6 Tips for Live Printing Events

Bruce Ackerman is the founder of Printavo, a popular print shop management platform. More than 3,000 shops across the world use Printavo to simplify and understand complex custom printing production processes. Bruce and his Chicago-based team are dedicated to helping print shops get organized and grow. You can read more from Bruce and his team on Printavo’s PrintHustlers Blog.


tips for live printing

Live screen printing is a well-known and exciting marketing opportunity for major brands, events, festivals. But it’s not an easy game.

Steven Farag from Campus Ink in Champaign, IL sat down with Bruce from Printavo to talk about his first big live printing gig: a graduation ceremony at University of Illinois.

Tip #1: Do a low-stakes test run

family industries print

Photo credit: Family Industries Instagram

You should seriously consider doing a live printing test run.

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.

Imagine this: 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. This is your biggest client at their biggest event of the year, and you are blown away by the engagement.

You’re hustling to print, keep the line orderly, and be entertaining…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 customers. You turn bright red in the face as you realize…you’ve totally screwed this up. Your brand is plastered on all of your equipment. There is no undo button!

It’s simple to avoid this nightmare scenario: 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. Always start with a low-stakes test run. You’ll be surprised by how much you learn.


Tip #2: Choose the right customer for live printing

live printing for customers

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.

Live printing at a big frat house during a party would be a hectic, messy, and unenjoyable event.


Consider the event that the customer wants to have you live print at:

  • Is the event indoor or outdoor?
    • Indoor events are easier to manage.
    • Outdoor events can mess with your curing dryer’s ability to maintain temp.
    • Always check the availability of electricity and water!
  •  Is live printing a natural fit?
    • Does this customer already sells or utilizes merchandise?
    • Is it “appropriate” – i.e. is this a tuxedo-and-gown event?
    • Will people actually come to the event?
  • Can they pay a premium?
    • Live printing costs more!
  • Would a traditional custom order make more sense?
    • If a traditional screen printing order would be easier, more profitable, and less risk – consider that instead.
  • Can you actually handle the event?
    • If you’re new or short-staffed and planning to print for 1,000 people at a music festival…consider our first tip carefully before you dive in. Start small!

So what kinds of customers should you live print for? In a sentence, you’re looking for high-profile clients that are part of their community – who also aren’t sensitive to paying a premium for custom products.

For Steven’s first live event, he knew that a specific department in the university was open to creative and interesting ideas for events. He pitched the idea of live printing after the graduation ceremony and they loved it.

Tip #3: Price live printing appropriately

live screen printing

Photo Credit: Live Printing Instagram

Live printing is a premium service. It should be considerably more expensive than a traditional custom screen printing order because it is significantly more time and labor. Consider:

  • Setup and break-down time. You will have to travel to the venue ahead of time to scope out feasibility. You will also need significant setup and breakdown time.
  • Garments. You will need to have the customer agree to a set number of garments to be purchased ahead of time for the event. Ideally, you will print and give them any unused garments.
  • Additional labor. You will need several staff members on-site to pull off a live printing event. It’s unreasonable to expect one person to handle everything.How should you price your live printing events? There are several methods. Some live printing companies charge a flat hourly fee – from $500 to $1,000+. Others charge their traditional screen print prices with an added fee. However you do it, be sure you’re covering all of your costs and taking a careful inventory of the time, materials, and labor cost required.

Tip #4: Bring the right gear

Print gear

Photo Credit: Campus Ink

“Be prepared.”

Remember Murphy’s Law: whatever can go wrong ​will​ go wrong.

There are several mission-critical items you’ll need for successful live printing events.

  • Smocks. If you’re letting customers print or get near the press – particularly if they’re in nicer clothes – bring smocks so they don’t get ink on themselves.
  • Garbage bags. You can put your used screens, misprints, and squeegees in these – then clean everything at your shop.
  • Craft paper. You can line the floors of your printing area with paper to keep it clean and lend it a unique look.
  • Extra screens. Bring a backup screen with the design you’re printing.
  • Spray tack. Bring more than you think you’ll need. You will burn through it at a live event.
  • Extra flash unit. Dryers are finicky. Have a backup flash to keep things rolling.
  • Spare squeegees. You will drop your only squeegee into your ink. Bring a spare.
  • Big Ziploc bags. You can quickly store and put away tools, inks, garments – this really helps keep things organized and clean.
  • Ink cleaner. You’ll get ink everywhere. Be ready to clean it up.

Any part of your printing operation can (and will) break during a live printing event.

The ​most important​ thing you can do for your live printing event is to ​test power at the venue beforehand.​ Be sure it’s 100% compatible with your gear, easily accessible, and capable of supporting the load for the entire length of the event.

Tip #5: Pick simple designs that are the right size

live printing events

Photo Credit: Family Industries Instagram

You don’t need complicated art to wow customers. At live printing events, people are drawn in by the process. They love to see screen printing happen in person! Think of it like a performance – what you do while you print and how you engage people is 99% of success in live printing.

To pick a good design for live printing:

  • Choose a design no larger than 5×12”. You can fold garments when you put them on thedryer this way. Since your dryer is small, you want to save space.
  • Stick with one color. You want to be able to print, cure, and move to the next customerwithin one minute. One color designs mean no registration issues – and you can print faster.
  • Use dark ink. White ink takes time to print, and your quality will suffer as you printhundreds of shirts quickly.
  • Choose garments that complement the ink. Dark navy ink? Choose a light navy garment. Give yourself a color to print on that affords you some wiggle room.

Tip #6: Put on a show

Live Printing

Photo Credit: Live Printing Instagram

Above all else, put on a great show. Be engaging. Have fun. Get involved and keep people excited. Think like a performer instead of a printer: how flashy and interesting can you be?

Most people have no experience with screen printing. They’ve never seen a screen printing press. They don’t know what is involved with it. You have a huge opportunity to impress – and gently market your own services as well.

A funny tip: keep your press heads spinning and be showy. Why? Interestingly, people just love to see the press heads spin around!

Use live printing to passively promote your business. Brand your press, dryer, and setup appropriately (but don’t brand yourself if the event is solely focused on your customer’s brand).

You don’t need to hand out a business card to every customer or go for the hard sell. But if someone asks you if you’ll print one shirt for them? Say yes. Encourage contact. Keep the event rolling, but show that you want to work with them afterward. You’ll be surprised by the leads you generate just by being present at an event.

Live printing: high risk, high reward

Live printing is risky, but worth it. 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.

To summarize:

  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. The major players in live printing have spent years refining their process, perfecting their craft, and streamlining their live printing operations.

Thinking about giving live printing a shot? Use Bella + Canvas’ line of fashionable, retail-quality fleece to give customers unforgettable custom merchandise.



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6 Tips for Live Printing Events
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6 Tips for Live Printing Events
Live screen printing is a well-known and exciting marketing opportunity for major brands, events, festivals. But it’s not an easy game. Steven Farag from Campus Ink in Champaign, IL sat down with Bruce from Printavo to talk about his first big live printing gig.
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