Anyone who has driven past the Fort Dunlop building by the M6 in
Birmingham recently will know that the production of graphics is an
exciting area these days. The old factory beside the motorway has been
covered with a graphic of a Ford Mondeo the size of a football pitch.
The spectacular ad is evidence of the huge advances that have been made
in the way graphics are produced.
In the slightly less gargantuan world of exhibition stand graphics, the
digital technologies behind the Ford ad are also having an effect.
Digital printing allows exhibitors much more flexibility. Instead of
being printed photographically, with the accompanying limitations of
size and substrate material, digital printing now means exhibition stand
graphics can be five metres wide, maybe 30 metres long, and printed on
floor tiles, curtains, foil or almost anything else. Furneaux Stewart
recently printed graphics on a long stretch of heavy duty vinyl 'road'
for Bentley's stand at the Geneva motor show, for example.
Graphics now cost nearer 15 or 20 per cent of a stand's costs than the
traditional ten per cent, and clients must think of graphics as integral
to the stand. Hence they require much more thought.
There are two simple rules when choosing a graphics company - go for a
company run by people with whom you have a good rapport and whose work
you have seen and like.
Graphics companies say the key thing to bear in mind is that the main
purpose of the graphics should be to attract attention to the stand.
Bill Bowman, at exhibition graphics and stand build company Avoncolor
says: 'We try to get clients to understand that the graphics need to be
quite dynamic. We did work for one computer company recently and
convinced them to make the graphics stand out with brilliant colours -
yellows and blues.'
For some clients there might be a compromise necessary between creating
a splash with a colourful stand and staying within a company's corporate
image and brand values.
Clients also have to choose the surface on which the graphics are to be
printed. This might be something simple such as PVC card or something
like the thin polyester cloth Graphix Imaging recently used on a Proctor
and Gamble stand.
Another important decision is the extent to which text is used. Many
companies suggest being conservative with text as large amounts do not
get read and can distract people.
Electra-tech Colour joint managing director Neil Fraser says: 'The big
mistake a lot of firms make is to try to cram too much text on. Text
should be just bullet points - you do not really want the history of the
company or a mission statement'.
Clients can originate graphic material for themselves using a pc and a
programme such as photoshop. This allows photo montages, logos and text
to be put together in a way that would have been expensive with
But whether graphics are produced in-house or by a design agency, the
next stage is to pass them to the graphics company for printing. This
can generally be done on any digital media, be it a floppy disk, zip
drive, or through email or ISDN.
Computer files are generally either pixel-based (jpegs or tiffs) or
vector files (often eps files). If they are pixel-based it is important
the resolution (measured in dots per inch) is high enough to prevent
distortion at the size desired. This is not an issue for vector
TGA Chapmans graphics director Will Redfern says the company should also
ask how long graphics are expected to last. If they need to survive
break-down of the stand and travel between shows they will need to be
Clients and graphics companies should liaise closely at all times, but
especially while final problems are being ironed out before
Michael Ayerst, managing director of graphics production company VGL,
says: 'People often make mistakes on file set-up - maybe they send it as
a file without the text. Leave plenty of time for this'. His company is
working on a show in Dresden which has been at the planning stage for
more than a year and there has still been no printing. Such long
preparation periods ensure good results, he says.
For all checks the sooner the client goes to the graphics company to
perform them, the better as changes become more tricky the later they
Gavin Scillitoe, a director of BAF Graphics which produced 25-metre-long
graphics for Lucent Technologies' stand at Cebit in Hanover in March
says clients should check graphics at full size.
'Are the images blended correctly? Is the text lined up? If they are
only looking at it on a computer screen at six inches by six inches
there can be something seriously wrong when it is run out,' he says.
Companies can run a test strip before full production to see that a
critical area works, Scillitoe says.
An important part of the pre-production review is to check that the
colours are okay and work together as expected. This is tricky as
digital printers can be temperamental in this area. Again, a test strip
can be printed before full production.
When deciding what quality is required, Redfern says clients should
consider from where the stand will be viewed. A massive montage as a
backdrop need not be the same resolution as something going with a text
panel, for example.
Finally, clients should remember to double-check text for any spelling
and grammar mistakes.
Assuming graphics are not printed on something like carpet tiles or
curtains, they will need to be mounted on card or some other kind of
material for display.
There are three main methods of mounting. One way is to use a dry mount
process. This involves using mount film which is sticky on both
The film is applied between the graphic and a substrate such as a
plastic board called foamex or stiff card.
Another method is to use heat-activated glue on the back of a rigid
plastic substrate. This is mainly used when the substrate is thin enough
to be hung on pop-up displays. A third way of mounting graphics is to
encapsulate them within two sheets of plastic. The result is so rigid
that no substrate is required.
Displays are increasingly being built for more than one use so they
often need to be mounted on material that can be rolled up and carried
'We sometimes use a flexible PVC that can be rolled up, and we also
supply tubes to take them away. The whole stand can go into a thing like
a large shopping trolley which airlines will take in the hold with no
special freight charges,' says Avoncolor's Bowman.
Fitting of graphics
How easy it is to fix graphics to the stand depends on what display
devices are being used. A lot of stands use portable pop-up display
systems that can easily be put up by one person. For these, graphics
printed on flexible material are simply hung using hooks, Velcro or
The panels can be numbered so it is not always necessary for a graphics
company to oversee this process.
Electra-tech Colour is producing materials that will go to British
Consulates worldwide, and hence will not be fitted by the company. The
40 display systems including 90 panels, are part of a global rebranding
exercise for Invest UK (formerly the Invest in Britain Bureau).
In some cases, arrangements may have to be made so graphics can be
adjusted by the client. Graphix Imaging is working on a project for the
Futures Exchange which involves covering a wall with a back-lit graphic
which can easily be changed.
'We used window-mounted film - inkjet material which sticks to windows
and can easily be removed when they want to change the display,' Graphix
Imaging managing director Lee Solomon says.
Avoncolor's Bowman says the final fitting is generally the easiest part
of the process, but warns, 'you have to make sure the hall is open when
you want to get in there and that you have all the right exhibitor
Getting the paperwork right can often be quite hideous'.
- Leave plenty of time for the graphics process.
- Start planning the graphics and the stand as soon as the show is
- Match the job you want doing to the budget available
- Graphics can get damaged in transit if they are not protected
- Make sure the graphics company knows how long you hope to keep the
- Make sure graphics work well with the stand lighting
- When working with a new graphics company show pictures of past
material to give an idea of what you like
- Make sure you know where your stand is in the hall and bear this in
mind with the design of the graphics.
From which angle people first see the graphics, for example
- Ensure headlines can be read from as many angles as possible
- Clients should be certain about who is taking ultimate responsibility
for the project
- Stay happy. Graphics companies say clients who remain cheerful all the
way through the process get better results.