Live Screen Printing Events: 6 Tips For Getting Started

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Scheduling, quoting, approvals, payments, customer communication, automation and more. With Printavo, you’ll work smarter–not harder.

Live screen printing is an amazing marketing opportunity for print shops. But it’s not an easy game.

Steven Farag from Campus Ink sits down with Bruce from Printavo to talk about his first big live printing gig: a post-graduation ceremony at University of Illinois.

Steven shared some awesome tips and tricks for print shops looking to get into live printing. While he’s not about to pivot and make Campus Ink into Campus Ink Live full-time, his experience offers real insight into what it takes to get started with live printing.

Tip #1: Do a test run to find out if live printing is right for you

A live screen printing setup.
Photo credit: Family Industries Instagram

You should seriously consider doing a live printing “test run.”

Imagine this: you get a big client to agree to live printing at their event. You show up, get set up, and everything is rolling along. There’s actually a big crowd of people gathered, and they’re all super excited to get their own custom t-shirts. You’ve got 70 people in line – and they’re literally calling their friends to tell them to come to the event so they can get a free t-shirt.

You’re hustling to keep everyone happy and maintain order…but your screen breaks. You didn’t bring a backup. Everything comes to a screeching halt.

You just burned a good client, ruined an event, and disappointed dozens of potential customers. Your brand is plastered on all of your equipment and you turn bright red in the face as you realize…you’ve totally screwed this up.

It’s simple: don’t dive in head-first on your first live printing event. There are a thousand things that can go wrong. Some of them will stop the event dead in its tracks.

So how do you make a live printing event happen without taking on a lot of risk?

Steven had a creative idea: he held a customer appreciation brunch for some of Campus Ink’s best customers. They decided it was the perfect opportunity to try out live printing. It let them experiment with setup, breakdown, and the actual printing process outside of their shop in a low-pressure environment. If it all went belly-up, there was nothing to lose – and certainly not an event to ruin.

Tip #2: Know who to pitch live printing to

Live screen printing at Lollapalooza by Live Printing
Live Printing at Lollapalooza. Photo credit: Live Printing Instagram

You have to pitch live printing to the right people. It’s not a good fit for every organization.

Steven used the example of a live printing event at a big fraternity party. Not only would it be a mess, but it would simply be too hectic to be enjoyable. He even suggests choosing whether the event is indoors or outdoors – and recalled a time when his business partner failed at a live printing event because their dryer temperature was fluctuating too much because of wind.

So who do you look for? For the graduation event, this specific department in the university was open to interesting and fun things. When they came to him looking for graduation shirts, he pitched the idea of live printing – and they loved it.

Tip #3: Price live printing appropriately

Live screen printing (in the dark) with a headlamp on.
Live printing is tough. Be sure you’re compensated fairly. Photo Credit: Live Printing Instagram

It’s important that you work out a fair pricing structure. Live printing is a premium service and should be considerably more expensive than a simple screen printing order. You’ll have to deal with setup time, breakdown, and the stress of the event – not to mention the considerable risk to your equipment.

Start by considering how much you would charge to print an equivalent number of shirts. If they’re expecting 500 attendees, ensure that the price covers all of the materials and garments. You should guarantee that you can cover the basic material overhead.

Then, take it a step further. Factor in the following costs:

  • An event setup fee (time spent getting to the event, preparing for it, setting it up, and breaking it down afterward)
    • This typically takes longer than expected and is fairly labor intensive.
  • An hourly rate that pays for your employees’ labor
    • You may want to pay time and a half if your employees are working on the weekend on top of their normal shop duties.
  • Whether you’re charging per garment or for a large batch of garments
    • Work out what happens to any unused or spoiled garments with your customer

Some live printing companies charge upwards of $1,000 an hour. You’ll have to gauge your client’s means – if you’re printing for a small company or athletic event, you probably can’t charge that kind of rate. But if you’re printing for a large company and adding a lot of value to their event, set an ambitious rate that will make the challenge worthwhile.

Tip #4: Be prepared with the right supplies

A live screen printing setup at University of Illinois' 2019 graduation ceremony
Campus Ink’s first live printing setup. Simple! Photo Credit: Campus Ink

Like you’d learn in scouts, always be prepared. This means bringing the right supplies. There are some things that are easy to overlook.

