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A Custom Counter with LED Lights

A Custom Counter with LED Lights Created for 3A Composites.

3A Composites needed a custom counter for their 20 x 20 exhibit at the AIA (American Institute of Architects) Show.

Requirements were to make the top out of ALUCOBOND, their leading architectural ACM material for finishing the exteriors of building.

The counter also needed to have locking storage and RGB LED lighting in the top with the use of the ALUCOBOND name.

To show off the ACM material, we layered the top with 10 layers of 4mm ALUCOBOND to call attention to the material construction. The top layer was brushed aluminum ALUCOBOND.

Cavities were CNC’d into the sub layers to reduce weight and to create a chamber for the LED lights behind the name. Except for the top, the sub layers were glued together and then CNC’d to size and for the logo pattern and mounting points.

The base was produced from 3A Composites Banova balsa layered plywood, a lightweight cabinet material. And then finished in standard HPL laminate.

Aluminum stand-offs were used for accent and to connect the shelf layer to the top.

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The Right Software for Display Graphics

Artwork Pro Tip #2:

InDesign is not a one-size-fits-all-just-add-water solution to create graphics.

The majority of art files we receive are created in InDesign. It is usually the wrong software (tool) for large format graphics used in trade show displays.


InDesign was created for and works best when your final piece is a multi-page layout, brochure, magazine, newspaper, or book (desktop publishing).

Due to issues like restrictions on page scale, the tendency is to create multiple, unnecessary clipping masks and shadows or glows that slice up images; it is better to use Illustrator when your work requires large-scale graphics.

Illustrator offers the same options as InDesign with more precise formatting (creating a larger art board) when dealing with large-scale graphics.

InDesign also doesn’t always give you the best indication of final image quality even though you can preview the files in high-res.

Photoshop works much better as it allows you to work with the image in a WYSIWYG fashion.

Saving PDF s from InDesign

Files that contain shadows and glows may do weird things to your PDF. If the shadow goes over a placed image, the PDF format may slice up the image.

Gradients created in InDesign are likely to band when printed from your PDF.

Typical PDF files have a 200 inch file size limit. InDesign’s file size limit is 216 inches. If your document is between 200-216″ you won’t be able to export to PDF without first scaling the document.

Your printer will not be able to edit your PDF file. You may think this is a good thing but if there are fixes to be made, your printer cannot help you.

Saving EPS files from InDesign

Make sure to outline your fonts in inDesign before exporting your EPS file.

If you design with a lot of images, your exported EPS file will be huge. Your final file will be larger than needed and include more pixel information than the printer really needs. 

Same for PDFs, your printer will not be able to edit your file.


The best file for large format is EPS files created from Illustrator.

Illustrator is suited for large format graphics (vector format). Vector format graphics can scale up or down without losing clarity. Illustrator can also import raster-based images from Photoshop.

Vector based elements in your artwork are infinitely scalable without loss of quality.

Illustrator gives you the ability to create almost any of your art boards at full scale (actual size).

If you have to scale your files down then use a common scale (1/4, 1/2, 1/10, etc.). If a template is too large then review the template to see what scale you are actually working at during creation of your files.

Keep in mind that when you alter the scale of a template the requirements for the image elements will also change.


Photoshop is for sizing, color-correction and manipulation of digital images, and flat art (raster format). Raster format files are made of pixels, so when you take your original file you can scale the file down without image quality being lost but enlarging will cause pixilation of the image.

Make sure to use images which have a high enough resolution to fit your work space. Large-scale graphics typically only require your images to be 100 to 150 pixels per inch (PPI). Check with your vendor to determine the resolution your file needs for production. Large format graphics rarely, if ever, need graphics at 300 ppi.

If you are doing large color elements/shapes you would be better off using Illustrator (especially when working with Pantone colors).

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The Hidden Costs of Hanging Signs at Trade Shows

Hanging signs provide huge impact and incredible visibility for your corporate branding at trade shows.

20 x 20 x 4 Hanging Sign with Truss Rigging

Signs can have custom shapes, define your booth space and help your customers find you. However, the framework and graphic isn’t your only investment.

Advance Warehouse Delivery

You have the option to ship to the advance warehouse versus direct to the show site.

The biggest advantage of shipping to the advance warehouse is to have your sign hung before you arrive to set up your exhibit. Your hanging sign order form has a checkbox to allow the show to hang your sign without you being there. If you have detailed drawings and you don’t need to be there, this can save you time and money.

The disadvantage of shipping to the show site is that you are put into a queue with everyone else that didn’t get their sign hung. This might delay you hours or days.

At the show, you need a physical space to assemble the sign and that gets challenging among crates and other exhibitors. Depending upon the size of your sign, you might need all of your booth space to construct the sign.

