were they where purchased). In all that time I was never once wrong. That was one of my two areas of expertise. The other was, and still is, interrogations. I probably don't need to explain why that one is fun.
Come graduation time, I was faced with a dilemma: I had the opportunity to interview in D.C. to be a low-level employee at some of the agencies. I already had a few solved cases under my belt and was one of the top explosives investigators in my class. For me, the idea of sifting through evidence and going to court for the rest of my adult life just didn't seem like a good option. Instead, I packed everything I owned and moved to the mountains of Idaho with no job, a few dollars and no place to live. It seems to have worked out.
I miss the satisfaction of solving cases from time to time. To fill that void I work as the Fire Investigator for a local department. I'll never question if I made the right choice though. If you've read any of the issues of the "Violent Little Bathroom Magazine" you know we have fun here. Call me crazy, but designing products like the "Mutt Cutts Van" Morale Patch and "The Hub" Morale Patch is more fun than writing reports.
Most of you might assume I was born into patch royalty, or that I was bioengineered in some sort of top-secret lab in East St. Louis. My story, however, is actually far stranger than that. It actually begins at a rainy Grateful Dead concert in 1973. That night would later be known as "Pudorem Nox Mortuus" which roughly translates to "The night modesty died". Hold onto your butts, it's about to get weird.
Ok, so none of that is true, but I got your attention and in this era of Instagram models and Candy Crush that's pretty good. My story is actually similar to everyone else's. Over the next four and a half hours (or five minutes if you read at a 3rd-grade level) I'm going to talk about a few of my favorite patches, how I started collecting them, and why I think Allison Brie should respond to my marriage proposals.
The first few patches I acquired as a child were patches I found that belonged to my Dad, which I then took or patches of BMX companies. The one I remember most was an embroidered patch that simply said: "Kiss this patch". I have no idea what happened to that patch, it's probably with my retainer and Ozzy Osbourne tapes at my parent's house.
I didn't really collect any patches from then until my first deployment in 2006. I was working with the Border Patrol doing surveillance in Southern Arizona when I acquired a velcro backed Border Patrol patch. I stuck that bad boy on my Camelbak which is where it lived through my next 4 years in the military.
In 2009 on my second deployment to Afghanistan is where I was introduced to morale patches. I'd always swapped patches with units I worked with in the AOR but had never purchased one. There was a lady on base that sold, what I now realize are terribly embroidered morale patches. I don't remember what I paid for the one below, but it was definitely too much.
Throughout the next handful of deployments, College, and joining the Fire Department I ended up with about 30 patches. Then in 2016, I was introduced to this Morale Patch company a few doors down from the photographer I was working for called Violent Little Machine Shop. They had a job opening so I walked down there to introduce myself and drop off my resume (Full disclosure, my resume was a picture of Bruce Jenner from the Olympics but I never gave it to Yanne). I didn't get the job that time around (I blame Obama), but a year later I found myself as the warehouse manager at VLMS. The patches were always cool online, but packing them all day every day really makes you want them. I started to collect a few of my favorites and eventually got to try my hand at designing them.
It's been a year since my first patch drop, and I've created more patches than I can even remember right now. The good news for you, I'm not stopping any time soon. You can continue to look forward to my slightly askew sense of humor and progressively offensive patches. Because if your patch doesn't start a conversation what's it even there for?
If you're wondering who's been designing patches around here nowadays, the answer is all of us as well as some of our artist friends. When we need something really fast though, one of us will whip something up right here in the office. To assist with this, I've been playing around a lot and found a fun and fast method for designing patches. It's crude and sometimes yields questionable results. Enjoy...and remember, this can be used for any type of product, not just patches.
Step 1: Brainstorm.
However you know how. What kind of patch would you like to make? Leather, PVC, embroidery? Your lines and style are dependent on what your final patch type is going to be.
Step 2: Find your inspiration.
I'm going to be showing you how I'd make a design for an embroidered patch. Because it's Tuesday, I will be using a picture of a taco (labeled for reuse on Google) and turning it into a design because I know nobody out there will be trying to steal it...tacos are just too plentiful.
Step 3: Photoshop it up.
I use Photoshop because it's my native language (others might know Illustrator better) and I am way faster with it. I'll open a new document, make it 10" x 10" inches at 300 DPI. After I add my example picture, I first trace my lines with the brush tool- using hard round brush in black. For an embroidered patch, I won't outline everything because that can end up messy and too detailed... I add color next by duplicating the line layer, placing it underneath the original line layer and dumping color inside each section with the paint bucket tool and then fine-tuning with the brush tool. For the taco design, I didn't make many lines so I just used the brush tool for the color layer and didn't duplicate any lines. Pay attention to how many overall colors you use (I stick to around 10 or less) and use the eyedropper tool on your original image to get exact colors. I then create the overall patch shape and background behind both line and color layers. I make sure to have my example photo that I trace, lines, color and background all on separate layers- that is probably the most important part. When it's done, I will save it as a .psd file with the example layer hidden.
Step 4: Turn into a vector.
I use Adobe Illustrator for this step. Simply import your .psd file, use the image trace function, expand it, then save as an .ai file. Manufacturers prefer vector artwork in the form of .ai files, but they will often accept .psd or .pdf files as well...so you might get away with skipping this step.
Step 5: Know your specs and order!
We won't be ordering this one, but for the example's sake, I would order at least 100, keep it around 3" inches wide or tall (with its corresponding height or width justified), hook Velcro backed, 100% embroidered (or dye sublimated over embroidery if it's too detailed), with merrowed or heat cut border. Voilà You've got a patch.
I used this process to make the following products!