20 Cheapskate Trade Show Booth Ideas

Have you got the blues after paying a fortune to ship a heavy trade show booth and getting stressed out by spending too many hours setting up?  Do you want something that’s easy, inexpensive and looks fantastic? Here are twenty tried-and-true ways to set up a professional-looking display for less:

1.  Make your own fire-retardant spray.  Cloth chosen for exhibit display use MUST be certified or treated as flameproofed. Avoid purchasing the expensive sprays by mixing your own, using this formula. Use gloves while handling Borax.

2.  Purchase a used exhibit booth. Save over 50% on the cost of a booth by purchasing one secondhand. Check trade show journal classifieds, or even Ebay. See this article for more info.

3.  Don’t ship it – store it. Save on shipping costs by storing your booth in a public storage unit near the show you regularly attend. Rates can be quite inexpensive for small units, and often the first month is virtually free. Visit this site for more about storage facilities.

4.  Use huge glamour photos to add Wow! to your display. Roll-up banners , weighing less than 9 lbs. each, can add impact by featuring a large image of your work and logo. Easy to ship and set up, these are a terrific cheap addition to your booth display.

5.  Rent three tall draped tables for about $150. Having your tables ready to go for you on site saves tons of headaches and shipping costs. What could be easier than showing up with one suitcase containing your signage, lighting, forms and risers?  See your show materials for information on table rentals.

6.  Use lightweight acrylic display equipment. Durable acrylic risers, “saddles” and display holders stay virtually invisible while showing your work to its best advantage. Check out this site for some low-cost options to take to your next show.

7.  Pack it all in a suitcase. Lighting, forms, supplies, and wall images go in one suitcase which travels with you.  Ship boxes filled with your products to a small hotel or a friend near the show venue.

8.  Save on hassles with spandex table covers. Wrinkle-resistant, machine washable and flame retardant, these table covers can even be emblazoned with your logo. Prices start at a little over $100 each. Knitted stretch sheets do the same thing for less, but must be treated with fire retardant.

9.  Get a sleek look with a collapsible étagère. A really professional looking display piece, this multi-shelf unit has built-in downlighting to highlight your products. Collapses to a 56-lb 22”x22” size for easy shipping.  It’s not the cheapest alternative,  but this brilliantly designed étagère may be one of your best investments. Priced around $425.

10. Use folding bookcases for an effective display. Customers love these bookcases  from Target, which start around $60 and can be a solution to your display needs. No assembly required, and shipping to you is free.

11. Lightboxes create a magnetic attraction for visitors. Starting around $200, these lighted displays really stand out and bring show attendees into your booth. What killer image of your work could you use to maximum your impact?

12. Purchase cut flowers for a colorful statement. No shipping charges here, just a visit to a local market near the show venue for a gorgeous bouquet of cut flowers and a vase to place in your booth. Get as dramatic as you like. Choose flower types and colors that work with your booth theme.

13. Inexpensive display table option from Joann Fabrics. Joann’s “cutting table” frequently goes on sale for about $70, and offers a 60” x 35” table surface, while locking casters keep this mobile table from rolling. Folds up for storage.

14. Purchase adjustable table legs from IKEA to vary display height. IKEA is a great resource for cheapskates, and these nifty “Vika Kaj” adjustable height table legs work with their Vika line of tabletops to give you a flexible option on the height of your display. Table legs are $15 each. The telescope design makes them easy to transport.

15. Affordable lighting options. Also from IKEA, the “Dioder”  4-pack of light strips retails for about $49 and is modular. Great under shelves or in display cabinets.

16. Portable, collapsible camping table comes in handy. Customers of REI rave about this table which folds up to a lightweight 10 pounds.  Folded dimensions are 5/5” x 32” for a table that measures 35”x35”x28” when open and holds up to 100 pounds. Super durable, this item retails for about $78.00 on REI’s website.

17. Need a flexible jewelry display option? Use music stands for a unique solution. Buy several and arrange them in your booth space. A great way to fit your product line into different spaces. Thanks to Eduardo of Watch Craft for this idea!

18. Interlocking foam flooring keeps your booth cushioned underfoot. Use modular interlocking foam flooring tiles (in a variety of colors) to make your booth a comfortable place to do business. These sell for about $1.89/sq. ft.

19. How many ways can you use Foamboard in your booth? Millions! Super lightweight, disposable and easy to cut with a mat knife, this essential item can easily be obtained from Dick Blick, Utrecht, Michaels, etc. If you use enough of it, ask for a bulk discount. A favorite of cheapskates everywhere.

20. Cardboard pedestals are a popular and useful display choice. Choose from all different sizes, and make your booth look amazing. Super lightweight, they pack flat and assemble in seconds. Check out Pedestal Source  for prices and details.

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  1. Thank you for the VERY helpful info.

    At my last art show, I ran out of space, so I used my suitcase to display some of my items. I draped the opened suitcase with some colorful fabric. which created a box-like effect and used it for small items It worked well. Using the suitcase, will allow me to use one less box for the next show!

    I make big, colorful leather flowers. Displayed in a vase,they add a nice touch and always draw attention to my booth.

    I will definitely use some of your tips for my next show.

    Take care

  2. Hey, great article, but I would really like to see a series of photograhs of successful booths and comparisons with what to do and what not to do.

  3. This is a great list. Have to bookmark even though I do not do much shows now. But could also be good ideas for setting up in-store displays. Thanks.

  4. Could you give some advice on booths for photographers? Thanks!

    • Most photographers use an open gridwork and lightweight wall system, but pro-panels give a much more finished, gallery presentation. They are a bit heavier, but hold track lighting better. The best tip for photographers that we can offer… lots of space, multiple flip bins and… heavily weighted mats on everything. Only big box stores have evenly matted photos for sale. A wide bottom mat improves perceived value dramatically!

  5. Can you give me any suggestions for vendors who can print large scale photos and mount on foam core to hang in my booth?
    Thank you!

  6. They come in different sizes and comprise a graphical sheet or
    banner, which exhibitors usually have customised as per their message and
    a metal stand. Other accessories like lamps and
    brochure stands can also be fit to its side panel to hold company brochures or catalogues.
    Whatever your budget, there will be a display
    that suits your requirements.

  7. marilyn reed says

    I have a service business,such as murals and faux finishing,stenciling and textures/furniture,home accessories.Have you helped others in this field? Was wondering if there is something on your site that pertains to this type of business.
    I have started to set up at some shows for our furniture and home accessories. How would I go about finding some of the top show s in Ohio?

  8. William Butler says

    Another great tip is to run your booth lighting from battery power. Electric rental fees are insanely high, so it’s an easy way to save some good money. If you are technically inclined, you can build a system yourself with some good LED lights and a car or motorcycle battery. Pro Panels has put together a nice write-up on building your own system (http://www.propanels.com/lighting/battery/). If you want to go with a ready-made system, the best I’ve found is from Silicon Lightworks: http://siliconlightworks.com/sk2b-light-kit

  9. Lots of great ideas here, thank-you, I took notes!

  10. Diana Zimmerman says

    What’s the best way to get feedback on your artwork?

  11. “Looks nice! Nice img!”


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