If I made an install of Raspbian with all the stuff I want setup on a virtual machine, could I then image it and use it to run on a raspberry pi system? I am asking because I want to test stuff out on my laptop and then just plug it in my pi when I get it all figured out.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you can't do what you propose (at least not in a practical way). Reason is that Raspbian is compiled to run on an ARM processor, and AFAIK, there are no laptops with ARM processors that also run an OS with support for VMs. In other words, a true Raspbian VM will only run on an ARM processor, and therefore won't run on your laptop.
There are Raspbian VMs to be sure, and you can download and run them on your laptop. But they've been compiled for execution on an Intel processor. Consequently, they could not be plugged in to your RPi.