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Trade show display

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A trade show display is a graphic display device designed to be used at a trade fair or trade show. These may include table top displays, banner stands, pop up displays, flat panels displays, and other paraphernalia used to fill a temporary stall or booth at a trade fair or convention. The displays vary greatly in size, cost and complexity, but all are designed to visually represent a specific interest of the company. Trade show displays use bold images and catch phrases, in an attempt to attract visitors to their exhibit space, so that sales representatives can give a sales pitch or hand out brochures.

A trade-show booth often consists of a display designed for a wall surface, which can be a graphic image or a velcro compatible fabric, on which a wide variety of graphic images printed on substrates can be attached. These substrates include rigid or semi rigid substrates like various forms of acrylic and plastic. Trade show displays can also include structures that are suspended from the ceiling over larger the trade show booths. Exhibitors at trade shows are normally provided a 10 by 10 feet (3.0 m × 3.0 m) booth space facing an aisle, which has an 8 feet (2.4 m) high back wall consisting of 4 fabric panels that are threaded onto a telescoping aluminum pole and connected to the top of an 8' tall aluminum pole; one located on the far right of the back wall and the other on the far left of the back wall. Two more draped walls, both 3' high are connected from the back wall poles and extend to a 3' high pole positioned on each side of the front of the booth near the aisle. This provides the exhibitor with a pre defined area in which to present his or her company or organization, to visitors attending the trades show event. In this space, exhibitors set up a wide variety of trade show displays, tailored to their specific need, in order to present their services. Companies often rent exhibit space from show organizers and then, design trade show displays to attract the attention of visitors and attendees at the trade show.


Types of displaysEdit

There are many types of trade show displays / exhibits. Below is a list of the most common types:

  • Tabletop displays: Usually a small metal frame work which can easily collapse (much like a backpacking tent frame) into a small carrying case, with graphic panels that attach to the frame work via mechanical fasteners, magnets, or Velcro. These displays are typically very easy to set up, and require little to no on site support labor. As the name implies, they are designed to be set on top of a table, one usually supplied by the show contractor. As with pipe and drape, this table is often provided as part of the price of renting the exhibit space.
  • Table covers (Also known as throw covers): If the exhibitor is using a table within their exhibit space (whether provided by the show contractor or rented), custom printed table covers allow the exhibitor to the opportunity to use the table as a branding opportunity, as opposed to just a stock, non-branded table drape. Show provided tables normally come with a neutral table drape, and a custom cover allows the exhibitor to stand out from those who use the stock table cover.
  • Pipe and drape: Often provided by the show contractor, these typically use a metal frame of upright posts supported by base plates, with cross beams on which the fabric drape is either threaded (via a sewn pocket) or tied. These types of displays are often provided by the show contractor as part of the price of the exhibit space. The fabric drape is usually a colour that is neutral or which ties in with the theme of the show. Exhibitors can use these as a backdrop for their own display pieces, but they are not meant to support any direct weight, and provide little in the way of display client graphics or branding. Most exhibitors use a purchased or rented display structure in front of the supplied pipe and drape.
  • Pop-up displays: (These are sometimes called a pull-up display or portable display) A display which uses a flexible graphic panel (fabric or other man-made material) attached to a spring-loaded roller on which the graphic winds for storage. When ready to display, the graphic is pulled up, and then secured to a support post at the back of the roller, which holds the graphic up and taut in place. These can be used individually, or in series, as warrants. Like tabletop displays, they are normally very lightweight, and can be easily transported and set up without needing much on site labor support. The components are often made from very lightweight materials, and transported in small traveling cases (often injection molded plastic). Most often curved in shape, they are also now popular as straight walls with attached fabric mural graphics.
  • Banner stands: Banner stands are a smaller type of trade show display with one large graphic supported in a standing frame. Similar in construction to pop-up displays but composed of one free-standing panel, they are a portable and lightweight display solution. Some varieties come with retractable roll-up panels for ease of transport, detachable graphics, or lights. Other types of banner stands include outdoor banners, X banner stands, retractable banner stands, motorized scrolling banners, and frame-based tension fabric banners.
  • Modular exhibit: These exhibits fall between a pop-up display, and a panel & frame system. Whereas a pop-up is typically a small background property, a modular display is an entire space. They use a standardized basic structure, whether this be a metal frame work, or thin, lightweight panel construction, which is then configured within the confines of the structure limitations to what the exhibitor requires. A study by Trade Show Week Magazine showed that modular exhibits weigh, on average, about 60% less than traditional custom exhibits.[1] Analogous to a Lego or Tinker-toy, the components are typically easily reconfigured into new layouts as the exhibitor may require from show to show. The components are often made from very lightweight materials, and transported in small traveling cases (often injection molded plastic).
  • Panel & frame systems: These are the ubiquitous exhibit, retail, display and presentation systems. In many ways, when people think of modular exhibits today, they are thinking of panel & frame systems like aluminum extrusions, which is sold (in pieces and parts) to distributors, who in turn market a range of solutions (including exhibit solutions) for rent or purchase at a variety of quality levels and price points. There are hundreds (or maybe even thousands) of "parts" available. In North America anyway, trade show floors are typically laid out with panel & frame products. These products are a ubiquitous category all to themselves.[2] Unlike a tabletop display or modular exhibit, panel & frame systems will require the services of an on site labor source (show general contractor, or a labor contractor approved through show management).
  • Trade show booths: These are usually set up inside malls or out in the open in public places. These are usually easy to set up and easy to transport.
  • Custom exhibits: These rental or purchase exhibits are fabricated from a variety of materials, based upon the design and needs of the exhibitor. These exhibits often incorporate hard wall panels to create rooms and separated spaces, stages, large metal structures, display and work stations, and other display components. Custom exhibits cannot normally be set up by the exhibitor without utilizing the services of an on site labor source (show general contractor, or a labor contractor approved through show management).
  • Truss Displays: These heavy-duty display systems can often be seen as the backdrop in a television show because of its quality, durable construction and interchangeable graphics. They are built using either steel or aluminum and come in many shapes and sizes. Truss Displays[3] can often be customized as well.
Large companies often buy a custom exhibit to be used at different shows in different countries all over the world – a concept similar to the set of sound and stage equipment that accompanies world famous music groups on their tours around the world. Rules for construction of custom exhibits vary from country to country and even show hall to show hall.
For example, in Russia, construction of even temporary structures at the exhibition venues is treated in accordance with the Russian construction laws that mainly apply to capital development. Even if the custom exhibit has been used at other shows in other countries, its design and the credentials of the builder will be scrutinized by the organizers of the show and the technical department of the venue.[4]
Custom exhibits are transported to the exhibit hall in exhibit crates, skids, dollies, or sometimes via pad wrapping, to protect the exhibit properties during transport, and during set up and tear down (Installation & Dismantle).
  • Bespoke Display Stands: Bespoke display stands have the added benefit of enhancing a brand image through a customised design, colour, logo, graphics and additional features. Whether it’s for Retail interior & shops or a special project that requires a unique design or even the exhibition for the launch of a new electronic device, bespoke display stands are the ideal solution to make a big impact.[5]
Retailers with bespoke point of sale displays are seeing an improvement in visitor engagement and an increase in sales. Customers get hands on with products and statistics reveal that 75% of people who pick up a product buy it.
  • "Backlit Trade Show Displays": These have become a huge trend in trade show exhibiting. Backlit displays can be both fully custom or portable, and include modular LED light box displays, light towers, backlit pop up displays, and backlit portable counters. Backlit trade show displays, like LED light box back wall units, have been gaining popularity due to the fact that backlighting is an effective way to improve visual impact, without going over budget.[6]