This potentially prevents you from starting on your booth until the sign is out of the way. This also affects how you schedule booth labor. If they are there too early you’re paying them to stand around. Schedule them too late and you may be rushing to finish your booth or paying additional overtime fees.

Packing and Labeling

For your sign to be installed, you need to have the hanging sign in a separate case or crate and properly labeled.

For packing, one way cartons tend to be one way. You might get a couple of uses out of it but if it gets crushed you will likely damage the metal framework. Protect your sign with cases or crates.

Many signs break down into standard molded cases for reasonable portability. This is great for smaller signs, typically up to 12 or 15 feet in width/depth. These usually require 1-3 cases.

Larger signs use heavier tubing and have longer pieces. A re-usable shipping crate is better.

Labeling is critical. Your show manual provides the proper label format. Additionally, some formats require that it be a specific color label and/or the show’s official label.

If you printed on your stationary and tape it to the case or crate, you may not have a sign installed when you arrive.

Hanging Cables or Not

There doesn’t seem to be any consistency for whether you should provide your hanging harness or not.

Some sign producers include them, some do not and charge extra for them.

At the show, the rigger has the right to refuse the ones you supply. This can be due to visual inspection, lack of a certification on the cables, or due to policy.

Some shows will not use anything but their cables for liability reasons.

If you have to use the riggers’ cables, they will charge you for them.

The other hidden costs with cables are potential loss. Even if you have them and the show uses them, it’s not uncommon for them to get lost. It’s not necessarily on purpose. The crew that rigged your sign may not be the crew that dismantles your sign and they don’t always know who owns what. If you are there to supervise the dismantle you can keep an eye on them.

Sign Assembly

Check the labor rules for which crew is responsible for the sign assembly. For some shows the riggers must do the assembly. For other shows, the booth labor does the assembly and riggers only hang the sign.

This affects when and how much labor to schedule for your exhibit setup.

Rigging with Truss

Rigging truss and motors are the biggest financial surprise to exhibitors. The cost can be as much as your sign or more.

Some facilities, typically ballrooms, have minimal hanging points in the ceiling. The only way the riggers can suspend your sign is with truss to reach load bearing hanging points and still place your sign over your booth.

This is critical to know when selecting your booth space and you own a sign. Your best bet is to ask the show up front if you will be required to pay for truss rigging.

Sign Heights

Know your rules on minimum and maximum heights. Particularly if you have multiple or tiered signs.

If your booth is design with multiple signs and varying heights, they need to fit within the minimum and maximum heights.

If you miss this, the show will make you adjust the heights to the rules and your design may not be as effective—not to mention, additional labor costs.

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Aston Properties Upgrades Their Trade Show Exhibit Brand

Aston Properties 20 x 10 Trade Show Exhibit
Aston Properties 20 x 10 Trade Show Exhibit
Aston Properties 20 x 10 Trade Show Exhibit

Aston Properties Returns to ACI Design to Upgrade Their Trade Show Exhibit

Their old trade show exhibit and trade show brand had served them well, but it was time to update it with the latest corporate branding.

Aston Properties needed a booth that could be used as a 20 x 10 inline exhibit or used as a 10 x 10 inline exhibit.

Additional requirements included something newer for the architectural style, portability and ease of setup.

The Formulate Master series is just right. This uses a lightweight tubular aluminum frame combined with a slip-on, pillow-case style graphic that zips tightly to the frame for a very clean fit.

The two 10-foot units connect using a magnetic connector for a painless quick connection.

The portfolio of properties that Aston Properties features needs to be easily updated as well. ACI Design added the curved stand-off accent frame with a dedicated graphic. This keeps the price affordable to update the graphic without replacing the entire back wall graphic.

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Templates, Templates, Templates

Artwork Pro Tip #1:

How to save time and money in the first step of artwork design and layout with artwork templates.

A high degree all of the “finished” artwork we receive is incomplete. This results in many rounds of revisions, stress, and delays.

Art files can have everything right, but be a total loss of time because it was produced at the wrong size.

Start with the template. And trust the guidelines and details provided in the template.

You’ll have everything you need, overall size, bleeds, trim size, and the “live” or “visual” area of the graphic.

These also have a layer for design within the template.

All of our stock trade show exhibit products have templates and are available upon request or when you place an order.

They are in the preferred Adobe Illustrator format and/or saved as layered PDFs that can be opened in Illustrator.

Lay out your artwork within the template guidelines and restraints and avoid aggravating revisions.

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Now That’s a Demo!

Huber Engineered Woods asks ACI Design to produce a running water demonstration of their waterproof roofing products.

Zip System sheathing boards are coated to resist water. Combined with the seam tape it eliminates the need for roof felt, which saves labor and materials by roughly 40 percent.

