Print Display Materials for Exhibitions, Events, Trade Shows & Conferences

How to create trade show display materials fit for a new generation of exhibition.

The trade show has changed. No longer solely confined to mighty exhibition halls, the post-pandemic expo is a far more flexible and adaptable affair. That means your trade show display materials need to change too.

They may still need the scale and impact to impress an NEC, SEC or Earls Court audience. But they may also need to deliver impact digitally, sustainably, outdoors or on a smaller, more intimate scale.

So if your event material currently takes a one size fits all approach – or is showing its age – here’s how to update things to create conference display materials fit for the modern event.

1. Fabric exhibition display materials

Time was when your choice of large format event material was limited to vinyl or pvc. But then along came fabric to change the nature – and impact – of your exhibition display materials forever.

Why choose fabric display materials?

i) Impact

Scale is easier to achieve with fabric. As an example, our latest display textiles take advantage of the latest knitting, weaving and coating technologies to deliver display materials up to 3.2m wide and seam-free.

And while once you’d achieve better sharpness and definition printing on hard media rather than fabric, that’s no longer the case (and hasn’t been the case for years). It’s every bit as eye popping a medium. 

ii) Longevity

Hard printed media make it easy to create impressive conference display materials, but once damaged, it’s often a case of buying fresh. It’s sometimes a little too easy to cause damage to a vinyl, for example, and once stained, scratched or creased it’s not easy to put things right.

Fabric trade show materials are rather more forgiving. They’re harder to crease, and may even be washable, so if a delegate does accidentally spill their coffee all over your brand new table wrap, you’ll be able to get it looking as good as new in time for tomorrow.  

iii) Portability

Even more lightweight than their hard-media counterparts, fabric flags, banners and stands are easily folded, unfolded and transported, so setting up the stand and deconstructing it again at the end of the expo is light work.

Choose from a wide range of fabric exhibition display materials, including:

  • Modular fabric displays: Take an aluminium frame as the boundary of your exhibition stand, then add a printed tension fabric graphic for striking, wall to wall and crease-free branding
  • Table wraps: Is the traditional folding table letting the side down from a branding perspective? If you need to display physical products, a customer printed table wrap can transform the table into an integral part of the expo stand design.
  • Fabric flags: Great at giving your brand elevation and ideal for high traffic areas.

2. Light-up exhibition display materials

Want your exhibition materials to truly shine? Let there be light.

The great challenge for any trade show exhibitor is making your stand stand out among a sea of competitors who all face the same challenge. Lighting can make all the difference, but the secret is knowing which lights to use and where.

What’s certain is that it’s not enough to rely on the often cold, distant and ineffective lighting of your average exhibition hall. If you want to bring real impact to your stand, you’ll need to add your own lighting to your event materials list and consider how best to employ it across your stand.

Exhibition display lighting options

As conference print materials specialists, we’re immediately drawn to the possibilities of backlighting, but it’s important to mix your use of light to add drama and interest to the space. So before we explore backlighting in greater detail, it’s also worth considering:

  • Banner lights: Great for boosting the impact of your banners.
  • LED strip lights: Great to enhance mood or add emphasis in or around key areas like display units.
  • Display lights: Good for bathing your trade show display materials in light when the exhibition hall’s house lights are too distant to do it effectively (which is pretty much the case with every trade show we’ve ever been to).
  • Spotlights: Ideal for illuminating the areas of your display stand where you want to direct focus.

Backlighting

Backlights sit in a box or frame behind your fabric or vinyl conference display materials. They shine through the printed material to make it much more of an attention grabber. And thanks to low energy, low temperature LEDs, they’re safe to use and cost very little to keep illuminated.

Backlighting brings numerous advantages:

  • High impact: The combination of lighting and powerful artwork gives your trade stand real power.
  • Customisable: There’s a near infinite array of shapes and sizes of frame options, so it’s easy to bring individuality to your backlighting.
  • Lightweight: Despite its power to impress, the backlighting hardware is handily portable and extremely simple to set-up.
  • Shows your brand at its best: When you’ve invested heavily in your branding, why wouldn’t you want to display your brand imagery and messaging at its most powerful? The dye sublimation process typical in printing for backlighting creates images that pop with crisp, vibrant energy.

Related Article: How To Choose The Right Light Up Exhibition Display Stands

3. Eco-friendly/sustainable display materials

How do you create an exhibition display that’s truly sustainable?

There’s an inevitable conflict between creating trade show materials which, by their definition, are designed to be temporary, and holding true to your sustainability principles. But it is possible to create display materials for exhibitions that don’t leave you accused of being anti-eco. Here are just some examples of how to achieve that:

Choose long lasting: Disposable is the enemy of sustainability. So, if you’re designing a trade stand, design something durable and modular that gives you flexibility to scale up or down without having to dispose and start afresh. Keeping lightbox frames but switching out the imagery and playing with different lighting setups can make a familiar stand feel fresh.

