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Ask the Experts: Marshall Atkinson and Generative AI

By Adam Cort, Content Director

March 15, 2024

In this excerpt from the Impressions “Ask the Experts” podcast and online video series, Impressions Content Director, Adam Cort, discusses the importance of artificial intelligence, or AI, with veteran screen-printer Marshall Atkinson. Atkinson, a long-time business coach and principal of Atkinson Consulting, recently launched what he calls the “Midjourney: Elevating Print Creativity Newsletter” with an eye toward explaining AI to those new to the subject. For those interested in listening to the entire conversation, click here.

Marshall Atkinson decorated apparel industry AI expert

According to Marshall Atkinson, AI helps streamline custom apparel design

Adam Cort: To start out, for listeners who are not yet familiar with artificial intelligence art generators, I wonder if you could give us an overview of what it is they do. As I understand it there are a number of options out there, platforms like Pixar, Artguru and, of course, your favorite and the platform we will be talking about in depth today, Midjourney. So, how do they work?

Marshall Atkinson: They’re all slightly different. But they all kind of work the same. The idea here is that we’re going to be able to create an image that could be really anything, right? And it’s based on word prompts. How it works is it starts off with random noise, like if you ever turn your TV to channel one, you see just random dots. How they work then is they take a word, whatever the word is, “horse,” right? And all of these platforms have been trained on “what is a horse,” a picture of a horse, the idea of a horse…So, when you say “horse,” it knows what that is, and when you say “watercolor,” it kind of knows what watercolor is in the same way. What it does then is it takes these ideas and somehow—I don’t know how it works—it converts it to an algorithm that converts it to math. So, it takes the random noise and assigns math to it to realize an image of a watercolor painting of a horse. Now, what’s interesting here is that if you did it and I did it, using the same tools, we would always get different results, because [the program] starts off with random noise. The interesting thing here is where [each platform] was trained on… For example, Midjourney, in my opinion, gives you best results, because it’s trained on a larger set of images, really, trillions of images that are on the Internet. Now, stuff that’s Adobe based is only based on the Adobe image library, which is a smaller subset. So, you don’t get as good of an image that you might with Midjourney, because it’s trained on a smaller set of knowledge.

AC: Right, and if I remember correctly, having done a little poking around myself, the systems will then offer you some options—is that correct?—and you can decide which prefer.

MA: With all of these generators you get an image. Okay? Sometimes it’s a home run right off the bat. Other times you’re going to want to play around with it, and they all have tools that you can do that with. You can change things, you can upscale, you can do variations, you can add and remix prompts. What’s amazing here is the speed at which things work. A final image that you could use for stuff is, you know, two minutes of work. It’s not that big a deal to get something that is really usable. The trick is the words that you’re using really matter. Also the word order that you use matters… We’re creating an image with words, so your vocabulary matters. The fact that you know how to run a Thesaurus matters, because the same idea expressed differently with different words can give you a better or a worse result.

AC: And you can come up with some really crazy combinations, right? Certainly with Midjourney, it will find a solution. It’ll come up with some crazy images you might have never thought of?

MA: Well, it will always give you results, but will it give you the results you want? All of these platforms are like dealing with a genius 4-year-old. It’ll give you a really amazing result, but it doesn’t understand what you’re asking. It’s not like it knows what a cupcake is. It will give you a cupcake. But is it the cupcake you want? If you’re trying to get an exact cupcake, like let’s say you want one with chocolate frosting and rainbow sprinkles, but you just say cupcake, will it give you a chocolate frosting with sprinkles cupcake? I don’t know. Will it give you an oil painting version of it or a photograph version of it? I don’t know. If you want a specific result, you have to tell it what you want to get a better chance of obtaining that result. Will you get the exact result you want? Maybe. Maybe you’ve got to play with it a little bit, refine, tune it and do some things to get that exact result. That’s learning how to use the tool.

AC: This all sounds like a lot of fun. But how exactly would this work for, say, a T-shirt decorator? Let’s say a customer calls, presumably a customer who’s looking for design? Let’s say there’s something with knights involved in it, you know, in shining armor or something like that. How would that work?

MA: Okay, so we want an elaborate knight helmet, let’s say. So, the words that you put in there, do you just say, “knight?” Do you say, “knight helmet?” Do you say, “silver knight helmet with ornamental engraving, with peacock feathers coming out of the back?” Do you tell it? “I want a graphic.” How many colors do you want? Do you say, “Dual tone or monotone?” Do you say you want it in a certain style? Do you want it isolated on a white background, so it’s easy to remove and use? This is why you have to learn how to use the tool.

AC: What does Midjourney output when you’re finished? Something you can then implement into your own design program, you know, something you can, for example, add text to?

MA: So, let’s say you get a result that you like. First off, what it’s going to give you is four choices. That’s called a grid. You then choose the one you like. Okay? Then you can upscale it, meaning you’ll get a full image, or just use the image you like and download it as a higher-resolution file. There’s also other tools that you can use, like a program called Tracejourney (, that can vectorize the file within Midjourney, so you can download a vector file of whatever you just created. You can then instantly use it in illustrator or whatever program you use. Also, so far we’ve only been talking ready-to-use images, right? You could also create a texture. You can create a floral pattern. You can create a wood grain. You can create all kinds of crazy stuff that you can then use… it’s all about getting the results you want. And guess what we’re doing? We’re moving light years faster than we ever could in the past. It’s all about designing the outcome you want with the prompts.

AC: So, what is outputted by Midjourney you can then integrate directly into your work, correct? You can, I suppose, take the image and use it like somebody putting a family photo on a T-shirt. Or you can combine it with your own design software with text and formatting and things like that and put it into whatever context you want?

MA: Yeah, any creative designer is going to use this as a way to get results faster. I’ve heard plenty of people who hate it, because it’s not them designing it. I totally get it, and I respect that. And if that’s you, hey, no problem, don’t use it. But I can tell you tons of people are using it, and they’re generating art that makes their customers happy, and they’re doing it faster than you can ever do it on your own. So, you’ve probably heard AI is going to replace people, right? That’s totally bogus. However, people using AI are going to replace people not using it, because somebody is going to be able to out design you, and they’re going to be able to do it faster because they are using this tool.

To learn more about Marshall Atkinson and the “Midjourney: Elevating Print Creativity Newsletter,” go to To hear Adam Cort’s entire conversation with Atkinson, click here.