Optimism in the exhibit industry means bigger, better displays

Trade Show Perspectives: Exhibit Trends, Past and Present

The Exhibitor Show, held in Las Vegas each year in March, is always a good reflection of the state of the exhibition industry. The 2012 show saw a great deal of optimism and an increase in both the number of exhibitors as well as the number of attendees. Most striking was the increase in the size of the exhibits. For the first time in several years we saw the size of the exhibit booths increase.

Classic Exhibits presented this 20’x 30’ aluminum extrusion exhibit.

Not surprising was the continued prominence of dye-sublimation printed fabric graphics. This light weight option has all but replaced the traditional custom built wall structures. I recall back in 1995 when I met one of the original engineers who was developing the dye-sublimation process and he began producing large dye-sub banners for us. We were among the very first exhibit companies to use dye-sublimation printed graphics in the exhibition industry. At that time I saw the advantages of using printed fabric but never envisioned that it would become the industry standard that it is today. But fabric isn’t the only technology taking over the trade show floor.

Aluminum Extrusion

Aluminum extrusion is the primary structural element for most exhibits, but the current trend is to wrap the extrusion with printed fabric so one doesn’t actually see the extrusion. SEG (silicone edged graphics) is also a hot trend. SEG is where a silicone bead is sewn onto the edge of the fabric that fits into a groove in the extrusion system, providing a nice taut graphic. Seems like about every five years or so exposed aluminum becomes the trend, then for the next few years covering the extrusion becomes the trend. I have seen this reoccur many times over the years.

AGAM Group Ltd. featured their aluminum extrusion system with SEG dye-sublimation printed graphics.

When aluminum first replaced wood as a preferred structural element, showing the exposed aluminum was the thing to do to, so the buyer could see the advantages of using a light weight structure that was strong and durable.  After several years, aluminum became the standard and people got tired of seeing it, so either Velcro-acceptable fabric or a plastic laminate was used to cover the extrusion.

Modular & Integrated Systems

This aluminum extrusion trend continued for a number of years and then modular panel systems came into existence. Then when Velcro-acceptable fabric became “old hat” and the plastic laminate posed chipping problems in the long term, exposed aluminum framing once again became popular. This time around the designers got more creative with the extrusion and the exhibits became more interesting.

Then “integrated systems,” that is, mixing and matching various exhibit systems including custom elements, became recognized as hybrid systems. At this time exhibit companies were making custom-like exhibits by utilizing a number of standard components. 

Radius Display Products specializes in fabric displays. Their graphics were all dye-sublimation printed.

Tension Fabric Structures 

Other noticeable trends in 2012 are the increased use of tension fabric structures, with or without printed graphics. Originally these structures were used primarily as hanging signs, but now they are also being used as wall structures. A growing trend is custom or unusual shaped structures, which are being used as both an attraction element as well as a means to communicate the exhibitor’s message.

Moss Exhibits created the first tension fabric structures many years ago. Bill Moss originally created tent structures with this system, but soon saw the opportunity to use the technology for exhibit and display structures. His idea has become almost ubiquitous at trade shows today.

Printed Boards 

Direct printing onto various rigid substrates using UV-cure print technology is still a relatively new trend for the exhibit industry. Common substrates for this application include Sintra, styrene, Ultraboard and Greenboard. This is an inexpensive option for graphics that are to have a short life span, such as a promotion lasting one or two shows, etc. At this point I am not seeing these types of graphics being used extensively for long-term trade show displays, but eventually this process may equal and even surpass other processes for the production of trade show graphics.

Interactive Exhibits

Interactive exhibits and displays that allow the viewer to become involved by touching or handling is also a current trend. It has been known for a long time within the exhibit industry that memory retention is magnified when a person becomes more personally involved, so this trend is not unexpected. What is new is the method that the interactive action is being offered. 

For example, simple displays with dye-sublimation printed graphics that allow the viewer to touch various selections on the graphic. When the attendee touches the selection it triggers a response from the display via touch screen technology.

Featherlite Exhibits used tension fabric structures in their design. (Right) Brandstand showcased their new interactive, tension fabric kiosk.

Also, electronic digital signage is increasingly being used in exhibit displays with video loops of product presentations, application demos and more.

Traditional Signage

The beauty of the exhibition industry for sign makers is the opportunity to produce the traditional methods of sign making as well. Channel letters, LED lighting, light boxes, architectural signage, dimensional logos and lettering, vinyl lettering, and even screen printing are commonly used with exhibits and displays. Depending on the size and usage of the exhibit or display, any of the mentioned type of signs may be used.

When I entered the exhibit industry over 30 years ago most exhibit companies didn’t produce their own signage. That has changed somewhat with the availability of inexpensive wide-format inkjet printers. However, there are still plenty of opportunities for sign makers who wish to serve the exhibition industry.