Trade Show Exhibit Types Defined

August 28, 2014

If you’re new to the world of exhibiting (or perhaps even if you’ve been around awhile), you’re likely a bit confused by all the terminology, especially when it comes to the types of displays. Here are some simple definitions that are standard in the trade show display world. 

Table Top Displaystabletop trade show display

This small portable display fits on top of a six- or eight-foot table and is often the starting point for new exhibitors, especially those on a tight budget. It’s also a smart idea for a smaller show, like a local Chamber of Commerce expo. But just because it’s small doesn’t mean it can’t be creative and fun! Table tops have come a long way from what you may remember at school science fairs. Many of them now feature attractive curved elements, fabric graphics, lights, and even shelving – just like their larger counterparts. 

Portable or Pop-up Displays

portable exhibitOver the past three decades, these displays with lightweight, collapsible tube structures have become a convenient and cost-effective alternative for exhibits – so much so that it’s often the most common design on the show floor. Setup is quick and simple (the frames “pop up” into place) with fabric or graphic panels typically attached to the frame using magnets, snap rings, or a strip of plastic beading along the edge (silicone-edge graphics, or SEG) that snaps into the frame. The caution with this style is that your graphics must be unique and very eye-catching so that your exhibit doesn’t look like all the other portables on the show floor. 



Modular or Hybrid Displays

modular trade show display

These displays feature interchangeable elements or panels that can be reconfigured in a variety of ways, allowing an exhibitor to create a unique identity with both the structure and message. This is perfect for companies who exhibit at many different shows and require different booth sizes or branding at each one. While the original modular displays were often made up of laminate panels and frames, today’s hybrids combine engineered aluminum frames, tension fabric, and elegant laminate panels with wood, glass, shelving, tablet kiosks … you name it. There’s basically no limit to the design options now available to exhibitors in every budget. 

Custom Displays

20x20 island exhibitCompanies that do large inline or island displays with equally large budgets often opt for a custom design. Need to incorporate massive pieces of equipment or have a demo kitchen in your booth? No problem! A custom exhibit can accommodate all your specific requirements. But since these designs are often built with large metal structures and hard-wall panels, they require hiring show labor for setup. That said, there’s nothing like a custom exhibit to create a truly signature look and memorable impression on the show floor … if your budget and marketing goals align.

What types of displays have you used, or do you plan to use for upcoming shows? Please share in the comments below.

Guest Blogger: Marlys Arnold. With experiences as both an exhibitor and a show organizer, Marlys Arnold has a unique perspective on trade show exhibiting. As an exhibit marketing strategist, she travels the country consulting and training on how to create experiential exhibits that produce significantly higher numbers of qualified leads. She’s led workshops for events ranging from local consumer expos to some of the largest trade shows in the U.S. She hosts the Trade Show Insights blog/podcast, and is the author of Build a Better Trade Show Image, the Exhibitor Education Manifesto, and the ExhibitorEd Success System. She’s also the founder of the Exhibit Marketers Café, an online education community. To request an “Extra Shot of Exhibit Success” go to

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