Communication, Knock Offs, Large Format Graphics, Tension Fabric, Trade Show Displays, Xpressions

When Is An Xpressions® Display Not An Xpressions®?

Simply put, when it is something else.

4x3 Xpressions SNAP
4×3 Xpressions® SNAP™ example

The Xpressions® SNAP Display is one you have probably seen at various trade shows as it has a very unique appearance. The Xpressions® is a simple concept that takes a workhorse frame from the exhibit industry (this being the straight popup frame) and adds dye sublimation printed tension fabric graphics in multiple configurations for an updated popup appearance. Essentially this configuration eliminates the need for the standard channel bars, rolled laminated graphics and VELCRO® brand hook and loop fastener receptive fabric panels that are normally associated with a popup display. And, the Xpressions® allows you to change out graphics quickly at a fraction of the cost of what the older rolled graphics would have been. But, did you really see an Xpressions® Display at the last trade show you attended?

When the Xpressions® WOW™ was introduced back around 2005 it was unlike anything the display industry had seen. Here was a portable popup using fabric graphics that could be set up in just seconds and was very lightweight. It didn’t take long before the unit caught on with distributors and buyers and the WOW™ became one of the top sellers for a few years. The WOW™ used the basic framework of the DSI popup unit which includes self locking clips as well as hubs that a fabric graphic could connect to easily. However, the Xpressions® WOW™ did have a few drawbacks related to the frame itself. The locking clips could sometimes catch a graphic and damage it and some of the framework itself had exposed sharp edges that could also damage the fabric prints. These faults were eventually corrected.

Eventually the Xpressions® was upgraded to the SNAP™ unit. The SNAP™ uses magnets to lock the frame in position instead of clips. There are still a few locking clips on larger frames to ensure the unit stays up, but the appearance of the frame was improved to a more attractive and sleek appearance. However, graphic sizes on the SNAP™ are not compatible on the WOW™. Therefore, you needed to always know what frame/version of the display you had.

In time the SNAP™ version became the standard and the WOW™ was discontinued by the manufacturer. You can still get WOW™ prints from the original Xpressions® source but the hardware is no longer coming from the originators of the Xpressions® unit.

Beyond the SNAP™ there were a wide variety of releases in terms of upgrades and unique configurations. Items such as the CONNEX™, Salesmate™, PUSHTHRU™, LED, Sheer™ and Express™ soon followed. Today there are unlimited ways in which you can create exhibits using the Xpressions® material.

But, that gets us back to the question of “did you see one at your last show?”.

As with any new and successful display technology for trade shows there are going to be knock offs. Being a designer that worked in the industry for 16 years I’ve seen them all. I can look at a display and instantly tell if it is an original or an imitator. But how can you?

First, you should look at the graphics. A real Xpressions® is printed using the highest quality dye sublimation press in the country. The colors should pop and resolution should be crystal clear. Now of course there are many dye sublimation printers in the country that produce excellent quality so that may not be something you can determine from first glance. With that said, you should then pay close attention to the finishing on the graphic. Xpressions® units are sewn in a very precise and particular manner. The Xpressions® itself is registered with the US Patent Office for this finishing. Edges will have a tube like circular hem along all sides. The corners will have “button” holes hemmed on 45 degree angles and those will be reinforced on the back side with additional fabric sections for strength and ease of installation.

I’ve seen graphics from many knock off units that ranged from “almost like it should be” to “completely unacceptable in every way”. From poor print quality to visible and ugly hemming, the knock off family out there is really just that. If you wanted a luxury vehicle you wouldn’t buy a junker and put a luxury car logo on it.

Second, pay close attention to the frame. For one, it should “SNAP™” together using super magnets. And, on larger units, there will be yellow clips that will ensure the frame stays in the upright position. Also, the square hubs that your graphics connect to at each corner should be smooth in appearance with a reverse bevel shape and rounded edges. And the “pin” that the graphic slips over should be removable so that if a graphic isn’t connected there, but another graphic overlays that location, you can remove it to ensure no bumps appear from behind. There will also be small, black rubber rings on each hub pin that holds a graphic, or graphics, in position.

Some of the knock off frames I’ve seen are actually dangerous. One in particular uses springs that can seriously injure you if you are not paying attention. Another has very odd “twist” covers to connect the graphics that always seem to fall off and get lost so the graphics are no longer connected.

Third, your display will come with Xpressions® branded setup instructions. Only the Xpressions® can use that name. Unfortunately the Xpressions® never arrives with any sort of clearly marked labels on the hardware itself so it can be difficult to confirm when you are a newcomer. The reason for this is mainly due to the method the exhibit is sold. The manufacturer sells to the trade only, not direct to the end user. With that said, the manufacturer doesn’t include any sort of identifying marks on the exhibit so that the dealer can sell it in their own manner with possibly their own branding. I have seen a few Xpressions® units delivered with a completely different name because the seller wanted to be “unique” in terms of online selling and search.

Finally, your Xpressions® SNAP™ display hardware will come with a lifetime warranty, no questions asked, for repair. Should your frame ever experience damage you can return it to your original point of purchase for free repair or replacement. And you can count on the Xpressions® original manufacturer to remain in business.

As a graphic designer who has worked on many Xpressions® displays I would always recommend it over the knock offs. Also, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve taken calls from customers looking to get new graphics for their existing display that insist they have an Xpressions®. Yet, when we go through some quick steps to confirm whether they have an Xpressions for certain, we find they do not in fact have the original. That is always a surprise to the client as there are some dealers that are not as honest as they should be when selling the display or clients simply didn’t do their research to read the details of the purchase. So, in the end, be sure you confirm 100% it is an Xpressions® unit you are buying. There isn’t an authorized dealer program for the unit so you need to do your homework. But, you won’t be sorry.

A few side notes on the Xpressions® SNAP™ family of exhibits:

  • The original SNAP™ was replaced not long after with an upgraded frame that improved the hubs. Graphic sizes remained the same.
  • The SNAP™ frame is a European design. Therefore, if you need a “10ft” unit, request the “US” frame hardware because the original frame in the 4×3 width is wider than 10ft. Should you go with the “US” frame for a 10ft display and then decide to add more units to your fleet in smaller frame sizes, I recommend asking for “US” hardware to always be used. However, some of the configurations my not be supported with that hardware.
  • There is also a new version called the X1™. This unit uses different graphics sizes as all of the others so keep that in mind if you are planning to add to either an existing fleet or possibly purchase more in the future. Also, this hardware is made in the USA.
  • With all of the different versions of Xpressions® units available it can be quite confusing for designers to know what templates are to be used for the graphic preparation. Knowing the history of the unit and what hardware you are designing for it very important.

If you would like to hire me to consult on your upcoming Xpressions® purchase, or need someone who is well versed with graphic design for such units, please contact me.

VELCRO® is a registered trademark of Velcro BVBA.

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About Jacob Norris

Graphic Designer with over 20 years of experience working in all forms of print media.
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