Viz Series: What is Visualization?


In this three-part series, we’ll find out how visualization plays a crucial part in making your favorite Zazzle products and learn more about some of the mystery members of the Viz Team.

Every day on our site, people are zooming in on their one-of-a-kind iPhone case to get their initials just right, they’re designing the perfect slogan on a fitted t-shirt for their favorite pooch and they’re transforming their gorgeous wedding photos into a wrapped canvas work of art.

There’s much more that goes into making it all happen than meets the eye. The technology we use is completely novel — to make that bright red “Keep Calm and Om Nom Nom” mug you’ve been pining for, it needs to be rendered virtually, as though the mug were already sitting on top of your kitchen table. While your mug doesn’t exist (yet), you’re able to see just how it would look, as if it’s already been manufactured. Without our technology, you wouldn’t be able to make your perfect product — exactly to your personal specifications, just how you want it.

Om Nom Nom Mug
Om Nom Nom Mug by carryon

You have Zazzle’s Visualization Team (or the “Viz Team,” as we affectionately like to call them at Zazzle) to thank. Though they tend to hang out in a dark room, questions about who they are and what they exactly do became so numerous (and so pressing) that we decided it was time to shed some light on this team.

We cornered some members (they don’t put up much of a fight) and got the download on visualization (or as much as they could tell us without giving away all their secrets).


Visualization at Zazzle can best be summed up as the perfect blend of engineering and art. The team uses proprietary technology and computational photography to make it easy for anyone to upload an image, make design tweaks, and see a product as though it’s already made. Users and sellers don’t have to know anything about 3D modeling — that’s why we have the Viz Team around. The Viz Team is responsible for making it look all too easy.

Screen Shot 2013-02-27 at 1.50.53 PM

Product Magic

A lot of the magic happens when they gather information about each and every product before it launches on our site. Products and samples are examined to see what areas can be customized and where designs can be printed. When they talk to product manufacturers, the Viz Team gets manufacturers to help specify design areas (which later become your design areas on our site).

After they nail down that info, they prep the product samples for a photoshoot — much like for real-life human models or starlets, except the products don’t demand bottled water or take calls from their publicist.

“Special” Photography

Once the Viz Team figures out what one can actually design or make on the specified areas, they take a photograph with “special cameras.” This process is meant to help you: it gives consumers and designers a way to look at the product and see exactly where the design could go once the product is on our site. For more complex products, the team will actually go the distance and build 3D models.

On Site, Ready to Customize

Through “special image processing,” the team locates the design area for the product and then the product goes on our site for your customization.

Once it’s on our site, the product is ready for your designs (using our nifty design tool.) A lot of people don’t hit “the plus button” (shows the high art view of the product), which gives you the precise field of the area that you can design. This makes the Viz Team sad.

Screen Shot 2013-02-27 at 1.44.41 PM

More fun facts: the red dotted line is called the “safe area,” or the area where the image is guaranteed to be printed, the “black area” shows the actual size of the design area, and the “the bleed area,” or red solid line, allows for extra jostling when the product is actually made, so you won’t get uneven spaces of white on your product.

Next up, meet some of the members of our Viz Team. 

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9 Responses to “Viz Series: What is Visualization?”

  1. Tinker Place Says:

    I get nothing but great reviews on my posters and images but as I have tried to tell other artists, it is important to work with your design zoom it , look at it in other directions, play with the colors as for me my products that I spend time on sell the ones I do not do not. For cases I look at each and every side, as some the design carries over and how it carries over can be a selling point.

    If I could change one thing. It would be to keep the customer from ordering to large of a size on our posters. I sell to organizations that pay over a hundred dollars for each of my posters. Some I just cannot get to look good at extra large. For me to lock down and make a poster for each size would not help as the posters are not cross referrenced so the customer does not know other sizes exist. That also would be a great feature BTW!! But I get a lot of sales (scary) that are oversized and warning triangles seem not to keep them from ordering anyway. The quality control not only should start at the beginning of the process but also at the end. I know for me it would mean a lot more return customers and a lot less returns.

    Thank you for this very informative and postive post letting us see what goes into the quality of what we love to sell.


  2. annie Says:

    I used the plus tool when designing yesterday – very nice! I plan on using that all of the time now. Thanks VizTeam!

  3. Viz Series: Meet the Viz Team | Zazzle Blog Says:

    [...] In our first post in this series, we explained visualization and how the process helps you make the awesome products you see on our site. [...]

  4. Lorrie Morrison Says:

    Way interesting!

  5. Nicole L Marques Says:

    Really cool! :-)

  6. Seller News and Updates | Zazzle Blog Says:

    [...] our recent three-part series on our blog, we took a look at how visualization plays a crucial role in bringing your favorite Zazzle products to [...]

  7. tharmonart Says:

    I really think the new layout for designing products is confusing for a lot of buyers. It took me a while to figure out that I needed to click on the plus tool which gives a more precise look at just where the design is on the product. It would be nice to add a short description next to each tool for those novices who don’t have a clue. I always use the plus tool because I want my design to fill the entire space in most cases and I don’t want to worry about any cut-off on the final product. And please, please, please create a way for sellers to add descriptions, titles, tags, etc. to multiple products at once without having to use the quick create tool. What I do now is create my product and hit “Post for sale” and then move on to the next product and so on. Then I go into my products which are now “In progress” and one by one add my information. It would be nice to put my products in “In progress” and then be able to click on all at once to add the information, then publish the product. This would not only make sellers more efficient, but some of us would then be able to put our designs on more products. As new products continue to be added, keeping up is becoming more and more difficult. I also want to add these new products to my older designs, but it’s just too much work to go through them all at the current pace. On the up side, I’ve seen my sales increase considerably over the last year and can’t wait to see what this year will bring. I really love being a Zazzle seller.

  8. lesfraser1 Says:

    Thanks to the VIZ Team-A Designer’s dream…

  9. jGibney Says:

    my recomemdation: when creating a products in “Quick Create” and “fit” is chosen then the image no matter what the size of the file should fit centered on the product with no overflow of image – jGibney

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