Here are a few screen printing supplies you’ll want to pack:

  • Big Ziploc bags
    • These are great for storing just about anything. Particularly squeegees that have fallen into ink.
  • Spare squeegees
    • Seems obvious, but pack a few more squeegees than you think you’ll actually need.
  • Ink cleaner
    • Yes, you will get ink everywhere. And it will most likely be on someone’s nice clothes. Be ready to clean it up!
  • Smocks for customers
    • If you plant to let customers print, bring smocks so they don’t get ink on their clothes (and if they do, you’re covered by the ink cleaner above)
  • Garbage bags
    • Put used screens in these when you’re done printing.
  • Craft paper
    • Put this under your printing setup to keep the floors clean.
  • Extra burned screens
    • Yes, screens break. If you can’t print, the show is over and you’ve ruined an event. Be ready.
  • Spray tack
    • More than you think you’ll actually need! You’ll burn through it quickly at a live event.
  • A backup flash unit
    • If your dryer goes out, it’s game over. Have a backup flash to keep things rolling if your dryer decides it’s time to stop working.

Here’s the gist of it: be ready for any part of your operation to break down. Have an alternative available. You probably won’t discover every sticking point by doing a test run, but you will have a better picture of which supplies you’ll need to manage.

SUPER IMPORTANT TIP: Always test the power at the venue to ensure it’s 100% compatible with your gear. This is a mission-critical element to success in live printing.

Tip #5: Design the event’s print for simplicity and reliability

Live printing with dark ink (Family Industries)
Dark inks, simple designs. Make every print a winner. Photo Credit: Family Industries Instagram

You don’t need to do a complex print to wow your customers! Dark inks, simple designs, and familiar t-shirts are all fine – people are impressed by the performance and process just as much as they are with the actual product.

Pick the right design size (Steven recommends 5″x12″), with the right color ink on the right type of garment.

Steven used a dark navy ink on a light navy heather garment. This left some wiggle room and ensured the print quality didn’t have to be 100% retail quality.

If you’re planning to have customers do their own prints, you want decent results no matter who’s dragging the squeegee! So set up a print, ink color, and garment color that will act in your favor and hide small mistakes.

Steven advises against using white ink, since the time it takes to flash the ink isn’t available. The ultimate goal is to create entirely favorable conditions so you can print quickly and easily with acceptable quality.

Why a 5″x12″ print? Then you can fold the garments when you put them on the dryer so you can print faster. Since you’re likely going to use a smaller dryer, every bit of space you can save by folding the shirts speeds up the printing process and lets you get more prints to more customers.

Tip #6: Think like a performer, not a printer

Putting on a show at a live screen printing event.
Put on a show to really blow them away. Photo Credit: Live Printing Instagram

Ultimately, live printing is about putting on a great show.

Steven says you should “think like a performer.” Provide real value by being entertaining, amicable, and having fun. You are there to promote your business, sure, but your real goal is to entertain people and provide a “wow!” experience – and give them something custom-made to take home.

You will be surprised by how interested people are in screen printing. It’s something very few people have experience with, but it’s irresistible once they see it actually happen in front of them.

Use the event to passively promote your business – you don’t need to put a business card in every shirt’s bag. You’ll probably be swarmed with enthusiastic people for the entirety of the event, so prepare for a long day. But think like you’re putting on a show: screen printing is totally fascinating!

Conclusion: live printing is high-risk…and high-reward

Live screen printing at University of Illinois' 2019 graduation ceremony
Campus Ink took a risk on live printing and it paid off. Photo Credit: Campus Ink

Live printing is a high-risk-high-reward situation. The potential payoff is huge – new customers, higher profile, a great experience, another revenue source – but if things go wrong, you are in for a very stressful situation.

  1. Do a low-stakes test run to work out kinks and discover problems you didn’t anticipate.
  2. Pitch live printing to the right people and the right businesses.
  3. Price your live printing events at a premium.
  4. Bring lots and lots of backup supplies.
  5. Keep the print simple, easy, and small.
  6. Remember that you’re “on stage,” so think like you’re putting on a show.

Like you would with any new printing technique, start small, learn the ropes, and do your research. Family Industries and Live Printing have spent years refining their techniques, trying out new ways to handle the workload, and targeting the right organizations with their marketing efforts.

More about live printing

If you want to learn more about live printing, check out the true experts:

Max Hellmann from Family Industries in Los Angeles helps put on nearly 400 live printing events every year. Yes, they do more events annually than there are days in the year! Max wrote about their experiences with live printing (and how they manage the chaos) in this incredibly informative blog post.

Live Printing, Barrel Maker Printing’s awesome experiential branding company, brings live screen printing to businesses across the United States.

And of course, our good friends at Rowboat Creative have mastered the art of experiential branding and created a truly unique niche for their shop.

Are you considering live printing? Drop us a comment and let us know about your experience!

About Printavo

Printavo is simple shop management software. We help you streamline your business, keep jobs moving forward and your team on the same page.

Scheduling, quoting, approvals, payments, customer communication, automation and more. With Printavo, you’ll work smarter–not harder.


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