An Interview with Thysse’s Director of Specialty Graphics: Jim Hagen

He’s Not Square, But His Graphics Are.  

Meet the guy behind your next Specialty Graphics installation.

Based on our last post, which demystified some absurdly ‘out-there’ industry jargon, you know Thysse’s Director of Specialty Graphics is a witty, downright likable guy. Sure, being the jovial sort makes every communication and project more enjoyable, fostering a highly-collaborative environment for your Specialty Graphics installation.

But did you know he’s also an indisputable expert at his craft, with years of experience and an infectious passion to match? We asked Jim to set his squeegee aside for a moment to give our clients a glimpse of who they’d be working with if they trusted #TeamThysse to fabricate and install their next Specialty Graphics project. Here’s what the guy behind the magic had to say: 

Thysse: How would you capture the essence of what you do in a thirty second elevator pitch? 

Jim: I install graphics and displays in your space to improve brand awareness. My team and I digitally print and cut custom, full-color graphics, and install them to bring our clients’ designs to life within their facilities.

You’ve been working in the industry for a respectable length of time. How long has it been? Do you remember your first project? 

Jim: Let’s just say if my career were a child, they’d be a young millennial hopefully in grad school by now. My first vinyl graphics job was lettering a Mazo Cheese tanker truck. My installation was awful. Wrinkled, crooked with a ton of bubbles. It was so terrible that the guy felt bad for me. Said it looked great, paid the invoice, and gave me a giant wheel of cheese. That was in 1994. I think I still have some of the wheel of cheese left.

Jim, it’s time to toss that cheese! Wrapping objects of all shapes and sizes with ultra-thin vinyl involves a pretty niche skill set. What led you to a career in this field? 

Jim: In the Air Force I trained to repair avionics systems. Turns out, repairing aircraft electronics is pretty dull if you’re looking to scratch your creative itch! After helping a few friends with their logos and promotional materials, I decided to invest in my own vinyl graphics equipment. I did that as a side gig while my day job was still in electronics. Eventually, it turned into a second full-time job and one had to go! I chose the better option.

Have you ever wrapped any of your own spaces or equipment?

Jim: It’s always been easier for me to work on projects for someone else because I’m helping bring their vision to life on a piece they love. After all the years spent working on clients’ projects, two years ago I finally did a color change wrap on an old car of mine, now fondly known as Stella.

Is there a project you’ve always wanted to work on? 

Jim: I’ve always wanted to work on wraps that “theme” children’s areas in hospitals. I once wrapped a mobile X-ray machine at American Family Children’s Hospital to look like a fire truck. That way when it’s wheeled into the room, it doesn’t look so frightening. 

People who haven’t worked in the industry may not realize the skill and craftsmanship involved in a project. What are some of the unique challenges and considerations involved in an installation?  

Jim: Installing graphics in a space or on a 3D object is much different than a website or a flat printed sheet. The graphics need to flow all the way around. Sizing the graphics correctly, then executing the installation to match the client’s original design is a huge undertaking. It’s a giant leap from the computer screen to the walls in a reception area! 

Have you had to learn any special skills to execute an install?

Jim: Ambidexterity? Over the years, I’ve learned to write, knife cut, scissor and squeegee with both hands. Sometimes you find yourself in a position where only your left hand can reach what you are working on. 

Word on the street is that you have some pretty epic hobbies outside of work. What do you like to do in your free time? 

Jim: I’m definitely all over the place with what I like to do in my free time. I’m a nerd for vinyl records and vintage electronics, like the 70’s Marantz™ receiver I’ve been repairing. I think the old gear just sounds better! I’m a hack on a water ski and surfboard, and enjoy spending time with our horses. I don’t barrel race with them like my wife does, but I do love a very fast trail ride! Oh, and I can’t forget cruising in Stella.

 What’s something that might surprise a client about the install process? 

Jim: Some clients look oddly at me using a propane torch to heat the vinyl I’m installing. It’s an open flame typically used on hard-to-remove metal hardware, or to remove paint from furniture. I like to use a propane torch because it’s cordless, easy to control and the heat is instant. 

Knowing a quality install from a poor one might not be common knowledge for the average person. What are some common mistakes to watch out for? 

Jim: Each project brings its own challenges, and if an installer doesn’t take time to create accurate templates and detailed installation guides, it can really affect the longevity and impact of the final product. Creating square borders for leveling, and ensuring perfectly straight graphic overlaps can mean the difference between an exceptional and average installation.

What are the benefits of working with a company who can manage both the production and installation aspects of a project? 

