Live printing: some printers love it, others don’t. Doing live printing takes a little bit of bravery and a whole lot of preparation. So why should you do live printing? What’s so great about it? Josh Dykstra, the owner of PRNT SCRN Screen Printing, discusses his experience in live screen printing.
Photo by PRNT SCRN Screen Printing
WHY LIVE PRINTING?
Live printing was one of the reasons Josh Dykstra got into screen printing. He and his wife have been selling art at conventions for years. At one of these conventions, Josh walked past a screen printer doing live printing.
“It was kind of like a light bulb moment for me,” Josh said.
Josh needed shirts for his band anyway, so he decided to start screen printing, eventually turning his garage into a screen print shop. Live printing was always something he wanted to do with the craft. After learning the trade, he began looking for live events that fit his interests.
For Josh, it’s all about the experience, both for him and the customers. People don’t expect to see the shirt printed right in front of them. For Josh, that on-demand offering is priceless.
“You like this shirt? Let me just make it for you,” Josh said.
Of course, in order to see those reactions, he first had to land a gig.
LANDING A GIG
PRNT SCRN Screen Printing started out as Josh’s hobby. He printed merchandise for his band, Monument Beach, out of a one-bedroom apartment. After he and his wife moved to a house with a garage, the hobby became a side gig.
Josh’s wife is an artist, and the pair have been attending conventions as art vendors for years. Since Josh had ties to the convention world and the music scene, he decided to use his screen printing skills to offer live printing at these events.
Since starting up a print shop in late 2020, Josh has printed at two live events: the Central Florida Comic Con, and the Pink it Up Breast Cancer Awareness Benefit Concert. Both of these gigs stemmed from events Josh was already plugged into: he’s been a vendor at conventions for years, and his band was playing at the benefit concert. He took the leap and talked with the event organizers about hosting live printing at the event.
Once the event organizers agreed to his proposals, Josh got to work preparing for the big events.
WHAT TO BRING
When screen printing in a dedicated shop, you have everything you need. Adequate power, a shelf full of ink, access to sandwiches, and control over the music you print to. In a live event, these are all unknowns. This was Josh’s biggest challenge.
In preparing for a live printing event, ask the venue or event organizer as many questions as you need. How much power does the venue offer? Is it in a well-ventilated area? How much space will you be given? Will there be sandwiches? Ok, maybe don’t ask the last one.
Once you have that information, it’s time to start assembling the equipment and supplies necessary. Make sure everything you need to bring can fit in your vehicle.
First things first: obviously you’ll need a press. A small press is a great option for live printing. Josh brought his Riley Hopkins 150 4x1 for the event. He generally prints on a Riley Hopkins Jr. and uses the 150 for live events. Since the press has multiple color heads, he can offer several single-color designs at a time.
An important aspect to live printing is ensuring proper ink curing. The last thing you want is customers returning to you with shirts that have already cracked or rubbed off. A heat press is the best curing option to bring for most jobs. If you can fit a conveyor dryer into your vehicle or live printing space, that’s a good option too (just make sure you have the power for it). A flash dryer can be inconsistent with curing, especially if you’re outside. For the best results and best use of space, use a heat press to cure.
Besides your printing and curing equipment, there are a few supplies you’ll need. Bring the screens for the live event, plus extras of the designs. If a screen breaks during the event, you’ll have a backup.
You’ll need something to keep those shirts tacked onto the platen. When live printing, stay away from spray tack, as it will get everywhere. Bring a water-based adhesive to keep those shirts stuck to the platen and prevent your customers from getting sticky. Take an on-press cleaner like Supreme Wash or Aqua Wash to clean out the screen when it gets clogged, or to do a color change if necessary.
Speaking of color changes, let’s talk about ink for a second. Doing live printing with plastisol ink is the easiest, as it won’t dry on the screen. Your print shop might be dialed in to print water-based jobs, but the event might not have the same setup. This is especially true when printing outdoors. Water-based inks will dry on the screen too quickly.
When choosing blank shirts, it’s best to use shirts that you’d use in other jobs. That way, if you order too many shirts, they won’t go to waste. Use brands, colors, and sizes that you’d use for a job for a customer or your brand.
