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fabric graphics
Q.
We're switching from hard-wall graphics to fabric graphics for all of our exhibit properties. What are some key things I need to keep in mind about our new material of choice?

A.
While hard-wall graphics have a few advantages over fabric graphics, you'll appreciate the myriad benefits of fabric, not the least of which is its maneuverability and minimal weight – and diminished weight-related shipping and drayage charges. Here are several considerations to keep in mind as you design with, and for, your malleable new medium.

➤ Think bigger. Many exhibit marketers making this switch simply create fabric panels in the same dimensions as their previous hard-wall graphics. But by doing so, you're missing a key benefit of this medium. That is, seamless fabric graphics come in widths up to 10 feet wide and virtually any length imaginable (although 30 to 40 feet is probably your limit for practicality and installation). Plus, some framing systems allow you to create everything from swooping curves to inventive geometric shapes. So when you actually go to design your new fabric-based exhibit, don't hesitate to push yourself and think big.

➤ Imagine immersive environmental graphics, not just bullet points. When you print on piece of fabric, it costs no more to cover the entire panel with a four-color texture or wallpaper image than to print only text. This opens up a world of possibilities for creating images that generate emotions, catch the eye, or communicate a message. Plus, the right image can affect how booth visitors perceive your entire exhibit, so feel free to experiment and have some fun without adding cost.

➤ Invest in good lighting. Fabric loves light, and light loves fabric. In dye-sublimation printing, ink becomes part of the fibers. What viewers see, for front-lit graphics, is light that has passed through each fiber twice, and which has thus been tinted by the (absorbed) ink twice. Fibers are round, so what is reflected from the light bouncing around inside them is not even, and that shimmer is part of fabric's allure. Graphics lit from behind pass light through the fibers only once, so backlit graphics must be printed differently from front-lit graphics. For the best results, test your printing on the chosen fabric in the chosen light.

➤ Turn your exhibit surfaces into a projection screen. If your graphic messages or themes change frequently based on the trade show or product line, consider using fabric as a projection canvas rather than a printing surface. If you do, you won't have to reprint new graphics again and again, and you'll ultimately produce less waste – both in terms of discarded fabric and the costs associated with frequently creating new ones. Plus, projected messages can be changed not only show to show, but also day to day or hour to hour. What's more, you can project eye-catching moving images instead of merely static shots. And, changing projected messages is a snap compared to the process involved in creating entirely new fabric graphics. The only caveat is that your lighting designer needs to fully understand the ambient lighting of each event venue to ensure your projected messages are clean, crisp, and readable.

➤ Select vendors experienced with fabric. Your fabric-structure supplier and printer should know each other and work well together. Both vendors must provide top-notch quality to ensure the end product meets your needs immediately and for years to come. Low-quality fabric production is painfully obvious. And since fabric saves money in construction and in use, it's a smart move to invest in top-quality production.

➤ Pack with purpose. Different fabrics require different packing and storage techniques. For example, some fabrics retain creases and require special folding practices, while others can practically be crumpled into a ball and tossed into a storage crate. So during the material-selection process, consider each fabric's propensity to crease. Also talk to the fabric provider about your storage conditions. Fabric should be stored in a cool, dry place. Heat and humidity promote mold and fabric deterioration. If your fabrics will be stored in a south Florida facility without temperature controls, for example, you're going to need to take far more care with your packing and fabric selection than if you're storing your materials in a climate-controlled warehouse in Denver.

➤ Keep it clean. You can't just grab a rag and wipe dust and dirt off your fabric graphics. Plus, liquids immediately sink into fabrics as opposed to pooling on top of them as they do with hard surfaces. Point is, it's imperative to maintain a clean environment during storage as well as installation and dismantle to prevent as much dirt and debris as possible from coming in contact with your graphics. At the very least, installation crews should wear clean gloves when handling the fabrics, so as not to transfer natural skin oils, which then act like dirt magnets.

In addition, develop a fabric-handling protocol. For example, you might insist that fabric is never laid directly on the floor or handled by anyone other than trained installation personnel. Also keep in mind that plastic sheeting, such as the Visqueen used to cover your carpet during exhibit installation, attracts dirt via static. So use dropcloths under fabric-installation areas.

And be ready just in case disaster strikes. There are some amazing products available, such as Gonzo stain removers, Mr. Clean Magic Eraser, etc., to recover from stains and smudges. In addition, a can of high-pressure compressed air can blow dirt out of areas you never thought possible.

Clearly, switching from hard-wall graphics to fabric graphics requires a few extra steps and precautions. But with the aforementioned tips, you'll be able to lighten your load and create expansive, eye-catching graphics with minimal missteps along the way. E

— Matt Rawdon, vice president of marketing, Transformit Inc., Gorham, ME
Help Wanted
Send your tough questions about exhibiting to Linda Armstrong, larmstrong@exhibitormagazine.com.

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