Custom, Modular, or Pop Up: A Side-by-Side Comparison of Trade Show Display Options


One of the things that I love most about this business is that it’s in a constant state of evolution. Every day, it seems, new trade show display options are being introduced to the market to address the needs of every exhibitor. But with literally hundreds of products to choose from — both online and in physical showrooms — it’s easy to feel a little overwhelmed by so many choices.

If you’re in need of a new trade show exhibit but you’re confused by all the options, read on. Hopefully, by the time you finish this article, you will have a better idea as to which type of trade show display is right for you.

To begin, there are basically three types of trade show displays: custom, modular, and pop up (also known as portable). First, we’ll take a look at the features and benefits of each one, and then we’ll do a side-by-side comparison of all three so that you can make an informed decision.

Custom Displays

While custom displays can be built to any size, they are generally purchased for use in large exhibit areas such as islands, peninsulas, or multi-booth spaces at the end of an aisle. Custom exhibits are built from scratch, so the sky’s the limit on design, layout, and materials. If you’re looking to make a big splash with a one-of-a-kind display, then custom is the way to go.

Photo Credit: Konseptiz

The biggest advantage that a custom display offers over other types of displays is that it can be designed in such a way as to create the illusion of separate rooms or spaces. Hard wall panels allow you to section off your display into multiple stations or activity areas, prompting prospects to spend more time at your exhibit.

Custom-built exhibits are large and heavy, which translates into higher shipping costs. In addition, due to the complicated nature of assembly, custom displays require you to hire an approved onsite labor source for setup and tear-down. Lastly, custom displays are expensive and not reconfigurable, so if decide to go this route, make sure that everyone in top management is happy with the design before you build.

Modular Displays

Modular displays are most often purchased for use in inline booth spaces. The reason they’re called “modular” is because they’re made up of interchangeable components that can be moved about and placed in different configurations from one show to the next. The layout possibilities are endless! And setup and tear-down is simple enough that your exhibit staff can manage it themselves.


The real beauty of modular trade show displays revolves around their ability to fill the space — whatever size that happens to be. For example, let’s say you purchase a display with a four-panel back wall for use in a 10’x20’ booth at a big national trade show. Then, a month later, you decide to set up a 10’x10’ booth at a local job fair. You don’t have to buy separate display components to fit the smaller booth. Just remove one of the extra back wall panels, or place it out near the aisle for more attention, or simply don’t take it to the show at all.

Modular displays weigh about 60% less than custom displays, so shipping costs are less. Small traveling cases can usually be purchased to protect items from damage during transport. And depending on the size and weight, you may even be able to fit your display items into the back of an SUV or check them as baggage with the airline.

Pop Up Displays

Pop up or portable displays are the darlings of the trade show industry because they pack a huge graphical punch for a relatively small investment. Pop ups can be used as freestanding back walls or as tabletop displays, and when combined with counters, seating, lighting, media screen mounts, and flooring, they can transform a plain booth into a cozy and inviting “living room” in which to engage potential customers.


The majority of pop up displays are designed with a curved shape, which adds to their stability, but they can also be purchased as four-sided towers that look sort of like a kiosk. They make great starter displays for smaller shows. And if at some point you feel that you’ve outgrown your pop up, you can always re-purpose it by setting it up in your office lobby or conference room.

Pop ups are portable and usually come with their own transport cases, some of which double as a trade show counter with optional custom graphic overlays. They are lightweight and can be assembled in a flash due to their umbrella-style frame that literally “pops up” when putting it together.

Side-by-Side Comparison

Now that you know a little bit more about the three types of trade show exhibits, let’s compare their features side by side so that you can choose the one that’s perfect for your business.


The bottom line? With full-color graphics, brilliant lighting, and a nice collection of booth accessories, you can make your exhibit look distinctive and unique, regardless of your booth size or display type. Have fun with it!

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