It’s interesting that clients have a completely different attitude toward trade show graphics than they do most other graphics. For example, clients want vehicle wraps for less than $5 per square foot and they want a full five-year warranty. If they see anything wrong, like a small wrinkle, they want it fixed now.
For a trade show, the same client is happy to pay $20 per square foot for a mounted print on Sintra—and after the show, throw it away.
RECOGNIZING THE NEEDS
To get a full appreciation of the trade show graphics business, you need to recognize the different types of client needs. In most cases the needs are directly proportional to the actual booth area they take at a show, as well as the booth hardware they own (not always the same size).
Most show graphics are for a standard 10x10 (as they are called, due to the fact that the actual show floor space is sold in increments of 10' x 10').
A popular type of “pop-up” hardware system is assembled using an expandable frame that has panels (usually 29'' wide) of carpet attached with hooks cut into the panel at the top and magnetic strips along both sides to allow the panels to grab the frame of the booth. When set up, it is a large piece of vertical carpet ready for any graphic that has the hook half of a hook-and-loop fastener on the back of it.
These days, most 10x10 booths are curved so the graphics that are to attach to the booth must be on flexible materials.
Also in the same 10' x 10' space you might find a 6' table, and a few chairs. Typically the backdrop of the 10x10 would be Pipe & Drape, which will be 8' high and have drapes hanging from it to separate the booths.
Once you get larger than the typical 10x10, you get into custom-made exhibit systems. It’s important to note that not only do these cost a lot more to purchase and to set up, but the booth space is also much more expensive.
When you add labor, electricity and other incidentals, exhibitors may be spending over $20,000 for one 20' x 20' booth for one show. When you take this into perspective, the relative cost of graphics is not a huge issue.
What is important is that the graphics make the show. Your client must have one goal in mind when looking at tradeshow graphics: inform attendees of what they do and how that benefits the person who is considering doing business with them.
Final marketing message: any graphic below 30'' is, in my opinion, just a waste of money because few show attendees ever look below table height. All booths are 8' high unless the exhibitor has an island (no neighbors), so in most cases, plan on graphics to be about 48'' tall.
WHAT TO MAKE AND SELL
For small booth clients, big sellers are 15-mil Lexan/polycarbonate graphics. You can print these on reverse printable Lexan and then back it with vinyl, or print on paper and then laminate the prints with a 15-mil Lexan. If you want something more solid, try Sintra or Komatex (PVC), Gator or Kapa Bloc—or, if you have a job that is very short-term and has dated material on it, try Fome-Cor or Foam-X.
Keep in mind that whatever you make, you most likely will also ship. If you make a Fome-Cor board and sell it for less, you must make a good case to ship it in or it will get damaged. Sometimes the cost of the case will make you want to sell a lot of Sintra boards for shows.
We use mostly Sintra or Komatex for show graphics that we must ship. Damage from shipping something that is 30'' x 40'' is almost a guarantee, so make it difficult for UPS/FedEx to damage your graphics — use Sintra or Komatex.
Also for small booths, a fitted tablecloth is great. This helps make the exhibitors booth stand out in the sea of booths. Light is a huge feature; booths that do have lights on the graphics will always be more successful than those without.
Another big success for small booths are roll up banner stands. These are typically 7' high by up to 4' wide and are very easy to carry and make a huge impression.
For larger booths you will find backlit displays, larger images and more graphics, and in turn more money! Lambda/LightJet prints are best for backlits because they are 4,000 dpi. If you do not have access to these types of prints then you will have to use inkjet prints.
Larger booths can have other special needs like hanging banners (fabric works best), wall wraps, and floor graphics. Plus, with more floor space, exhibitors will ask for items such as life-size cutouts, large roll-up banner stands or monitor wraps (a print mounted to 2mm Sintra and then cut out around the monitor).
A lot of large companies also sponsor the show so this is a great opportunity for you to provide the graphics for the show management. If the show is large, and there is a management company doing the show, find this company and you might have a great chance at a huge sale.
Another graphic type is a full wall mural, where the whole pop-up booth is one image. This is a difficult type of trade show graphic to provide and if you have not done these before, watch out! Most companies that attempt these fail and end up losing their shirt and the clients. Companies that are successful are skilled and know what they are doing.
Most graphics that go to a show need to have a matte or crystal finish because show lights are bright and will cause glare on luster or gloss images. The durability of the graphics is best using crystal laminate.
