Connect with us

Live Printing Is a Boon for Chicago Apparel Decorator

Barrel Maker has advice for any shop who wants to get into the business of live activations.




AS MANY APPAREL decorating inception stories go, Justin and Erin Moore created Barrel Maker by accident. In 2009, the couple (who had a toddler at the time) stumbled upon baby shirts that were “really raunchy,” Justin says. “It inspired us to try and make something better.”

Live Printing Is a Boon for Chicago Apparel Decorator

The duo designed a few shirts and ordered small batches from print shops. They also upcycled dress shirts from thrift stores by turning them into toddler dresses. A few boutiques picked up their new line in the same month Justin was let go from his real estate job. “I took my very first
unemployment check, bought a manual press from Ryonet, and started telling everyone we opened a super legitimate print shop,” he says. “We burned the midnight oil and eventually learned more and more about screen printing.”

Barrel Maker grew organically from there. In 2010, the couple moved their operation into a small warehouse, adding space and equipment when it made sense. They expanded again in 2012 and 2014 before moving into their current location in 2016.

The Chicago-based shop offers custom screen printing, embroidery, fulfillment, and live printing for big-name clients like Pinterest, DoorDash, Heinz, and Toyota. Typical products are printed shirts, hats, and totes, but they’ve also had wild requests like printing hot sauce on tortillas and laundry detergent on towels.

Going Live

Justin Moore, founder of Barrel Maker and Moore, founder of Barrel Maker and

Although only a few of the shop’s 38 full-time employees spend a percentage of their time live printing, almost everyone “has worked a series of events,” Justin says. “On the live printing side, we also have a network of affiliate shops spread across the country. Each event we work could have live printing employees, affiliate shops, or a mixture of both.”

Their first live event was in 2012 for Discover. “It was a big corporate event and we were super nervous about doing it,” he says. “At the time, we had a short-term goal of offering something different to a bigger client. We were slammed! Immediately, the big realization was the secret to a successful event is in the planning stages: smooth logistics beforehand, no tools missing, prepared staff… all of these things allow an event to be successful.”


In 2016, Barrel Maker purchased the domain for In 2019, the shop printed for about 200 events. “We were so slow during the pandemic, but this year we hope to double that [2019 number]!” Justin says. Barrel Maker averages more than 1500 orders each month, and just like custom printing, live events can vary quite a bit. “We can have a custom order for 36 shirts with one print color or an order for 20,000 shirts and five colors. Similarly, we can have a live event that has just one heat press setup for two hours or a three-press setup in multiple cities for multiple days. We could be showing up with a press at an outdoor event or have a semi-permanent retail setup.”

“The prep of live printing is sprinkled throughout the bustling rooms of Barrel Maker, but the events can take place outside of business hours, as well as during,” Justin says. Past events include a hotel rooftop gathering with Spotify as well as music festivals such as Lollapalooza and Pitchfork.

“We have people burning screens all day every day. Some of those screens are for live events and some for custom jobs. Occasionally, affiliate shops will need us to assist with ink or screens, or even presses and flash dryers.” Live printing currently accounts for about 20 percent of revenue. “With the pandemic fading (kind of!), we are excited and curious about the potential of the next few years. Currently, we have events every week!”

Striking a Balance

Having the wrong mindset about live printing can be a big mistake, Justin says. “I’ve noticed some shops are using live printing as a marketing tool for their custom shop, but ultimately people assume what you’re doing is what you sell. So, those potential customers will still look for custom printing elsewhere.”

He gives the example of printing shirts for a local brewery. “There’s a conflict of interest when you’re hyping your printing business vs. focusing on offering very high-end merch via a live experience. We definitely used to do that often, but once we acquired the domain for, we changed our approach to be a much more white-label solution that focuses on our customer’s brand. We also very rarely sell the shirts to collect a profit.” Instead, they focus on giveaways or processing payments on the client’s behalf.

Live Printing Is a Boon for Chicago Apparel Decorator

Barrel Maker staff spend time printing custom apparel for clients and live printing at events across the country.Barrel Maker staff spend time printing custom apparel for clients and live printing at events across the country.

Justin says, “It’s crucial to make a good-old-fashioned checklist of everything you think you’ll need and think of some scenarios where things can go wrong. Prepacked kits with extra extension cords, tape, scissors, and flashlights have all come in handy out in the field.”

Staffing is also important, and it depends on the size of the event. “We’ve done one-person, one-press events, as well as multiple presses and heat presses over multiple days,” he says.

Staffing considerations include:

  1. Are there any other attractions at this event? If the answer is no, crowds may be bigger, and you may want one or two people to chat with customers and process orders.
  2. Does your event take place over a long period of time? How will your employees take breaks?
  3. If printing gets behind, how will your customer receive their merch?
  4. Talk to your client about their expectations. Some clients prefer to have some of their own staff on site.

Barrel Maker added live printing to its offerings in 2012 and purchased the domain for in 2016.Barrel Maker added live printing to its offerings in 2012 and purchased the domain for in 2016.

Defining Success

Justin says his top priorities for live printing are happy, satisfied guests and clear, consistent communication with the client. “Honestly, I still have to remind myself and our team how exciting it is to see screen printing for the first time,” he says. “We are around printing every day so that luster may have worn off, but watching other people experience it is just as fun.”

For those just starting out, consider your end goal. “If it’s to bring more exposure to your print shop through live printing, going local at farmers markets or art fairs might work,” Justin says. “Make sure you test what you’ll be printing beforehand, ideally in similar elements. Giving out a bad product that washes off or lacks opacity is not helping ya!”





Let’s Talk About It

Creating a More Diverse and Inclusive Screen Printing Industry

LET’S TALK About It: Part 3 discusses how four screen printers have employed people with disabilities, why you should consider doing the same, the resources that are available, and more. Watch the live webinar, held August 16, moderated by Adrienne Palmer, editor-in-chief, Screen Printing magazine, with panelists Ali Banholzer, Amber Massey, Ryan Moor, and Jed Seifert. The multi-part series is hosted exclusively by ROQ.US and U.N.I.T.E Together. Let’s Talk About It: Part 1 focused on Black, female screen printers and can be watched here; Part 2 focused on the LGBTQ+ community and can be watched here.

Promoted Headlines

Most Popular