Live Activation Leaders Weigh in on Growing Trend

Live ActivationIt was a cool, brisk morning in San Diego. Navy ships were heading into the bay as apparel decorators from all over the country congregated in a meeting room at the Kona Kai Resort during THREADX 19. There was a great energy in the room as I walked onto the stage to moderate a panel with Tim Williams (YR Store), Max Hellmann (Family Industries) and Justin Moore ( These guys are the titans of live printing activations, working for the biggest brands in the world.

Live printing has become more and more popular as experiential marketing has become more prevalent. The idea that a person can see their product be created right in front of them has a great value.

We started the conversation with what everyone should know going into an event. Although the remembered experiences were probably not funny at the time, there was a jovial conversation about ensuring you bring squeegees if you’re going to screen print. Having a checklist before you go to the event is important. You are used to printing in your own shop where supplies are all around you, but when you are in the middle of nowhere at an event, you might have a hard time finding these items.

Live Activation PanelA common question in live printing is how much to charge. Max addressed this, saying, “It never hurts to ask what the budget for the event is.” Large brands have big budgets for their parties and might surprise you with what they are willing to pay. Of course, there are going to be events with small budgets, and potentially events selling merchandise, where you might work out a profit share with the event. Make sure you know what the true cost of the activation is — not just for labor and travel, but wear and tear on equipment.

When it comes to doing events across the nation, Justin shared that they have a network of printers to help with their activations. Family Industries has a similar model, allowing them to simultaneously do events in New York and Los Angeles. Setting up road cases that enable equipment to travel well — similar to rock bands — is a key component to making sure your equipment gets across the country safely. Just remember that many hotels and convention centers have costs associated with receiving equipment, and even bringing equipment into the location.

For taking orders at an event, Tim alluded to the fact that the activations are very similar to a kitchen: You are taking the order, preparing it and then delivering the order. YR Store and Family Industries both have sophisticated ordering systems that allow customers to order on a touch screen and input their phone number so that they receive a text message when their orders are ready. On a smaller scale, writing a name on a piece of masking could be a simple way of keeping track of a customer’s item.

Live Activation Panel DiscussionOf course, apparel decorators might think T-shirts are the most popular item to live print, but in fact it would seem that tote bags and even water bottles are extremely popular products. These items can be screen printed, sublimated or even embroidered on-site with ease.

As their wealth of knowledge was tapped, the panel fielded lots of questions, sharing great stories and experiences. We can’t thank these guys enough for getting up in front of their peers and sharing their expertise about a topic of interest for so many.

See more of what Tim Williams had to say about live activation in the SGIA Journal Garment Edition, Winter 2019.

Selfridges' Star Wars YR custom print station image courtesy of YR Store.