Some of the prints will be double sided and others will be custom cut. Make sure you do Pantone Matching on the prints, as clients for shows are very picky about their company colors.
There are many items that you can provide for tradeshows, but what follows are the main group of products that we’ve found are best, components needed, and the approximate retail prices you might expect:
Flex 15 — Paper print with 10- or 15-mil polycarbonate mounted to the face of the graphic. Typically this polycarbonate comes with adhesive on the material. The other choice is to print on “Reverse Printable Polycarbonate” and then back it with white vinyl. This is rollable for easy shipping and easy to custom cut with a blade, but is not stable, so must be in a frame or hung. Retail Price: $18 per square foot.
Fome-Cor/Foam-X — Paper prints mounted with a rubber based adhesive, with a crystal/matte overlaminate. Backed with hook-and-loop fasteners around all four edges. Easy to custom cut with a blade. Retail price: $14 per square foot.
.048 Card Stock — Paper prints mounted to .048 card stock with a rubber based adhesive, with a crystal/matte overlaminate. Backed with hook-and-loop fasteners around all four edges or used as counter cards with easel backs. Retail Price: $14 per square foot.
Sintra 1/Polystyrene 040 — Paper prints mounted to Sintra/Komatex 1mm or Polystyrene 040 with an acrylic-based adhesive, with a crystal/matte overlaminate. Backed with hook-and-loop fasteners around all four edges. Rollable in 12'' box or wider and easy to custom cut. Product is not stable so must be in frame or hung. Retail Price: $16 per square foot.
Sintra/Komatex 3 — Paper prints mounted to 3mm, Sintra or Komatex with a crystal/matte overlaminate. Backed with hook-and-loop fasteners around all four edges. Retail Price: $20 per square foot.
Gator/Kapa Bloc 3/16'' — Paper prints mounted to Gator/Kapa Bloc with an acrylic adhesive, with a crystal/matte overlaminate. Backed with hook-and-loop fasteners around all four edges. Retail Price: $20 per square foot.
Duratrans — Backlit graphics with luster laminate and ready for sliding between two pieces of plexiglass in the light box. Retail Price: $20 per square foot.
DuraPlexi — Duratrans mounted to plexiglass (second surface) and backed with a laminate to prevent damage during shipping. Optically clear adhesive (very expensive) must be used to mount the print to the plexiglass, and this process is very difficult. Expect failures during the construction of this process, as this is very difficult to get perfect! Retail Price: $24-28 per square foot.
Dye-Sub Tablecloths — Fabric tablecloths with messages and logos on the fabric. Best to put the logo on top, and all sides. Requires stitching between the front/side piece and the top. You can direct print the fabric (see Neschen) or Dye-Sub the material (see Fisher Textiles or Neschen). Typical retail prices: $550 (fitted); $450 (throws).
Floor Graphics — Vinyl prints with a special overlaminate. Stuck to the floor for the show and removed after without any residue. Retail Price: $12 per square foot.
Many customers wait to the very last minute, so expect the artwork to come to you three days before the show, and in a lot of cases, be missing parts or be of poor quality. You must take the time to look at the artwork when it gets to your shop. Do not wait!
Always let your customer know your turnaround. Do not let them think that if they give you bad files with three days lead time and it takes you two days to make them into good files, that you will turn their graphics around for the same price. Make them pay rush charges!
Remember, customers expect perfect quality for the shows, so your printing equipment should produce 600 dpi or better. All boards need to be cut square (use a good quality cutting system from companies like Fletcher-Terry, Coda, Craftsman Cutter, Keencut, Saw Trax, Safety Speed Cut or Saw Systems); all finishing like hook-and-loop fasteners must be attached and clean.
Package all the graphics very well. Assume that UPS/FedEx will destroy the graphics that are the most valuable. Assume they will arrive at the show on Saturday for a Monday show, meaning you have no time to re-do them if they are damaged.
We use 1/4'' luan wood to make crates for shows that are of a concern in shipping. If we make Fome-Cor signs they all get wrapped in wood.
THE FINAL MESSAGE
Most clients lose or throw away their show graphics, so if they like you, and they do a lot of shows, you are assured of making good money off these clients.
If you are excited about this opportunity, I would recommend you go to The Sign Business & Digital Graphics Show in one of the cities scheduled next year and attend the planned training courses, where you will learn more and see all the items I have talked about here.
Good luck and see you on the show floor!