Types of display materialsEdit

Another recent trend from the manufacturers of trade show displays is that of utilizing a wide variety of building materials in one display such as laminate, fabric, metal, etc., to form what is called a "custom modular hybrid displays." One of the most aggressive manufacturers of trade show display systems which utilize metal, laminate and fabric in the production process, is Classic Exhibits Inc. out of Milwaukie, Oregon.[7] Many of the specific product names of the new generation of custom modular hybrid displays utilizing dye sublimated tension fabric and other materials are detailed in this glossary of products for the custom modular hybrid category.

Many newer displays are designed to reduce weight and setup/dismantle time, and utilize tension fabric graphics, typically using dye-sublimation printing. The most recent method for attaching these fabric graphics to modular aluminum frames is to use "SEG" or "Silicone Edge Graphics",[8] which employ a plastic strip or bead at the edge of the graphic that is pressed into a groove on the aluminum frame.

Apart from above displays, there are variety of displays used in the trade shows or any events. They are hanging displays, truss displays, retail displays, tower displays, fabric displays, etc.

With technological advancements, highly interactive digital displays started being used to attract and engage visitors at trade shows. Digital displays may incorporate a looping video, a touchscreen that invites visitors to get more information about a particular product, a feedback form and even messages based on real-time data.[9]

Eco-friendly displaysEdit

Bamboo promotion counter

Eco-friendly trade-show displays can be made from bamboo. Some of the features designed in mind when these products were made are eco-friendliness, and the natural look. The distinctive look helps attract potential client's attention to the exhibitors booth. Laminated bamboo has similar strength and appearance to hardwood, thus making it a good choice for high-end presentations.

These bamboo displays are a way for retailers to cash-in on bamboo's current eco-friendly cachet. Notable modern bamboo displays include bamboo banner stands, and exhibition equipment. Eco-bamboo trade-show displays include but are not limited to: promotion counters, brochure holders, banner stands and many more.