Jim: In short, accuracy and efficiency. Your printer can evaluate your design, modify it to suit the space, and produce the graphics with the installation in mind. If necessary, they can design around trouble areas like door handles and outlets, all while considering the existing architecture and furniture. When it comes to the ‘wow’ factor of an installation, it’s all about the small, but important, details.

A lot of people don’t get to do what they love for a living, but it seems like this is more than a daily grind for you. What is it that motivates you?

Jim: It starts with meeting business owners and seeing their passion. I’m always honored when a client trusts me to translate and install their designs, that ultimately will help grow their livelihood. I’ve made some great connections with some of the hardest working people I know and gained their respect – that is a high achievement in my book! This sounds corny, but for me, every installation is personal. My business reputation means everything to me. I guess I’m old school. 


Now that you know a thing or two (or twelve) about the man behind the headshot, it’s hardly a surprise why Jim fits the Thysse bill. In 1941, Thysse’s founder set the precedent that we’d define ourselves by our passion, pride, and craftsmanship. Eighty years later, we still take that sentiment pretty seriously around here.

For us, Specialty Graphics is the sum of the whole installation process, from helping our clients translate their designs and fabricating exceptional graphics, to bringing their design to life in a physical space. The connections built along the way are just one more of the joys in choosing Thysse to be where you go with your brand


Got a cool design in mind and need someone to help with execution? Want to go water skiing with Jim? Give us a shout, or feel free to explore more on your own first.

Interested in a fabulous install but not sure where to even begin? We’d suggest starting a conversation with our Experiential Design team to see how we can help.

Is your space doing your brand justice?

SPECIALTY GRAPHICS: UNWRAPPED

If your company walls could talk, what would they say? Would they whisper the names of employees taking extra-long lunch breaks? Maybe spill the juicy details of who’s been hoarding pens from the supply closet? Perhaps they’d blow the whistle on the moocher who’s been tapping into your personal supply of Ranch dressing? They knew those scribbled initials weren’t just for show…

Unfortunately, while the walls can’t divulge the scandalous details of your office happenings, they can serve as a powerful tool to express your brand’s message. Your space can do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to communicating culture, values and voice, without having to say a word. When paired with your website, logos, business collateral and other “quiet branding” your company can make quite the statement.

Facility branding is more than just slapping a logo on a wall; it’s the chance to showcase who you are as a brand. We’ve already shone a light on the most over-the-top facility branding capabilities from our Experiential Graphic Design team. Now let’s step back and unwrap the physical components at the foundation of these projects.

What are ‘Specialty Graphics’ and what makes them so… special?

To categorize this graphical multi-beast under one umbrella, we coined the term ‘Specialty Graphics’ in-house to help start the conversation with curious clients (ahem, that’s you). For all of the ‘type A-ers’ reading along, a basic definition could look something like this:

Graphics created using a wide range of materials that are applied to your facility’s windows, walls and equipment.

Yet, try as we may to squeeze them into a tidy corner of our website, Specialty Graphics truly do live in a world of their own. They can be customized any which way according to the eye of the beholder, using a near-limitless range of substrates and install methods. This goes far beyond signage – think wall decals, window clings, cash wraps, and privacy panels. All of them conveying who you are as a company and all of them available to improve brand perception.

An Unprecedented Return On Your Investment

Here’s the part where you scoff at the idea of facility branding as you picture your yearly marketing expenditure being reduced to a single roll of quarters. Rest assured that the scope of these projects ranges anywhere from a single vinyl logo install to a complete overhaul of your facility. And if done right, a little bit can go a long way. Here’s a curated short list of how investing in your space can have a tenfold return on your investment.

Create an Epic First Impression: Your space is more than the place you do business. It’s an opportunity to showcase what your brand is made of to both prospective and current customers. Specialty Graphics can be used to create stronger brand awareness, a walking tour for visitors, even showoff the range and quality of your products and services.

Attract and Retain Top-Notch Talent: Attracting talent on your reputation alone is a nice thought, yet younger generations crave something more. Prospective employees enter your facility expecting spaces that inspire, invoke innovation and encourage creativity. In addition to the ‘wow’ factor for new employees, Specialty Graphics can boost morale and increase feelings of well-being for current ones.

Create Designated Spaces: Well-executed specialty graphics are the junction of form and function. They can create necessary divides between departments or generate feelings of unity in common and collaborative spaces. Wayfinding graphics can be strategically installed in and around your facility to guide visitors and employees, all while serving as a visual extension of your brand.

THIS IS HOW WE DO IT (Que 90’s Music):

We’ve told you what they are, and their range of benefits, but how does Thysse do it? Every project begins with a great conversation.

