Top 10 Trade Show Graphic Design Mistakes

Categories: Artwork Guidelines, Trade Show Tips

Graphic designers face a unique set of circumstances when getting artwork ready for trade show exhibits.

Trade Show Exhibits are BIG, so that creates it’s own special set of requirements so that it comes out looking good.

After spending years looking at artwork submitted by customers, here are the top 10 mistakes we see the most often. Some are technical, and some are in the design layout themselves:

#1- Low-Res Images

We’ve all experienced this issue, but as you can imagine we see this problem on a regular basis and so it secures it’s spot in the numero uno position.

Here is a quick tutorial on how to inspect your images if you had any doubt as to whether they are high enough resolution to use.

Stock images online can be a great resource to find high resolution images that will print without pixilation and there are even some royalty-free ones like Unsplash that are growing in popularity.

Just remember: photos, logos and any other images pulled from a website will most likely never work when printed at full size on an exhibit.

#2- Using True Black Settings instead of Rich Black Colors

This one is NOT obvious at all. That is why I did a blog and a video on it several years ago to talk this one through.

True Black Setting in CMYK is (C: 0%, M: 0%, Y: 0%, K: 100%)

Rich Black Example (there are many) (C: 75%, M: 68%, Y: 67%, K: 90%)

As of this writing, Adobe Photoshop has a default setting of rich black and Adobe Illustrator has a default of True Black (view video above for further explanation) so you mostly have to be aware of this if you are using Illustrator.

Rich black will print MUCH better using rich black settings vs true black settings which can print out dull.

#3- Putting Important Information at the bottom of a Back Wall

Whatever your exhibit design or configuration, don’t make the one big classic mistake of putting important details (like phone, logos, web address) or anything else that is important to your message and branding at the bottom of your wall.

This will likely not be seen since people are looking up as they walk the show floor (unless they’re staring at their cell phone of course :).

#4- Not using Vectored art for Logos

If you are planning on having your logo printed large and up top (like I’d recommend) then you need to have your logo in vector format. Don’t know what vector format is? No problem, here is another video explaining what a vectored file is.

Not only will your logo look pixilated as it is scaled to fit your large artwork template, but it won’t have a transparent background if it’s not vectored.

Not to worry, this is easily fixed (depending on the complexity of your logo) by vectorizing it or re-drawing the logo.

#5- Leaving Crop Marks in the Artwork that is Sent to Printer

A lot of graphic designers like to use certain pre-sets in programs such as Adobe Illustrator.

They may also just be used to using crop marks if they do a lot of off-set printing like postcards, business cards, etc.

You don’t want to use any crop marks in large format printing since it doesn’t get ‘chopped’ like a stack of postcards, but is rather hand or machine cut.

Accidentally leaving crop marks in the file can be a problem (especially if it isn’t caught before going to print)

#6- Gradients That Are Not Smooth

Some files are built with gradients that if looked at up-close look very rough. From dark to light it may not be a smooth transition, but rather looks like banding.

Often times the gradients can print out where it looks like there is some banding instead of a smooth transition. One trick is to add 1% noise over this layer (or the whole file). This will not be visible, but will trick the printer into reading every pixel instead of printing with banding.

#7- Not Using a Powerful Enough Computer for Designing

Like we’ve already discussed, trade show exhibits can be quite large. It’s not uncommon to design a 20ft, 30ft, or larger area.

This can lead to some interesting issues for computers that aren’t up for the challenge. Make sure to use newer computers that can handle the processing loads and memory requirements.

We use Custom Built Gaming PC’s that currently run 6 core Intel 7 Chips with 32 GB of Memory and M.2 Hard Drives for fast read/ write speeds.

#8- Designing at the Wrong Resolution

This kind of plays into #7 about not having a fast enough PC, but one thing that is sure to exacerbate the issue is designing at the wrong resolution. Smaller types of print jobs like business cards, brochures, etc are typically done at 300 dpi (dots per inch) or higher, but not trade show displays.

We print at 125 dpi at 100% size. If it’s designed at 50% size, you want to have it be double the dpi so 250 dpi and at 1/4 size it would be 500 dpi, etc.

#9- Typos, Typos, Typos

Make sure to proof-read multiple times before sending over. Especially if you have a lot of text. Your printer primarily is looking to make sure the artwork is high enough resolution and fits the template etc. Sometimes we catch typos, but this is ultimately your responsibility to make sure those are caught and corrected when the digital proofs are sent.

#10- Not Giving Yourself Enough Time

This one is a little more abstract, but make sure you give yourself enough time to plan and prepare your artwork.

It doesn’t take much to delay the job especially with all the potential pitfalls (just look at the above list!)

Also, other team members and/ or bosses usually like to offer their input which can take time depending on how accessible they are.


Hopefully this gives you a few potential items to steer clear of or at least be aware of. While this is certainly not a complete list, it does have the most common mistakes that can occur. Don’t ever be afraid to reach out and ask questions!

If you are able to avoid the problems with these top 10, you will most certainly be well on your way to having a smooth experience as you plan and design your next trade show booth!

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