Reduce your use of materials: Scaling back your next trade show stand will help, but by far the biggest potential for sustainable gains here is to reduce the amount of trade show swag you commission that’s destined only for a landfill at some point in the future. If you’re going to offer freebies, make them useful (pens), recyclable (bags) or both (writing pads).

Recycle: Before you commission your exhibition materials, talk to your supplier about recycling. A stand comprises numerous elements, some of which are almost certainly recyclable (e.g. aluminium frames) and some of which may not be (e.g. some vinyl banners or floor types).

By starting the conversation early, you can ensure that, when the time comes to update, most if not all of your existing event material can be recycled.

4. Flooring options & materials

The stand is complete. Yet when you reach the expo hall and place it in situ, somehow it becomes less than the sum of its parts. What’s missing? Indoors and out, it’s time to pay more attention to your exhibition flooring.

Your exhibition materials are ready. Strikingly rendered in your brand colours, the stand looked incredible when you assembled in back at base. But when you arrive at the exhibition hall, you discover the floor is an energy sucking black or a garish magenta. Either way, it clashes with the rest of the stand – and that’s why adding flooring to your event material list is vital.

Trade show flooring options and materials

In part, your choice of floor covering is an aesthetic one. Carry the design of your stand through to the floor and everything feels joined up and connected. But it’s also a practical choice – ensuring visitors don’t slip, that the flooring lasts the length of the expo without damage, and that there’s enough cushioning to make life easier for your expo team’s feet.

Soyang’s options include:

Indoor floor coverings: Cushioned, non-slip surfaces that bring real visual power too. Remember, your flooring doesn’t have to be passive. Add a path or other visual cues to direct visitors and encourage them to explore every corner of your stand.

Lino floor coverings: A great option for a long-lasting surface, which combines non-slip comfort with durability. Ideal for when you don’t want long conversations with potential clients to be interrupted by them feeling the need to walk-off leg ache.

Vinyl floor coverings: There’s a problem with using traditional vinyls as part of your exhibition display material. As imaginative, eye-catching and fun as they can be, they’ve always had a tendency to scratch, rip and crease – and once damaged, repair was never easy.

But a new generation of floor vinyls embeds the image in a thick wear layer, so it’s impossible to damage, tear, rip, distort, stain or break. All of a sudden, the astonishing visual power of vinyls is matched by real durability.

Outdoor floor coverings: It’s not just the route to the trade show that can be spiced up with outdoor printable flooring. With some trade shows choosing to host events outdoors following the pandemic, a durable, no-slip surface that can look stunning while withstanding the weather can be a vital part of your outdoor stand.

5. Banner printing materials

There’s enormous value in the humble printed banner. But what material should that banner be made from – and which banner material is suitable for which application?

What are your banner material options?

There’s a wide range of choice for your conference display materials and each is particularly well suited to certain applications.

i) Scrim vinyl

An incredibly strong option that’s ideal for outdoor exhibition materials. The smooth surface makes it a good candidate for print reproduction too, and there’s no risk of your message fading as the inks are effectively tattooed into the substrate fabrics.

It is, perhaps, not the most fashionable vinyl option – mesh vinyls tend to deliver a similar effect without looking quite so monolithic, but if you’re looking for years of durability at a low cost, scrim vinyl should be top of your event material list.

ii) Adhesive vinyl

A banner that sticks is a banner that’s easier to apply – and one where you don’t have to worry about it blowing away in the wind. As an exhibition display material, however, the more permanent nature of adhesive vinyl makes it a less likely option for temporary events.

iii) Mesh vinyl

The cooler cousin to scrim vinyl, mesh vinyl delivers similar levels of durability in a different way. Rather than creating an ultra-robust barrier to wind and rain, the mesh banner is, as its name suggests, punctured with thousands of (almost invisible) tiny holes that let the wind pass through.

Outside your trade show, the effect is a banner that doesn’t billow like a sail, but retains more of its original shape, which makes it easier to see your brand and messaging in any conditions.

Bear in mind the positioning of the mesh banner. In a location with the sun behind it, those holes can let the sun bleed through, diffusing lighter colours and reduce readability.

iv) Canvas

The seriously classy option, and arguably the most aesthetically pleasing. After centuries in use as a material for making sails, you’d expect canvas to be appropriate for outdoor use – and it is – but you’ll need to make sure any print techniques applied to it are similarly waterproof.   

v) Polyester fabric

Definitely a conference display material for indoor use, given their occasional potential to rip and tear when subjected to the elements, fabric banners are great at carrying photo-quality colour.

One reason to potentially choose a fabric banner over a scrim vinyl is its ability to give a smooth, crease free finish when you place it under tension. In contrast, once a scrim vinyl is creased, it’s likely to stay that way.