For their trade show, ACI Design produced a product kiosk with continually running water to simulate real world conditions that occur in rain, extreme thunderstorms, and hurricane conditions.

The main structure framework is created from matte anodized aluminum profiles that cam lock together for quick assembly and disassembly at trade shows.

Face panels are printed plastic panels for their display graphics.

A catch basin is hidden inside to catch and return the water to the pump. The water feeds up to an overhead perforated pipe to shower the exposed Zip System sheathing with water.

Walk-On Demo

Additionally, the rubber like coating has a safety benefit that makes it safer for roofers to walk up on. ACI Design created a 30-degree pitched walk-on roof demo to highlight the safety aspects of their product.

Advantech Ad Campaign in 3 Dimension

Huber Engineered Woods also produces Advantech, a flooring squeak-free sub floor product for homes.

ACI Design was asked to create a kiosk and produce a 3D version of their current ad campaign showing the layers of construction using Advantech and a mannequin to imitate the model used in their ads.

The graphics reinforced the ad campaign and was brought to life with a double-sided LED light box display.

The base was layered to show joists, Advantech, and the wood flooring.

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3A Composites USA Decorates Their New Showroom and Corporate Offices

When you make graphics materials, there’s no limit on the graphics to decorate your offices.

ACI Design, Inc. is hired to create new graphics using 3A Composites’ graphics and structural materials to dress up their showroom and offices.

Phase One: Create and install office images that showed their products used in final projects.

3A Composites asked us to use a new faux wood finished DiBond ACM material to create a unique image frame for printed portfolio images. Two were needed for each of the 19 offices.

Both vertical and horizontal frames were created. The DiBond was CNC routed and kerfed (grooved) to accommodate the images.

Our criteria was the images needed to be easily updated without making new mounts. After the mounts were cut, we then rolled them and bent sides to create a channel for the graphic.

The final product was mounted to the office walls with decorative aluminum standoffs.

Phase Two: Create a 3D wall map of their world wide locations.

3A Composites produces multiple foam board products for graphics applications, FOME-COR BOARD™, VALUBOARD, ACID-FREE, SELF-ADHESIVE, HEAT ACTIVATED, JETMOUNT, FOAM-X RECOVERY, CANVAS BOARD and FOAM-X PRO.

Our task for 3A Composites was to use as many different materials and create a three dimensional presentation of a world map that displayed their worldwide locations.

The overall presentation was 96″ x 48″ and mounted to a common Sintra base layer and built in square tiles of the different foam board materials.

Phase Three: Decorate the main showroom wall with a three dimensional presentation of their popular graphics products.

This wall was 23 feet wide and 9 feet tall. Materials use for this project were DiBond, Sintra, Fome-Cor, and Gator.

The wedge shaped shadow box not only narrowed horizontally, but also became thinner as you moved to the right of the presentation. Inside of that is another rectangular shadow box to showcase graphics presentations of their products.

Within the rectangular showcase are false panels with a hole pattern that lets an LED light source shine through.

Behind the facade are custom made mounting studs produced from flat sheets of DiBond that were CNC’d and kerfed so they could be bent into studs and supports.

The face panels of the wedge are direct-printed Gator that can be changed and updated with future graphics and materials.

Phase Four: Dress up a 42 foot wall with a showcase of projects that used their materials.

3A Composites has a huge archive of projects done by their customer base and wanted to show examples by product. The method needed to be flexible for future updates.

We used earth magnets to hold all components onto the wall.

Overall there were over 800 components to create the montage.

Phase Five: Create two LED back lit logo signs for their lobby entrance using DiBond.

This was accomplished by creating a box with a lid approach. The inner box was all white and CNC’d to shape, scored and folded to create a cavity for the LED lights.

The exterior shell was produced with the same method but oversized to slip over the base mount and lights.

This lit portion of the logo is translucent white plex.

The final result is a clean back lit presentation of their logo.

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Vinyl Graphics Dress up The Lobby Wall for CEFLA North America

Dress Up Any Lobby Or Showroom Quickly With Vinyl Graphics

CEFLA had a sales meeting in the near future and needed to dress up their newly finished lobby. And very little time to complete the project.

Printed and laminated adhesive vinyl was the answer.

The lobby wall was quite large and had very tall ceilings which allowed for sizable presentation. The overall graphic was approximately 115″ wide by 65″ tall when finish.

Most walls these days are painted with Low VOC paints. That means a higher silicone content which makes it harder for vinyl to adhere.

We used a high tack 3M Controltac vinyl for a higher bond. It was printed from the client’s artwork and laminated with a protective 3M Lustre laminate finish.

Turnaround time after artwork preflight and approval was 4 days.

Installation was roughly 2 hours.