 “It starts with listening to the client talk about their ideas and the vision for what they have in mind. We ask a series of questions to narrow down the scope of the project. In that initial conversation, we talk about what we are capable of, which usually surprises the client. One of our biggest challenges is familiarizing our clients with the vast array of graphic products and processes we offer.”

-Thysse Director of Specialty Graphics, Jim Hagen

After the initial dialog of brainstorming and flushing out ideas, we provide a preview of the project, relevant samples and similar examples of what the final will look like. Any materials less than 2” thick, we print directly on them on our wide format printers. Depending on the scope of the project, some installs can be printed and applied all in one day.


At the end of the day, we want to provide you partnership and flexibility, from ideation through production and installation. Having one team tackle all aspects of your project not only ensures consistency with your brand standards; it also saves you time, money and nights awake worrying about the small-but-important details that could otherwise get lost in translation.

Got a cool project idea you’ve been dying to talk through? Give us a shout! We love to brainstorm new concepts.

Prefer to explore more on your own first? Learn more about Specialty Graphics here.

Experiential Design and Facility Branding

Bringing your brand to life in a physical space through experiential design.

University of Wisconsin School of Business – Grainger Learning Commons. The Thysse experiential design team designed, fabricated and installed a custom LED-lit donor wall, custom branded privacy vinyl, dimensional metal letterforms
University of Wisconsin School of Business – Grainger Learning Commons.

We sometimes use the phrase, “your brand is more than a logo.” It’s a way to start the conversation into brand experience and perception, to ensure our prospective clients understand the value of  consistent and quality representation across all lines of production and communications. Ensuring your vehicle wraps are aligned with your mailers, that these pieces match your promo products and work together for your brand is critical for ongoing success.

When our Experiential Graphic Design team works on a project, this idea is catapulted to a new level: your physical space is representing your brand – what’s it saying? Thysse Design understands that slapping a few art pieces on a wall may take up empty space, but it’s likely not improving your guests’ and employees’ experiences in any meaningful way.

University of Wisconsin Memorial Union renovation. The Thysse experiential design team designed, fabricated and installed custom wallpaper, custom wood millwork, hand-painted and formed aluminum, dimensional acrylic, direct-printed acrylic, vinyl graphics, LED lighting, fabric panels, interior and exterior signage, and wayfinding.
University of Wisconsin Memorial Union renovation.

Instead, we avoid haphazard messaging and disconnected art installations, by taking a holistic approach to understanding your brand and your audience. In these discussions and throughout the project, the Thysse experiential design team acts as guides to deepening your brand’s visual identity and to inform decisions about architecture, finishes, furniture, even lighting and electrical outlets. To ensure your brand and culture is best translated into the best graphic and physical form, our mantra is:

“Everything that goes on the wall has to mean something”

Seems like a tall order, but Thysse Design achieves this through careful balance of 3 elements: the message, the design and the materials. All three components have to be present in your space, in equal parts, for a truly effective and impactful finished product. When any one of these elements is lacking, the whole experience falls flat.

Luckily, we are uniquely qualified to build an environment for your brand that turns materials and messages into connections for your space and your brand.  Our team of architects, designers, project managers, copywriters and historians love to weave in a good story of inspiration and enthusiasm throughout your organization, and we especially love to work with people who are passionate about what they do.

San Jose State University Student Union. The Thysse experiential design team designed, fabricated and installed custom wallpaper, custom millwork, hand-painted and formed aluminum, dimensional acrylic, direct-printed acrylic, vinyl, LED lighting, printed fabric panels, acoustic fabric panels, interior and exterior signage, wayfinding, ADA and room signage
San Jose State University Student Union.

Thysse is where you go with your brand, and our experiential team proves that it’s ok if that path is currently a little unknown. We’re here to create experiences that elevate, illuminate, and inform. We believe your story is as important as the materials it’s printed on.

Because it’s your brand, but it’s our name on the line.

Curious to learn more? Let’s talk. We’re not salespeople. We’re just a bunch of passionate designers who love to talk through a project. Drop us a line at info@thyssedesign.com

Finding Inspiration in a School Bus

Nelson’s Bus Service has come to rely on Thysse to provide the “cool wow factor” for their branded collateral. Thysse has developed everything from business cards and pocket folders to giant bus-sized banners.

Most recently, Thysse completed a signage project for their facilities in Whitewater and McFarland, Wisconsin. Thysse began with a site study, identifying needed signage messaging and installation locations. We then amassed an overall signage inventory, designing a sign family that fit within the established Nelson’s Bus Service Visual Branding. We direct-printed the designs to aluminum panels with UV ink that would hold up to all weather conditions. Areas of raw aluminum was strategically left unprinted to catch the ambient light, creating a visually striking sign piece.