They look fabulous backlit too.

6. Marketing & advertising materials

Planning an event? While the list of potential marketing options is almost infinite, there are some display materials that are must-haves for virtually any event.

Four essentials for your event material list

i) Pop-up banners

Obvious, but essential for their flexibility and pleasingly portable and cost effective. Directional banners can be a simple way of pointing visitors in the right direction. They can enable you to create a quick ‘pop-up’ stand on the hoof, delineating a space when there isn’t time (or when you haven’t prepped) a larger event space. You can also use a banner to promote a specific product, speaker or service.

And a pop-up banner can be a real advantage when faced with the unexpected. Ever turned up at an exhibition to find the space you were promised hasn’t materialised and there isn’t room for the stand you had planned? Ever arrived ready to assemble your stand only to discover the trade show materials you need are still stuck on the motorway? Pop-up banners are a great fallback for giving you an emergency presence.

ii) Flags

If you’re the one running the trade show, then making use of the lampposts and flagpoles around the venue by adorning them with promotional flags is a great way to deliver big visual impact in a position where even a sea of people will be able to see it.

If you’re just hosting a stand at the show, standalone flags positioned away from the stand can point visitors toward you.

iii) Video wall

Nothing grabs the attention quite like motion. So using video can be a powerful way of bringing people to your stand. Remember, exhibitions tend to be noisy, echoey spaces, so there’s no room for quite talking heads and subtle nuance.

Go big on striking imagery. Don’t overcomplicate things. And use the video to spark conversations, not close sales. A video wall is easy to create – just keep a space clear when you design the stand so that you can project a video or create an insert for a monitor.

iv) Gifts that make a difference

We’ve all returned from exhibitions with enough swag to (literally) fill a carrier bag. But how much of that promotional merchandise has ever made a real impact on you?

The right giveaway is always a trade show and audience-specific calculation, but, generally speaking, plush toys have little impact beyond looking cute on the stand. Reusable coffee cups could be useful if your stand is near the entrance, but less use if you’re at the back of the hall (by which time your visitors have already collected and filled three other coffee cups). And gimmicks can feel, well, gimmicky.

Far more effective are promotional gifts that are low cost to you but reasonably high value to the user. Think the humble pen. Branded post-it or notepads can also prove valuable (and sustainable) conference print materials.

7. The future of events & exhibitions post-Covid

As we gradually exit from a global pandemic, do we really need to be thinking about display materials for exhibitions if the exhibitions no longer exist?

The simple answer to that question is yes. As Covid becomes endemic rather than a pandemic, business in all its forms will return to normal. Or, at least, a new normal. That doesn’t mean trade shows will disappear. And it doesn’t mean there’ll no longer be a need for innovative, eye-catching exhibition materials. But perhaps it does mean business needs to think a little more about the conference display materials it chooses.

A tailored response

The pandemic has left everyone a little warier than they once were. Are they clamouring to fill an exhibition hall right now? Perhaps not in the numbers they once were, but that will likely change over time.

Do they feel they can get the same event experience online that they can in person? That very much depends upon the quality of the online experience and the individual’s desire to stick to their hybrid world.

That leaves the industry with a more fractured audience than it once had. It also probably means adopting a wider range of event formats in the short to medium term, until everyone feels comfortable returning to the exhibition hall.

For business, that means a one-size-fits all approach to trade show materials will no longer be effective. Adopting a more responsive, event-specific approach could be the way forward. Here’s why:

Rediscovering the ‘trade’ in tradeshow

It’s not just the pandemic that has renewed the need for businesses to get out there and find new customers, suppliers and collaborators. From supply chain issues to the cost-of-living-crisis, the impact of the war in Ukraine to Brexit, there is a desire among many to return to trade show business as usual now, which explains why so many expos are returning on a grand scale this year.

So the need for the full suite of large scale display materials and conference print materials remains, even it you may not use it quite as much in the next couple of years as you would have pre-pandemic.

More smaller events

We’re already seeing evidence of some events returning to their roots and focusing on a core audience. This ‘micro-conferencing approach’ reduces cost and risk for event organisers, but it does mean that event materials designed for large scale expos may be too big for more confined spaces.

Consider building up your portfolio of pop-up banners, flags and table wraps for occasions when there’s no room for a complete stand.   

More hybrid/online events

The challenge for anyone attending a hybrid event is that ‘hybrid’ can mean a variety of things. At one end of the spectrum, you could be exhibiting in person to a ‘live’ audience augmented by online visitors watching keynote speeches.

At the other end of the spectrum is an entirely digital conference where delegates gather in virtual lobbies.

For this reason, it’s important to build a suite of digital brand assets (Zoom backgrounds, digital idents and banners etc) that can either give you a presence or supplement your in-person presence at such events.

To explore print display options for your exhibition, events, trade show or conferences, talk to us.