Unlimited Opportunities in Trade Show and Event Signage

"Unlimited” may seem like an exaggeration of the opportunities available to graphics providers in the trade show market, and perhaps it is. However, if you broaden your definition of “trade show” to include conferences, seminars, corporate meetings, and consumer shows, you’re getting closer to “unlimited” opportunity.

It’s estimated that the US meetings industry—which includes everything from giant tradeshows to smaller meetings—is a $100 billion business with thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of events per year. There’s a trade show, expo, or meeting for every conceivable type of business.

In Denver alone, to pick a random city, there will be more than 60 shows held at various venues from now until Dec. 31, with wildly diverse offerings that range from the Colorado Fossil Expo to the Colorado Fall Home Show. And that doesn’t count all the seminars and corporate meetings happening across the city all year long, as well as events in the municipalities that ring the Denver metro area.

An excellent resource to find out what’s going on in your area (and where I found the listings for Denver) is www.biztradeshows.com, which allows you to search by industry and city. A little further research, which usually involves simply going to the event’s website, will reveal the multiplier effect: hundreds of prospects for which you can provide your services.

GraphiColor Exhibits, an exhibit design and production company in Livonia, MI, further multiplies its customer base through an active and engaging social media mix driven by its blog (www.GraphiColor.com/blog) and supported by Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and YouTube.

“It’s about creating conversations and getting people to ask questions and notice what we’re doing. We share not only content related to trade shows, but interesting and personable things about the business. While it’s not always directly related to what we do here—producing and designing trade show displays—it’s content our clients and followers would find useful and helpful,” says Katie Marsack, marketing manager at GraphiColor Exhibits.


Have Graphics, Will Travel

More good news, according to Glenn Braasch GraphiColor’s production manager, is that “hardly anyone goes to a trade show and just drapes the table and puts up a foam board sign. No one goes that small with their graphics anymore.”

Though customers obviously want graphics for their displays that are easy to set up and difficult to destroy, Braasch adds that those particular features are being specifically requested more frequently. With all due respect, salespeople are notorious for their ability to come back from a show with the graphics in tatters.

“We sell a lot of Xpressions displays with tension fabric where the graphics stay on the frame, making setup time fast,” says Braasch. “A lot of people want a 10-foot booth that looks custom. This is a good fit for a modular system where you can break it down into a couple of cases, but when you put it up it looks custom.”

Regardless of the type of display you create—be it for a banner stand, a modular system, a backlit, a pop-up booth, or any other type of display configuration—there are certain principles that apply during graphics production to help ensure their durability for the long haul.

Drying time: For ink, the recommended drying time before lamination is at least 24 hours. If the ink is dry to the touch after 24 hours, and not at all tacky, it should be good to go. Furthermore, be careful not to oversaturate the graphic. Profiles, settings, and file management are extremely critical.

Cure time: As with ink, the laminate’s adhesive should be given 24 hours to cure before graphics are trimmed and rolled. Given time constraints in production, the full 24 hours may not be possible, so allow at least two hours. Still, the longer you can allow the adhesive to cure, the better off the graphics will be. If the adhesive is not given enough time to cure, it will not bond properly to the print, causing tunneling, delaminating, and edge lift. The adhesive’s cure time is the most important factor that determines the strength of the graphic.

Cutting and trimming: Always cut through the softer material first, when applicable. Use a sharp blade, trim the graphics with a straight edge at a 90-degree angle on tempered glass or a similar surface, and score the material instead of trying to slice through it in one pass. Self-healing mats and other softer surfaces will compromise the bond between the laminate and the print.

Rolling graphics: Always roll the graphics with the thinnest material facing out. For instance, when using a 7 mil display film with a 15-mil laminate, the display film should be on the outside as the graphic is being rolled up for shipment. When both materials are the same thickness, always roll them the same way every time, and don’t roll them in the reverse direction to make them lay flat. Also, roll the graphics at a minimum 12-inch diameter. Make sure to provide the customer with simple rolling and packaging instructions.

Sledding: Use a sled when you laminate. A sled—which should be made of a hard substrate such as Masonite, acrylic, or aluminum—helps ensure even pressure across the web. Apply a release liner to the sled to prevent adhesive build-up. The release liner will allow you to easily clean off the adhesive.

Eliminating curl: If you’re having a problem with curling when you apply pressure-sensitive laminates and backers, either reduce the speed of your take-up reel or put less pressure on the rollers.

Printing on film: The best material choice for rollable trade show graphics is an inkjet film, such as polycarbonate, polyester, or polypropylene. Fibrous paper tends to split, tear, and curl.

Ultimately, anyone who provides graphics for trade shows, meetings and conferences should be solutions-oriented. That may sound cliché, but driving new and repeat business requires more than simply fulfilling the order. It means providing informed consultative services so the customer maximizes their presence at the event.

If, for instance, the customer asks for banner stand graphics, find out why they’re placing the order in the first place. Context is everything, and a solutions-oriented graphics provider will circle back and not only provide the graphics requested, but will look for ways to help their customer draw traffic to their booth or table.

According to Rick Nerenhausen of LexJet, there are a number of questions you should ask the customer about their overall goals and future use of the graphics, including:

  • Is your primary goal to sell as much as possible, create brand awareness, or to promote a new product or technology?
  • Is your messaging simple? If not, how can it be simplified?
  • Will the graphics be re-used for other events? And, can they be repurposed for presentations, meetings, and other venues?
  • Would an interactive element, such as a demonstration video, be appropriate and reinforce your messaging?
  • How will the graphics be set up in the booth? It’s important that the message can be seen from every possible angle and that the graphics help differentiate your products and services. Plus, you want the booth to be open enough to let people in, but not so open that it seems like no one is in it.
  • Can you use your printers to create small peel-and-stick graphics for promotional products such as mugs, candy bar wraps, and so forth?

The point is to promote your expertise and improve your customer’s presence at the event. This can unlock additional opportunities, like adding a backlit display to the mix, but more importantly it establishes you as the go-to source for more than just graphics.