For years, the trade show display business was dominated by the notion of selling and owning one's display properties. There are a number of reasons for this including accounting realities and the cultural history of the industry itself. But, in recent years, this has all begun change. At one time, the notion of Rental exhibits would have been a category in the list above; that is to say that at one time a Rental exhibit would have been viewed as a type of exhibit, usually a property owned by an outside vendor (either the show general contractor, or an outside rental exhibit company), which are stock properties that are rented to the exhibitor in a standard configuration, or a modified version thereof. This is no longer the case.

Current thinking in the exhibit industry often treats rental and purchase as alternative financial strategies aimed at accomplishing different ends. These days virtually any trade show display of any type or quality can be rented or purchased.

In some markets (such as North America and Europe) rental provides lower initial (and even lower overall) costs due to costs of trade show exhibit ownership while delivering greater flexibility whereas purchase provides certain undeniable accounting benefits. Consumers of trade show displays in these markets must weigh their options to determine what works best for their situation. In other markets (such as most of Asia) raw materials and labor are priced such that rental is rarely competitive. This is due to the disposable Build and Burn approach which is so prevalent.

While it is true that any trade show display of any type or quality can be rented or purchased, there are still some types of trade show displays which are viewed as almost exclusively rental properties:

  • Used exhibits – These are existing exhibit properties, usually older and sometimes worn (though not necessarily), originally built for another purpose, available for rental or purchase. Many exhibit houses have a few of these lying about. Some exhibit houses have built their businesses on them. Just as there is nothing inherently wrong with a used car, there is nothing inherently wrong with a used exhibit. It depends upon the exhibit itself.[10] Used exhibits may require the services of an on site labor source (show general contractor, or a labor contractor approved through show management) to set up, and often the rental exhibit provider can provided those services as part of the rental package to the exhibitor.
  • Inventory rentals – These exhibits are properties owned by an outside vendor (either the show general contractor, or an outside rental exhibit company), which are stock properties that are rented to the exhibitor in a standard configuration, or a modified version thereof. Rental exhibits use these stock properties to provide a basic structure for the exhibitor, which can then be augmented by custom graphics, easily applied and removed finishes, and other cosmetic augmentation. Inventory rentals normally require the services of an on site labor source (show general contractor, or a labor contractor approved through show management) to set up, and often the rental exhibit provider can provided those services as part of the rental package to the exhibitor.

Display standard sizes and configurationsEdit

Trade show displays vary in size. While tabletop displays can be smaller than an average table or desk, some custom exhibits may be larger than a typical city block.

The typical booth size in North America is 10 by 10 feet (3.0 m × 3.0 m).[11] Exhibitors can typically rent space in multiples of the standard 10 ft by 10 ft space (renting two 10 ft x 10 ft spaces that are beside each other would form a 10 ft x 20 ft space, and renting four 10 ft x 10 ft spaces in a square would form a 20 by 20 feet (6.1 m × 6.1 m) exhibit space).

In Europe, and Asia, exhibit spaces are typically done in 1m increments, with the smallest typically being 9.8 by 9.8 feet (3 m × 3 m).

In either case, a "show floor" is "made" by arranging the various exhibitors based upon their spatial requests. Regardless of geography, the rental realities dictate that all displays on a trade show floor will fall into one of several configurations:

  • Linear booth (also called “In-Line Booth“): An exhibit space with exhibit booths on either side and/or back. A typical linear exhibit is 10'x10' or 10'x20'.[12]
  • Peninsula exhibit: A 'peninsula' is an exhibit or area with aisles on three sides. A Peninsula Booth is 20’x20’ or larger.[13]
  • Split-island exhibit: A Split Island Booth is a Peninsula Booth which shares a common back wall with another Peninsula Booth[14]
  • Island exhibit: An Island exhibit is any booth exposed to aisles on all four sides. An Island Booth is virtually always 20 by 20 feet (6.1 m × 6.1 m) or larger.[15]
  • End-cap exhibit: An end-cap exhibit is exposed to aisles on three sides and composed of two booths.[12]
  • Double Deck exhibits: A double deck exhibit is a two-story exhibit, maximizing space and attention. Additional space can be used for private meeting rooms or as a hospitality lounge.[16]

Geographic / cultural differences in approachEdit

Differences in how trade show displays are approached vary on the locale: in South America, Europe and Asia it is much more common to have what is known in the industry as “build and burn” exhibits, which are exhibits which are fabricated and set up just for the life of the one show. In North America it is more common to have exhibits which are purchased, and then used many times for different shows before they are either re-purposed, or disposed of. In Europe, trade shows have much longer hours, and are more about having longer meetings and actually closing deals than in North America—therefore displays are built more to facilitate longer meetings, including more comfortable seating and hospitality such as food and beverages.

See alsoEdit