Like women’s cosmetics, good booth lighting highlights your display’s most interesting features and hides its flaws. When executed well, booth lighting subtly guides visitors’ attention in such a way that the light sources themselves become nearly imperceptible. But all that glitters is not gold, and too much of the wrong type of lighting can ruin your display.

Lighting: The Oft-Overlooked Powerhouse behind Trade Show Displays

As we discussed in a previous blog post, the human brain is subconsciously hardwired to focus on and seek out pleasantly lighted spaces. The hardwiring is so strong, in fact, that it even affects where and how we position ourselves in a room or which direction we choose to face when sitting or standing.

Still, as powerful as the human attraction to light may be, many trade show exhibitors fail to embrace the concept of balanced booth lighting — choosing instead to either rely solely on the venue’s ambient overhead lighting or (perhaps worse) going overboard by incorporating too many competing light sources into a single display.

As Stephanie McQuade, Marketing Services Manager for Globe Manufacturing Co., once said, “Too many exhibitors overlook what lighting can do on an emotional level.”

Photo courtesy Apple Rock.

Types and Sources of Exhibit Lighting

Even if you’ve never hired a dedicated trade show lighting designer or firm, per se, chances are you probably still have more light sources in your booth than you realize. For example, even a modest 10’x8’ booth will likely feature a combination of ambient, accent and task lighting, such as:

  • Backlit fabric displays or light box panels
  • Stem lights attached to banner stands, kiosks and backwalls
  • Wall-mounted monitors or multimedia screens
  • The venue’s built-in overhead lighting and (sometimes) natural skylights

But that’s just the beginning. Depending on where you want to direct traffic or which areas of your display you’d like to emphasize, there are a variety of additional lighting options that can help focus attention while also building a certain type of overall mood for your booth.

If you’re looking to take things up a notch, consider “layering” different light sources for dramatic effect by adding one or two of these additional lighting pieces to your display:

  • Truss-mounted spotlights
  • Floor-mounted “uplights”
  • Track lighting
  • Desk or table lamps
  • Countertop light box signs
  • String lights
  • Rope lights
  • Shelf lights
  • 3D LED video walls and touch screens
  • Projection mapping

Exhibit design by Mayridge Group Ltd.

With Lighting, Consistency Is Key

The problem exhibitors often run into is that with multiple light sources all putting out a different color temperature, it can be difficult to instill a consistent tone or energy level in your booth. If your backlit fabric display graphic features a photo of a sunset, for example, then the light coming through that graphic panel will be perceived as predominantly yellow-orange. In contrast, the stems lights attached to your kiosk, as well as the venue’s overhead lighting, are likely neutral white, while your multimedia screens project a bluish-white light.

As the video below shows, the difference between warm white, cool white and neutral white light sources becomes much more noticeable when the three are viewed side by side.

So how can you blend different light sources in your exhibit to set the desired mood and create a more seamless lighting experience for booth visitors? Here are a few suggestions.

Audit and update your existing lights. Whether they’re halogen, LED or something else, you’ll want the majority of your bulbs to be the same color and temperature. When you purchased your trade show display, your exhibit design firm probably steered you toward the natural or neutral white light kits, which work well for probably 90% of exhibitors. Others, however, need to take a different tack. For example, if you have a particularly high-tech exhibit — with lots of digital screens emitting blue-white light — then you might want to swap some of your existing neutral white lights for cool white. Or if you’re a day spa wanting to create a calm, cozy, relaxed booth environment, you might want to try warm white lights or even colored bulbs to imitate the look of candlelight.

Test it out and make adjustments. If you have the space, such as a warehouse or a large storage room, it’s worth it to take the time and test out new lighting to see whether it gels with your existing exhibitry. If you don’t have room at your office, ask your trade show supplier or lighting design firm if you can use their showroom or warehouse for a few hours. (Most will be happy to help.) If you can, put the entire display together and rig all the lighting just as you would at the convention hall. You may be surprised by what you see! Floor glare, dark corners and over-lighting issues are much easier to address during a test run rather than on the actual trade show floor.

Embrace the dark side. With more and more exhibitors deploying projection mapping and LED video screens, the need for lighting contrast has increased. In general, island exhibits with these types of installations need to be darker-lit so the screens and videos stand out better. While you can’t change the temperature or tone of the venue’s overhead lighting, you can in many cases request that overhead lightbulbs be unscrewed or that shields be applied to ceiling light fixtures to limit the amount of light falling directly onto your exhibit from above.

More Is Not Always Better

In the end, lighting should help visitors to see what you want them to see, but the light source itself should never be the primary focus or cause a distraction. Too much lighting, or too many different temperatures of lighting that aren’t blended well, can be worse than no lighting at all. Take the time during your slow season to test new types of lighting and make sure they enhance your display rather than detract from it.

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