While print and digital graphics
meet similar exhibit-marketing objectives – they can attract attention, deliver messages, and engage attendees – there are key differences between these two mediums. So to determine which option is right for you, it's helpful to consider the manner in which you'll be using the graphics. As such, the following discussion of the pros and cons of digital versus print graphics is organized according to the three main graphics hierarchies: hero/location (tier one), messaging/way finding (tier two), and identification/information (tier three).
Hero graphics (aka tier one) brand or identify your exhibit space, so they're often big, bold signs suspended over your exhibit or located on a header at the highest point of your booth. At this level, printed banners and suspended panels have several advantages, as they're lightweight, their production costs are minimal, and most options are durable and reusable. What's more, labor crews are familiar with these elements, so they won't need extra setup time to figure out your installation scheme.
A major downside to printed graphics, however, is that they're flat and static, and can easily get lost on a crowded trade show floor. So to optimize your spend, you need lighting to make them stand out. Simple bright white light is the bare minimum; however, moving lights or changing colors and intensity – or even adding a motor that rotates your graphics assembly – can make the graphics much more noticeable. And you'll likely need to rig those light fixtures, which adds another cost.
Compared to printed graphics, digital graphics are dynamic, and they add a sense of excitement and emotion. LED panels and LCD video walls are a great way to attract attention, deliver a changing message, animate a logo, or even display media. These graphics can be powerful messaging tools, and they allow you to update content throughout the show. And unlike printed graphics, digital graphics provide their own lighting, which means additional light fixtures and rigging aren't required.
As one might expect, however, digital graphics cost considerably more than printed graphics. Given their complexity and comparably heavy weight, multiple line-item costs including everything from design and production to shipping, drayage, and rigging are more expensive than print graphics. Plus, electronic signage is often cumbersome to ship, assuming you purchase the components, and since rigging digital graphics isn't as common or simple as hanging print graphics, labor crews will often need more time to complete the process. Finally, digital graphics add another cost, i.e., electricity, and you might need to hire a technician or two to set up and monitor hero-sized digital graphics during a show.
One step below hero/location graphics are messaging/way-finding graphics. They help people locate various areas or product sections within the booth, and they provide broad messages for brands or products. At this level, attendees are often eye to eye with graphics, so you want your images to be crystal clear and to comprise bright on-brand colors and razor-sharp text. And for that, print wins hands down as you can't beat it for crisp images, and you can use PMS matching to ensure colors exactly match those of your brand.
Large printed graphics and fabric systems are also practical and cost effective, since rigging is rarely involved. Furthermore, light fixtures can sometimes be mounted onto existing structures as opposed to having to rig them independently. At this level, even a large wall of product photos, eye-catching images, and bold headlines really makes a statement at a cost you can afford.
A major pitfall of printed graphics here, however, is that they can't be changed, unlike digital graphics, which can be altered for every trade show, or even changed every day or hour. This factor isn't really a consideration for hero-level graphics, because tier-one text rarely changes. But at the messaging level, product names and focus change more rapidly, so adaptability is critical.
With digital media, however, you can update messaging and product images on the fly. And when used in clusters or bands of screens, electronic elements can also take on an architectural quality, helping to change the character of the space.
Sure, print has the edge in terms of resolution. But even when you figure in the high cost of digital hardware and content creation, the movement and excitement of digital graphics at this level can be used to draw people in. Strategically positioned displays can lead people from one section of the booth to another.
The lowest messaging level, identification/information, typically includes a considerable amount of product information and text. Often, attendees spend a lot of time either looking at or interacting with these graphics, and sometimes a booth staffer uses them as a visual aid to guide a discussion. So stellar text and images are key.
Print offers high resolution, which means text is crisp and clear, and photographs seem to pop off the surface. At this scale, the graphics are small enough to make changing and updating relatively inexpensive. Well-designed print graphics can also offer a clear overview of a production process, machine layout, range of products, etc., and such overviews make great talking points for booth staff. Finally, large print graphics can easily be viewed by several people at once, and are typically free of glare and reflections, a factor that often plagues electronic-delivery mediums.
When it comes to digital graphics, picture quality isn't quite as good as print, but you can also incorporate movement. And instead of being limited by the physical dimensions of a graphics panel, digital graphics and their accompanying hardware can hold an almost unlimited amount of accessible information.
Another key benefit is that digital graphics allow attendees to navigate through multiple screens, giving them the freedom to explore everything from product benefits and 360 views to a company organization chart and detailed description of your services. This content can often be reused again and again for activities outside of the booth, such as corporate events, sales calls, sales training, etc.
Aside from the significant initial costs to purchase digital graphics, including content and hardware, this medium offers another potential disadvantage. One screen cycling through content can be viewed by several sets of eyes, but once you give control to an attendee or staffer, the experience quickly becomes one to one – and other attendees are excluded from the experience.
As you can see, both mediums have plenty of pluses and minuses. To determine which option is right for you, consider how you intend to use the graphics. Then, given the aforementioned pros and cons, assess your needs and ultimately match the medium to your objectives.