Also within the fabric arena, suppliers have finally made greater strides with backlit fabric, Compton said. That allows Renze Display to create much larger, seamless light boxes than it could burdened with Plexiglas’s limitations.
In the past, he said, his company would have to construct a large frame, putting backlit graphics on or behind Plexiglas, which was very heavy and in very large sizes often was marred by unsightly seams.
Clients are also slowly starting to ask about more eco-friendly options, Compton said. “We do have a fair number of clients asking for green, but I haven’t found anybody yet picking green over budget. To be fair, some of the green options don’t cost any more than standard options, but some are more costly.”
For wide-format professionals just entering the trade show field, one of the most daunting realizations is that many graphics are destined to be installed into modular display systems, where size and fit are absolutely critical. You can be off several feet when wrapping the side of a building. But some trade show systems are such that if a graphic is off by 1/16th of an inch, it won’t work, Compton said.
Print service providers must make sure they talk to the manufacturers of these modular systems to ensure their graphics will fit the specs, he added.
For many providers, growing accustomed to the time-sensitive nature of the business represents another hurdle. “The show must go on,” Compton said. “So anyone getting into trade show graphics has to know there’s no such thing as a rush job. Everything is a rush job.”
Also known for its work for the trade show industry is Portland Color. The 30-year-old company started out in the photo lab industry and grew organically into a wide-format digital printing company.
It has built its reputation focusing upon quality, innovation, and sustainability, vice-president of sales and marketing Steve Kinney reported.
While Portland Color handles some graphic production for retailers and museums, its prime emphasis is on trade show work, specifically work in which it handles the entire build-out, including aluminum and fabric, Kinney said.
Like Renze Display’s Compton, Kinney sees a major trend being the increasing reliance on fabric. “Fabric leads the charge, because its print quality has improved so much over the years,” he said.
“That’s as a result of the inks, the machine, the transfer paper, and the operators. Plus, it’s much more cost-effective for shipping and set up. And it’s elegant and presents a higher perceived value as far as the booth goes. Curved structures that can be wrapped with fabric make for beautiful presentations.”
While Portland Color’s customers are requesting green solutions, Kinney senses they aren’t as savvy about sustainability as they should be. Clients, he said, “are calling for green materials, but do they know why? We want people to understand why it’s important for us to give them recycled materials, and that they know how to ‘close the loop.’ If you start with something that’s completely recyclable, where’s it going to after the show? Will it go to Waste Management in a Tyvek envelope? Will it wind up in children’s furniture, or perhaps in synthetic decking? This question applies to any kind of material, not just fabric. “
As mentioned, Portland Color also handles exhibit work for museums, and here Kinney believes the trend is the move from silk screen to digital printing as UV flatbed and roll-to-roll technology improves.
“It depends on the run, and the adaptability of the piece, but there are cost savings there,” he said.
Portland Color handles a substantial amount of work for the stores of New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Kinney is seeing a migration of materials used in stores cross over to exhibit space. “The quality of digital printing has improved to the point where it’s of museum quality,” he said.
In fact, some of the company’s most impressive work has been for the Metropolitan Museum of Art Alexander McQueen exhibit, he added. “We produced the McQueen design repeat using wall covering printed on our UV machine for the museum’s retail locations."