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Understanding Hybrid Exhibits

What You Should Know about Hybrid Trade Show Displays 

  • Practically every new exhibit system claims to be a “Hybrid”
  • Aluminum extrusion and tension fabric are the building blocks
  • There are portable, modular, and custom hybrid exhibits   
  • Before purchasing a portable or modular exhibit system, ask yourself these seven questions

Perhaps no term is more hyped and less understood in the exhibit industry than “hybrid.” Nearly every exhibit manufacturer and custom builder refers to their latest designs as portable hybrids, modular, hybrids, or even custom hybrids. Why the emphasis on this term? The answer is simple: Value. More than ever, exhibitors are demanding displays that do everything – assemble quickly, look custom, ship light, and reconfigure. Just a few years ago that would have been impossible, but not any more.

The Building Blocks

If you’ve walked a trade show recently, you’ve seen a profusion of aluminum structures and tension fabric graphics. Those are the building blocks of hybrid displays. Aluminum is attractive, structural, and lightweight. Tension fabric is vibrant, durable, and cost-effective. Together they serve as the creative foundation for displays priced from $4,000 to $250,000.

But what makes them hybrids. For the past 30 years, the exhibit world was divided into two worlds:  portable/ modular displays or custom exhibits. Portable/modular displays have been dominated by pop ups, panel displays, and modular laminate exhibits. These “systems” have well-defined configurations, components, and accessories, but limited design flexibility. Custom exhibits, built primarily from wood, have offered exhibitors endless design possibilities but are rarely portable or modular.

Hybrid Exhibit Systems

Hybrid exhibits merge those two worlds. Hybrids start with tension fabric and aluminum extrusion systems (such as MODUL). Beyond that, the design can be anything and can include anything. There are portable hybrids, such as Sacagawea or Symphony, consisting of an aluminum extrusion frame and tension fabric graphics, which pack in portable roto-molded cases. There are modular hybrids which add modular laminate components and pack in roto-molded tubs or small crates. And there are custom hybrids, such as Visionary Designs, which combine extrusion with just about anything else – metal, wood, plex, glass, and sometimes even portable or modular systems. As with all custom exhibits, the final design is whatever fulfills the marketing and budgetary requirements of the client.

Hybrids may not be the ideal for solution for everyone. For many exhibitors, a basic pop up or full custom makes more sense for their exhibit marketing goals. However, hybrid exhibits are here to stay. Only hybrids offer the lightweight strength of aluminum extrusion, the bold impact of tension fabric graphic, and the flexibility of unlimited design – all at a terrific value.


Before deciding on any portable, modular, or custom display, the following guidelines and questions should apply:

  1. Know your exhibit goals. What are your immediate and long-term goals? A portable display should be viewed as a long-term investment rather than a short-term solution.
  2. Is your organization expecting to grow over the next couple of years? How does this effect your trade show needs?
  3. Do you need one product to accomplish multiple display requirements? Or, is it better to purchase different displays to accomplish your various trade show needs?
  4. View decisions about exhibit hardware, exhibit design, and exhibit graphics separately. It is too easy to be swayed by any one element. All three must work together.
  5. Consider shipping and drayage costs.
  6. Price is important, but price should never be the number one factor in your decision when purchasing a portable exhibit.
  7. Ask questions. Not all portable displays are created equal. Each has its unique strengths and weaknesses.

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Article Author:

Mel White, CEI