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The days of solid, rigid and heavy exhibit booths might not be over, but an increased use of structures using tension fabrics is making the lightweight and portable components far more common in the tradeshow industry.

Enhanced lighting and graphics applications combined with savings on shipping and drayage costs are making more exhibitors turn to tension fabrics for use in their exhibits.

“Aside from fabric systems, we also produce rigid displays,” said Vince Foxx, vice president of sales, TRIGA USA. “We have noticed a 20 percent decrease from a year ago in rigid-display production and an increase in fabric. And it’s about double that number from two years ago.”

A big reason for the increase in tension fabrics over rigid displays is their cost advantage.

“The trend has picked up more acceptances with the cost savings of using more fabric in the exhibit industry,” said Dave Fugiel, design director, Orbus Exhibit and Display Group. “As a result of this shift, in 2009 Orbus Exhibit and Display Group launched Origin Exhibit Structures, a division specifically focused on creating unique tension fabric exhibits, structures and graphics.”

“From entire booths to counters, towers and others, using fabric instead of alternatives decreases shipping costs, setup times and drayage fees,” said Foxx. “There really aren’t any limitations to tension fabric. There are, however, limitations to rigid displays and others.

“With tension fabric and pillowcase structures, you have the ability to easily create vertical and horizontal curves and unlimited geometric shapes while being lightweight and, in the case of the TRIGA system, completely tool-less.”

Enhanced use of graphics and lighting in tension fabric structures is helping boost the trend toward greater use.

“Bigger and better printing is allowing for larger seamless graphics and structures,” said Fugiel.

Making those graphics bigger and better are improved technologies, and color consistency is an important element of the graphics and branding efforts when using tension fabrics.

“Technology for fabric printing is unbelievable,” said Foxx. “TRIGA and Primary Color currently use a 10-foot Vutek TX-3250R.  This is the highest rated dye-sub press on the market. With this, we are able to hit pantone-process colors and nail the color goal for logos and others.”

“With the right printing technology, a variety of fabric types can be incorporated with other graphic materials without losing color consistency across an exhibit,” said Krumsee. “Our G7 Master Print specification ensures we provide the highest quality, consistent and accurate color graphics no matter the material. Exhibitors aren’t limited to using just one type of graphic. The result is more creative designs that incorporate tension fabric elements in new and unexpected ways.”

Lighting use also helps to emphasize graphical and branding elements.

“Current and most popular trends are tension fabric graphics in all sizes and shapes, with various unique lighting solutions – the current focus being LED. And backlit fabric is hot now,” said Joan Krumsee, national sales manager, Nimlok. “Fabric also is recyclable, which mirrors Nimlok’s commitment to minimize its impact on the environment, as it has received ISO-14001 certification.”

“We have been working on different back-lighting solutions,” said Foxx. “In the next year or so, we will be seeing many displays with integrated changing lights since it will be a lot less bulky and easier to use.

“Lighting doesn’t change and in fact it may be better. You can up light, down light and back light more efficiently.”

New types of fabric also are being created to enhance the use and effectiveness of tension fabrics.

“New fabrics are being developed every day, and the printing capabilities will continue innovations in size and accuracy of color and speed of production,” said Fugiel.

With tension fabrics and their supporting elements improving constantly, tradeshow exhibitors and others have only their imaginations as primary limitations.

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