7 Essentials for an On-Point Trade Show Display

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7 Essentials for an On-Point Trade Show Display

Be the belle of the trade show ball with standout display design and execution.

By Christine Mealy

As coronavirus begins to fade into a distant memory, and we collectively resume waking—worriless and relaxed—to the joyful, early morning birdsongs floating through our window, let us all welcome the triumphant return of … the trade show! Ok, we can dream, right?

Joyful birdsong or not, one thing is true: trade shows are back! Trade groups and industry associations are eager to get out there and see your smiling faces (and your swag) once again. Trade shows are a fun way to let them know, in person, that while the last few years have been hard, you’re coming out on the other side better and stronger with a brand that looks like it just walked out of the salon.

With that in mind, here are seven essentials for an on-point display for your trade show.

Two women stand behind a booth labeled "yellowdog" with a table displaying pamphlets and promotional items. They are giving thumbs up and smiling. A banner with "What's Your Big Idea?" is in the background.
The YellowDog team showing all seven essentials of a trade show display


Also commonly referred to as a “step and repeat” or a backwall, this large banner sits behind a booth and sets the tone for a trade show display. While you can use it as a photo backdrop like an A-list celebrity, you also can design the banner with a simple message (Hello!), feature a beautiful, high-quality photograph or use it as a small billboard for your business on the convention center red carpet.

Standard sizes are usually 8’ x 8’ or 8’ x 10’ (see our design templates for help with measurements). The most common and cost-efficient style is dye sublimation printing onto fabric, but there are many custom options available.

Keep in mind, though, that you’ll want to give yourself plenty of time for this item. It’s a big deal and should be given a respectable amount of production time as such. Leave at least seven business days for this crucial part of your display and more for custom options or if you want help with the design.

A woman stands smiling and pointing at a branded backdrop featuring logos from various sponsors at an event.
Banner example

Table Throws or Runners

Keeping personal belongings, extra swag, drinks or mismatched socks under your trade show display table? Hide it all with a custom-printed tablecloth. Already have a plain, boring tablecloth that you’d like to dress up? Add a runner! This is another valuable item that can be visually interesting, practical, reusable and easy to store and transport.

Like the backdrops, these table throws and runners are printed using dye sublimation onto fabric and come with a variety of standard sizes and features: elastic, stain-resistant, anti-microbial or even round to fit a podium or a cocktail table. And the best part? If you get a little wild celebrating that big new client, take them home and toss into your washing machine.

As with the backdrop, please give a few extra days for this item. While there may be some quick-ship options, you’ll get the best deal and quality while avoiding rush fees if you leave at least seven business days for production.

Pop-up Banners 

Pop-up banners, also known as pull-up banners or retractables, are one more way to lure new clients to your trade show display booth from afar. In addition to being easy to transport because of retractability and handy carrying cases and easy to set up, another major advantage to utilizing pop-up banners is that the image can be replaced! If you’ve updated your offerings or even completely rebranded, hold onto that hardware. For less than the cost of a new unit, a new banner can be printed and installed.

These also come in a variety of dimensions, and we keep the most standard sizes (31.5” x 80” or 33.5” x 80”) in-stock and at-the-ready. Non-standard sizes may take a little extra time, including adjustable-height and miniature/tabletop variations.

Table Signs 

Raffling something off? Running a limited time offer or sale? Small table signs are a great way to communicate something exciting about your business that doesn’t quite belong on your longer-term materials or signage. Printed on a lightweight foamcore and with an easel back that helps it stand but also folds flat for storage and transport, you’ll want a few of these.

Business Cards

What can we possibly say about business cards that hasn’t already been said? Oh! I just thought of something. Consider metallic and white ink printing, spot gloss and custom cut shapes. Premium finishes are like an artful manicure for business cards. Throw some of them on your business cards and see what happens!

A blue tablecloth displaying the Swallow Hill Music logo with a red bird illustration and text in white and yellow, including the website "swallowhillmusic.org.
Table throw


Brochures are where potential clients can really learn the nitty gritty of what you offer. Tri-folds, booklets and sell-sheets, oh my! Hopefully you’ll be so busy talking that people may need to just grab n’ go, so be prepared for them to leave with a comprehensive guide to your products or services.

Cool Swag 

Ok, this is the fun part. Swag by any other name is still swag (but please not “schwag”). You might know them as freebies, tchotchkes, giveaway items or promotional products if you want to get official. It doesn’t matter what you call it, custom swag means free stuff with your name all over it.

There are more options out there than you could ever imagine, and new products are being rolled out every day. Here are a few of our favorites and most popular: note pads, stickers, pens, magnets, mini notebooks, lip balm, mints, koozies, bottle openers, emery boards, water bottles and mugs. And these are just the tip of the iceberg!

Now the serious part about swag. We’ve all heard about supply chain disruptions these days, but you’ll be fine when following these three rules.

  1. Be Flexible – Product availability may change at a moment’s notice.
  2. Be Patient – Turnaround times may start at 14-28 business days for some items.
  3. Be Prepared – To order a lot. Most items have minimum order quantity, and while they vary by item and manufacturer, it’s not going to be four!

That being said, as digital printers, (and a practical bunch by nature), we have a soft spot in our hearts for notepads, stickers, magnets and mini notebooks. In our experience, these are always the first things to go and the most consistently visible for your brand.

Well, there you have it! The only thing missing from these seven essentials for an on-point trade show display is you (or whichever amazing staff member can best represent your brand).

A person in shorts is handling yellow books titled "Point of Departure" on a table with a stack of the same books and a red tote bag. Other people are blurred in the background.
Booklets available for grab n’ go

Photos: Courtesy of YellowDog.

Top Photo: Sonnenalp Hotel’s trade show booth at a Colorado Meetings Showcase hosted by Destination Colorado contains several of the essentials mentioned like pop-up banner, grab n’ go printed item and business cards. Photo by Christie’s Photographic Solutions.

Christine Mealy has worked in the printing industry for 13 years and has been involved with every aspect of the print marketing experience, from working on the production floor to manning the trade show booth. She made Colorado her destination 16 years ago and has been lucky enough to spend 11 of those years with YellowDog, where her refined taste in swag is appreciated.