Trade show booths are like a giant set of Legos, and like the iconic building blocks, when assembled these 3D creations can be awe-inspiring and thought-provoking brand statements. But what happens behind the scenes to bring these ideas to life? Eric Troy pulls back the curtain to reveal how it all comes together.

1. How is a booth design decided?

Coordination and conversation between the exhibit house and the client must take place before a design can be decided. The client describes aspects of the booth they would like to a project manager, who then relays those ideas to the 3D design team.

The 3D designers then create a computer rendered image of the booth and discuss the concept with the engineering department. This is where the imagination of the booth designer meets the practicality of the engineering department. The engineering department helps narrow down design features that are impractical or that simply cannot be created.

Following this, the design can be brought to the client for review. If they are satisfied, then the booth can be brought to life!

2. What makes up the structure of a booth?

The structure of a booth is largely made up of hollow wood panels. While some booths are exceedingly large, they are nothing more than many smaller parts brought together. These panels range in size to accommodate any booth design and can be made of flexible substrates to allow curved panels, and thus, curved walls.

3. If booths are made of wooden panels, why isn’t there always wood seen?

Plastic laminate is what is seen on the surface of the booth (unless it has had vinyl graphics or other objects adhered or affixed to its surface). Plastic laminate can be textured or smooth and comes in a nearly unlimited selection of patterns and colors. After a panel has been built, both it and the back of the plastic laminate are sprayed with contact cement and joined together.

4. How are panels held together?

Although there are exceptions, two essential parts for the joining of panels are rotolocks and a combination of wingnuts and carriage bolts.

Rotolocks are a two-part fastening system installed on the thick side of a panel. Adjacent panels will have different rotolock components. One will have a male rotolock and the other a female. When the male rotolock is turned it extends and interlocks with the female, thus binding the two panels together.

Carriage bolts are set in predetermined locations where holes have been drilled at equal measurements. Once the carriage bolt has passed through both panels, a wingnut is threaded onto it, bringing the two panels together.

5. How are arches put in elevated locations?

Some booth configurations boast large arches. Raising these arches into position with manpower alone is simply not possible, so how do assemblers get that archway in proper position?

Fork trucks are used to raise the arch into position until fasteners that join the arch and supporting walls are put into place. If the arch is very large, two fork trucks may have to raise the arch into position by lifting the arch at an even rate.

6. How do booths acquire color?

Though there are many ways a booth can achieve its colorful appearance, vinyl graphics are a vital element in achieving this task. Vinyl graphics can be categorized into two general types. Cut graphics and printed graphics.

Cut graphics come on rolls in nearly any color and size.

Printed graphics are custom creations that can be adorned with company names, logos, and catchphrases, but the possibilities of images printed on the vinyl are nearly endless.

7. How are vinyl graphics applied?

Once the booth’s structural components have been built and assembled, the graphics can be applied.

Vinyl graphics are made up of two sides. One with the image or color that shows on the booth, and the other with a thin layer of adhesive. Transfer paper is attached to the adhesive side of the vinyl graphic.

Vinyl graphic applicators start by marking the location the vinyl will be applied. After this has been determined, they tape the vinyl as close to where it will be applied as possible. Next, they peel back the transfer paper, exposing the adhesive.  Graphic applicators work from the center of their desired vinyl location outward, adhering the vinyl to the surface. This allows them to remove air that may have come between the graphic and the surface by pushing it toward – and eventually out of – the edges of the graphic.

8. How is a trade show booth transported?

Crates are storage containers for the pieces that comprise an exhibit and serve as storage containers for the booth when the exhibit is not on the road. Typically, crates are moved with a fork truck into the trailer of an eighteen wheeler which delivers the booth to its destination.

9. How are items in crates kept from moving during transportation?

Crates are fabricated to accommodate each component of a booth. To do this, jig sticks are installed in specific locations inside the crate. Jig sticks are pieces of plywood wrapped in a thick foam that prevent movement of booth components held inside. If improperly installed, the contents of the crates can move, hitting other items and damaging the contents of the crate.

Properly jigged crates are essential for the longevity of a booth’s life.

10. How are exhibit components accounted for after a show?

When a newly made booth is ready to be disassembled and the crates have been properly jigged, workers create a content list for each crate. These lists are very involved and account for every piece of the booth down to the nuts and bolts.

When the booth has been returned to its resting location, workers inspect the content of each crate and cross-reference them with the list to see if any parts are missing or damaged.