Cathy Bond looks at dramatic developments in the use of graphics on exhibition stands

Cathy Bond looks at dramatic developments in the use of graphics on

exhibition stands

Exhibition stand designers have a new job on their hands. Having

harnessed the power of the digital revolution, it’s time now to force

clients to think less about poles, hinges and panels and more about the

sheer impact of colour, size and razor-sharp definition.

It is still a stand’s ability to smack the passing delegate between the

eyes that counts, whatever the cost in time and effort spent designing

and setting up a crowd-puller.

One newcomer to the market, Stiff Displays (UK), believes it has found

the answer in a system that is virtually a graphic and nothing else. ‘It

forces people to think about the fundamental image,’ says operations

director Clive Friend. ‘We keep having to tell them that this isn’t a


But who can blame clients for getting bogged down with the

practicalities and forgetting that a design solution cobbled together at

the last minute is never going to look like anything else?

Exhibitors have been fed some mind-boggling facts about the technical

age. Digital reproduction is held up as the wonder weapon which will

ensure that no-one need ever again go through the lengthy, costly and

labour-intensive photographic process. And as for computer-generated

graphics, it’s as easy as desk-top publishing - isn’t it?

‘Technology has speeded up the process of turning the job around, but

not the first stage of graphic design, which is thinking about the image

and putting the message in,’ says Theresa Bearcroft of Nimlok.

‘Yes, we can run prints overnight, but that’s the final stage. A lot of

work is needed before that to put the corporate message and graphics

together. Some people think digital imaging will solve all their

problems and are shocked when they realise its limitations.’

Design and print processes have been transformed by some key

developments in recent years, chiefly driven by computer technology.

Being able to manipulate an image on screen has the potential to slash

production times - and costs - while new electrostatic and inkjet

printers turn what’s on the computer file into high-quality, large-scale


Put into context, digital imaging and repro have brought together all

outlets for the corporate message, whether in advertising, point-of-sale

promotion, direct marketing or exhibition displays. Everything can be

accessed from a single source - the computer disk.

This makes it easier for companies to use proven creative work across a

wide range of marketing disciplines. It should also prompt them to think

of more imaginative solutions for exhibition displays, where true

innovation is hard to find.

It’s exciting, but it’s baffling, too. Stand designers will discuss

endlessly the merits of inkjet against electrostatic printing or the

advantages of various RIP software, which transfers images from computer

to printer. ‘Each has its strengths and weaknesses,’ says Friend.

‘Digital imaging and large-format, high-resolution printing means the

sky is the limit - but, as usual, it depends on what you want,’ explains

Craig Farman, managing director of Quartz Presentations.

‘Sometimes it’s cheaper and just as effective for exhibition purposes to

use conventional photography and computer-cut graphics.’

A recent project for the University of Westminster by Clip Display

Systems bears this out. The university had ordered a range of Clip’s

Trimesh equipment to promote the opening of a new campus site, with the

graphics devised by the university’s in-house design team using both

artwork on disk and conventional photography.

This was the most cost-effective method, says Carol Homden, director of

corporate communications, who adds that the choice of stand was as

important as the graphics in terms of visual impact.

‘Trimesh echoed the new building’s dramatic steel and glass

architecture,’ she explains. ‘It’s portable and it’s capable of some

interesting configurations. So much of what I had looked at was

inflexible or uninspiring.’

Homden’s solution was a happy fusion of stand and graphics, but not all

exhibitors are as content and would like to make new technology work

harder for them.

‘Technical developments come into their own when you start to weld or

merge images, fade text or put in a lot of computer-generated graphics,’

says Farman. ‘It’s a learning curve. Both clients and designers are

becoming more adventurous.’

But clients without in-house design facilities of their own - or access

to digital imaging, for example, through their advertising agencies -

must rely on the best advice from design houses. And this is an area in

which exhibition equipment suppliers are keen to get involved.

Academy Expo has responded to the demand for more complex graphics by

setting up its own graphics bureau, Visionary Images, to cater for both

stand buyers and customers looking only for design skills.

‘The turning point for us came when we installed electrostatic digital

printing some two years ago and now we’re pushing back the boundaries of

technology to see what it can do,’ says marketing manager Steve Hill.

‘Complicated images at a greatly reduced cost are now within reach of

many more people.’

He cites Academy client British Airways, which requested a display

showing different facets of business without resorting to the usual

assortment of tastefully arranged shots. Academy generated a merged

montage on computer. South African Airways then saw it and wanted the

same, as did Hilton Hotels and Derry Foods.

‘We had just bought a range of brands from Van den Burghs, including

Wall’s meat products and Mattesons and we needed to get the message over

to the trade quickly,’ says Ben Cole, marketing manager of Derry Foods.

‘We could have set up a huge photoshoot of everything - but that would

have taken ages to get right. Digital merging of the different shots

captured brand identities and also got over the idea that everything was

linked under the Derry brand.’

Marler Haley ExpoSystems has launched a digital graphics service and

according to marketing services manager Paul Jackson, ‘it’s used with

our Veloce pop-up system 99% of the time’.

Jackson points out that electrostatic printing means that individual

panels containing sections of one image can be produced to match

exactly, to make large-scale displays.

Big graphics grab attention, he says, ‘and there are more options on

finishes, too. Gloss is now popular - it puts over much more light and

colour. But fashions change. Something might be eyecatching simply

because it makes a stand conspicuous in a row of others that look much

the same.’

Dave Jopson, head of stand distributor Access Displays believes that

clients’ expectations will rise as they are able to experiment with

images themselves, using hardware and ever-cheaper software.

One client, Hampshire County Council, produced its own powerful graphics

for a large-scale display using the Nimlok Compact system, inkjet

printed by Access to produce single images up to 7.5m wide.

‘They used a lot of historical cues, such as King Arthur and

Winchester’s heritage as former capital of Wessex, to sell Hampshire as

a business development area,’ says Jopson. ‘The council has a graphics

department, but I think more people will play around with images

themselves, even if they subsequently hand it back to us.’

‘The only danger,’ warns Hilary Bates of Nomadic Displays, ‘is that

people could forget the power of the simple image. There’s always the

temptation to do too much, simply because it’s possible.’

Stiff’s flexible new system

In 1994, two photographers stumbled on a display system from Sweden

using a patented method of laminating electrostatic prints. In effect,

the image is the system. There is no seperate framework acting as a

clotheshorse for graphics.

Don Fraser and Clive Friend quickly negotiated distribution rights and

Stiff Displays hit the UK market in September 1994.

‘The stand is rigid, but it can also roll up and re-roll and it won’t

fall apart,’ says Stiff’s Howard Fancourt. The laminated sheets are

joined with integral magnets and will pack into a golf-bag sized


Motorola ordered a Stiff display for an internal roadshow and two of its

international divisions were so impressed they requested replicas.

‘It has more visual impact,’ says Fran Puddefoot of Motorola’s European

product marketing division, ‘and unlike most frame systems, it can be

put up, taken down and carried by one person.’

As the graphic is the main part of the stand, however, changing the

image means replacing much of the product itself. Nevertheless, Fancourt

claims that it can still compete in cost terms with pop-up or modular


Successful exhibiting is all about balancing a range of needs from

visual power to portability and easy construction - and increasingly,

the capability to expand and transform equipment into displays for other



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