Bring a portable screen printing press that you can easily move around the space. Photo by PRNT SCRN Screen Printing
INDOORS OR OUTDOORS?
One factor to consider is the location of the print space you’re assigned. You might not think it, but this matters. Depending on what you’re printing, the process you use needs to adjust.
When you’re printing indoors, be careful of using chemicals and control the curing element. Though most heat presses and conveyors have temperature controls, it’s important to be mindful of the temperature they’re at and the location they’re in. You don’t want attendees to injure themselves by getting too close to the curing element.
If you’re screen printing outdoors, take note of the wind conditions. This mostly applies to water-based inks, as they can dry quickly on the screen with too much wind (and you'd be using more product than necessary). Plastisol is more forgiving. Additionally, using a flash dryer to cure while printing outside won’t be efficient in windy conditions.
In both locations, you’ll need to make sure you have enough power to print and cure properly. If the event location doesn’t have a socket with enough voltage for your conveyor dryer or flash dryer, you’ll need to adjust for that. Every event is a little different, so make sure you ask plenty of questions to set yourself up for success.
Once you’ve taken inventory of what you’ll need, it’s time to prepare for the event.
Every live printing gig is a little different. In Josh’s experience, both events took different amounts of preparation effort. For the Central Florida Comic Con, the event organizer wanted a design with the logo on it and wanted to proof the design before it was finalized. This meant lots of collaboration between Josh and the organizer. The process took a couple of months.
The finalized design was a one-color print, and Josh offered a two-color print for VIP attendees. On top of this, he created 4-5 other one-color designs featuring pop culture references that attendees could choose from. This gave him creative freedom, but still fit the parameters of the event.
For the Pink it Up concert, Josh went with a one-color design with the name of the event and a few instruments. This only took about a week to prep.
Once designs are finalized with the event organizer, it’s time to burn screens, gather equipment, and pack it all up. All that’s left is the big event.
THE BIG EVENT
If you’re anything like Josh, you’ll be nervous about the live printing event. Live printing isn’t like printing in a shop. You have less control and things can go wrong that wouldn’t be an issue normally. Besides that, people are watching you. It can be nerve-wracking.
So set yourself up for success. Remember to have pack backups of everything. Screens, squeegees, paper towels, inks, cleaning chemicals, garments, etc. You want to be prepared for any conflict that arises so you can combat it like a champ and continue printing.
You’re there to make some cash, but also there to get the word out about your business. For Josh, that’s what it’s all about. Hosting live printing events not only gets the word out about his shop but brings awareness to the trade of screen printing. It’s a networking tool that also gives Josh an outlet to talk about his passion. He’s even received a few clients through live printing gigs.
Photo by PRNT SCRN Screen Printing
BRING YOUR A GAME
Live screen printing is a rush. You’re going at top speed and don’t necessarily have time to make small tweaks once the event starts. Make sure the prints are registered and garments are cured. The last thing you want is someone’s shirt cracking or being out of register. Bring a laser temp gun or a donut probe to make sure you’re curing garments properly, and print test shirts before the event to make sure everything is good to go.
Josh offered six designs to attendees at the Comic Con, but only had a four-station press. Next time, he’ll scale things back.
“I’ll have a line of people waiting for their shirts and it’s only a four-color press,” Josh said. “If I have more than four designs, I have to switch them out.”
In the next live printing gig, Josh will choose the most popular designs and stick to printing them.
RELATED: LIVE PRINTING — ROCKING THE EVENT
TURNING A PROFIT
The point of live printing is to make connections, bring awareness to your craft, and ultimately make a profit. Don’t be afraid to talk business when setting up the gig. You’re offering a service and should be compensated accordingly.
More than anything, you don’t want to be in the red at the end of the event. Don’t be afraid to approach the event organizer and talk numbers. Pitch the live printing to the event organizers. If they'll split some of the up-front costs, that’s great! If not, keep costs as low as you can. You’re a business owner too, and the success of your event is as important as the success of the larger event.
Josh’s biggest piece of advice when doing live printing events is simple: have fun. Try not to stress too much about the event. Once you’re there, everything will fall into place. Do enough prep that you’re prepared for weird things to go wrong and still handle it like the pro you are.