Help select applications and materials

Printing for Trade Shows

Trade shows are, in my opinion, the best method for marketing your products and services to your customers and prospects. When you think of it, what would it cost a company to get in front of 1,000 prospects? So what should a company invest in a trade show? How should they present their products and services, and what should they expect from the show?

So I ask you, what is your job? Do you just print what your customers ask for, or do you help them pick the material and suggest applications? Do you get involved right from the beginning with the whole process? No matter where you start, you will ultimately be responsible for providing the right graphics for the application. 

Here is a booth we made for a small trade show. You see here a dye sub backdrop, floor graphics, a metal magnet board for people to “Shoot to win,” and a fitted, dye-sub table cloth.

A suggestion for you—I make a lot more money with trade show graphics when I get involved with the client right from the beginning. When I help them understand what they need to do to get a better return on their investment, they have a better show. And when they have a better show, they come back next time and seek out my advice. 

Applications for Trade Shows

Now let’s look at what I feel are the most successful graphics applications for trade shows. Light is everything at a show—either lights in the booth or illuminating a backlit display. I believe that backlit displays are one of the best choices for trade show graphics because it makes the message jump out so it can be easily seen by all. 

Today’s LED-based light boxes are lightweight and easy to transport. Backlit graphics are an easy solution. 

Backlits—To create a good backlit with your inkjet printer you need to find the right materials. The issue with most inks and materials is achieving a good black. I have found a few very nice materials to print backlits, but I especially like 10 mil litho-printable Mylar (a coated polyester). This material works best with UV-cure or Latex inks. The next is Epson’s Display Trans Backlit film that prints so fantastic it is hard to believe it is not a Duratrans. Now I have tested about seven different polyester-coated print media and depending on your printer, the profile you use, the resolution you select and the number of passes you make—you can achieve an incredible print on many of the backlit films.

Full wrap floors are very powerful, customers love them but they are a little expensive due to the sq. ft. and the installation required.

Roll-up banner stands—These have been around for a while, and a few companies have designed their roll up stands to be attached to each other to make a graphic wall. Expand International has a unit that has magnets on the top of the stand that causes them to stick to each other so multiple stands make up one image, while other companies use hardware to achieve the same results. 

When printing these graphics for a roll-up banner stand, I find that fabric is one of the best media choices because fabric does not curl, tear, or kink; and it is very durable and vibrant in color. You can direct print onto fabric using many types of printers, as long as it is properly coated, but I do find that the UV-curable and the Latex inks give the best results on the coated media. Even better, if you have access to a dye-sublimation print system then this is the best way to image to polyester fabric. 

The next best choice for roll-up banner is to use a polyester film, typically 10-20 mils thick, as it is strong and very durable and tends not to curl. Polyester film is coated to allow the inks to stick to the surface, again just about all printers can print to coated polyester film.

Tiles that snap together and can be wrapped with just about any vinyl print with lam, are easy to install and light weight.

Rolling banner stands—The rolling banner stand is also very effective in a trade show booth as anything moving in a booth tends to attract more attention than a stationary image. These banner stands look much like roll-up banner stands, but they have a motor in them to cause the whole graphic to roll over the top and vertically scroll. In most cases these graphics are made using a thin banner or polyester film.

Floor graphics—At trade shows floor graphics are excellent for success, but it’s an expensive solution. Most shows supply a 10' x 10' floor space, but vinyl comes 54" widths so you must print 2.5 panels to cover the floor, so waste is a consideration. Plus, the graphic needs to be installed and cannot be used after the show. The results are huge because most booths have carpet and the floor is a space that is not used at shows for graphics.

Carpet—Dye-sublimated carpet is another excellent choice that works well if you are paying for carpet and you can ship the carpet to the show. Carpet comes in 10-foot widths so you can have one piece with no seams. 

Tiles—Printed tiles are another graphic choice. A number of companies make plastic tiles that clip together; you can wrap the tiles so the client can have a floor graphic that is easy to assemble and ships in a small box. 

Table coverings—Fitted table cloths are another very good way to deliver your message as most people have a table in their booth to display products and have a place for brochures and business cards. I find that dye-sub fabric is the best choice for table cloths and a fitted one looks the best. The fabric I like best is lite knit or heavy knit fabric. I find this fabric shows the least amount of wrinkles. Make sure when you design your table-throw that you place the graphic message on the top, the front, the sides and the back of the throw. This way the client can use it for any event regardless of where the table is placed (center of the room or against a wall).

Here are some examples of tension fabrics used at a trade shows. As you can see, the frame can be of about any shape needed. You can get very creative. 

Tension fabric—Tension fabric is very stunning at a show, this is created using pipes that connect together to make up a frame (wire frame design). Once the frame is constructed you pull the fabric over the frame and close up the whole unit using the zippers/Velcro that was stitched into the fabric. 

These units are in most cases very lightweight, and can support lights (typically LED) so as to make a large backlit display, and in just about all cases these graphics are large 3D images. In many cases tension fabric displays are hung from the ceiling at the shows and in many cases spin from a motor that is again hung from the ceiling. A 10' x 10' x 4' tension fabric hanging sign could weigh as little as 25 lbs. 

Graphics for these displays are somewhat difficult to make as in most cases they are made using the dye-sub process. Tension fabric stretches easily, and you must stitch the whole unit together. The frame is not something you can purchase from a distributor; you need to make them with a pipe bending system and special corners to connect it all together, or you can sub-contract the fabrication of the frame. If you choose to get into this market and offer these displays to your clients (and I would recommend you sell to the trade), you would need to invest in a 10' dye-sublimation system and the tools to work with the metal tubing.

Flexible sheet graphics—Naturally the most common graphics for shows are flexible sheet graphics with Velcro fasteners on the back that you can attach to your fabric booth wall. I recommend using polystyrene for these applications. What makes polystyrene so great is that it is lightweight and has almost no shape memory. You can ship a full graphics in a 12" wide box, and it does not crack or break. The cost of the board is low, and almost every UV-curing or Latex printer can print to the media; plus all PSA vinyl will stick to it, and you can die-cut it by hand with a blade or a digital die cutter.

Designing Graphics for Trade Shows

When designing graphics for a show you need to determine exactly what makes your customer’s products or services stand out. Ask lots of questions, like “What differentiates your company from your competition,” “What product are you especially interested in promoting at this show?”, “What do your customers say is the best part of your product/services and your company.”

Answers to these questions should help you understand what message must be delivered loud and clear at the show. Next you must find a way with a graphics or very few words to create a show stopping message that causes the ideal prospects to take notice of the booth and make the other people at the show who are not suited for your clients offerings to just walk past the booth. Finally you should find out what value this show is to your client as this will help you determine the budget for the graphics.

Floor space for most shows is around $3,000 for a 10' x 10' space. This does not include all the other costs like travel, hotel, food, etc. If your client wants to be successful at a show, they should consider budgeting around $2,000 to $4,000 for the graphics. Remember, at the end of the show your booth graphics will be judged by the perception of the client and the number of quality leads your client receives from the show. 

To recap about lights for a show: LED lights are powered by 12 volts, or what is called low voltage by the industry, and all low-voltage lighting does not require an electrician to install or use. This allows you to set up a booth with lighting and not need a license or have to pay a professional to setup the lighting.

Remember, trade shows are all about return on investment (ROI). Your clients are looking for a return on what they paid to attend the show. You cannot control how many people come to the show, or if the people that do come are interested in what your client has to offer, but what you can control is the message and how you deliver it to the people who walk past your client’s booth. 

Good luck, be smart with your money, and I will see you on the show floor!