Part 1: Tensioned Fabric & Frames

This is the first of four posts that will cover aspects of design, specification, and production of tensioned fabric signs. This post provides an overview of the two main types of tensioned fabric signs, and a deeper discussion of what to look for in tensioned fabric frames. Subsequent posts will identify other important aspects to make sure your sign is built to the highest standards.

Two types of tensioned fabric signs together account for more than 90% of the hanging signs you will find on today’s trade show floor. One type is “Round-tube” or “Snap-tube”, and has a frame made of round tubing sections that snap together, and a printed fabric cover that encloses the frame, and secures with zippers closures.

The other type is called “SEG”, for silicone edge graphic, and has an aluminum extrusion frame, with narrow channels that are sized for a flexible silicone strip. When this flexible strip is sewn to the fabric, and inserted in the extrusion channels, it results in a smooth taut surface.

Both techniques can be used create fantastic signs, exhibits, and other designs — and both can be improperly used to create unfortunate results. The difference between a sign you love and one you regret purchasing is in the details. Nail each detail — and the sign will further your design and marketing objectives; miss the mark and you’ve just wasted good money on a dud and adversely impacted your brand.

Shop Standard & Rental Snap Tube Signs

When you purchase a tensioned fabric sign for your trade show exhibit, you are making a substantial investment in a powerful selling tool. Make sure you maximize your ROI by attending to these critical factors:

The Art of the Tensioned Fabric Frame

Building a quality tensioned fabric sign requires starting with a well-made frame. The frame provides the support that gives a tensioned fabric sign its shape, and it needs to be strong to resist the pressures created by the taut fabric skin.

An ideal frame is both rigid and lightweight. With all of the connections and parts clearly labeled, it goes together quickly and smoothly. The frame should be able to resist the distorting forces of gravity and the tension created by the cover. Poor quality signs may sag between the hanging points. To prevent this from happening requires a stiffer frame design and/or additional hanging points.

Gauge the quality of a tensioned fabric frame by assessing these areas:

  • Shape – Does the shape and size of the frame accurately match the drawings?
  • Smoothness – Is the frame smooth, or are there screw heads protruding and sharp exposed edges?
  • Finish – Ideally the aluminum frame should have an anodized finish. This prevents oxidation that can leave dark marks on fabric. Avoid raw metal and painted frames to assure that your tensioned fabric frame keeps looking great, even after many installations.
  • Assembly Time – How long does it take to assemble the frame? A well-conceived frame design will have fewer parts, and can be assembled much more quickly than a poorly designed one. A smaller crew and shorter assembly time will translate into savings of both time and money.
  • Weight – How heavy is the sign? A well-engineered frame will maximize both strength and lightness. Round-tube frames are typically lighter than SEG extrusion frames, but both weigh less than signs made from wood, steel, plastic, or most other materials.
  • Weak Parts – Welded corners and metal connectors are preferred over plastic parts as they are more resistant to damage during installation. Make sure that your vendor isn’t using cheap parts that can end up costing you a fortune if they fail in the future. When parts are made using plastic, determine the type of plastic it is. Some plastics, such as Delrin® are excellent, others may be brittle or otherwise inadequate for use in a structure that will be hanging above a crowd of people.
  • Rigging Points – Cast steel eyebolts that are made in USA and strength-rated are superior to un-rated ones, and are required at many venues. Rigging points should be in the right quantity, located at proper locations, and oriented and installed correctly to provide safe and secure installation.
Tectonics Hanging Cube
Tectonics branded hanging cube.

A well-built tensioned fabric frame will be a beautiful object on its own, and is essential for a visually appealing trade show sign. The build quality of frames can vary widely from vendor to vendor. Make sure the one you are purchasing is made with the right materials, using the right construction techniques, and has a properly conceived and engineered design.

Contact us to see how we can help with your next tension fabric sign project.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

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