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History of the sign expo check-off sheet Print E-mail
Comparative_reference_ISA Comparative_Reference_Sheets_ISA_2011__Ink_ScoreChart Comparative_Reference_Sheets_ISA_2011_CNC_XY_cutters_ScoreChart
Comparative_Reference_Sheets_ISA_2011_media_ScoreChart Comparative_Reference_Sheets_ISA_2011_Textile_Printers_ScoreChart Comparative_Reference_Sheets_ISA_2011_UV_Printers_ScoreChart
Comparative Reference Sheets ISA 2011.

About 2007 or 2008 I attended my first sign print expo in China: APPPEXPO in Shanghai. This is a huge international show (the left row of halls alone is twice the size of most other trade shows; then there is then another row of halls for LED and LCD signage that is four times the size of any expo in North America). Not as big as DRUPA, but pretty big. And held every year, in July.

The awkward part of Chinese trade shows is that 85% of the company names start with the name of the city, or province. So a foreigner has no way whatsoever to find Teckwin stand unless they know the name is Shanghai Teckwin.

You can’t find RTZ Flora booth unless you know it is in Shenzhen, and so on.

So I thought it would be a great idea to have a separate list of

  • UV printer booths
  • Textile printer booths
  • Media and substrate booths
  • Ink booths
These lists would help print shop owners and managers, and distributors, from overseas who come from around the world to visit Chinese expos.

Solvent printers are a commodity and since it is pretty time consuming to make these lists, we would skip solvent printers, water-based printers, CNC routers (too many) and CO2 laser engravers (too many). These you can find pretty easily on your own.

It was not realistic to include upright cutters. Also, our focus as a research institute includes architectural décor, which implies cutting in circles. Upright cutters are not intended for cutting in curves, nor for drilling holes. And most earlier upright cutters were not made to cut the really hard materials being used today.

But if you are coming to an expo specifically to find a textile printer, then we wish to provide a helpful list. Same for inks and media and UV-cured printers. We also include “unique inks” even if not UV-cured.

Then at Sign and Graphics expo 2011, in Dubai, we suggested the check-off sheet to the organizers and to the official trade magazine, ME Printer. It was approved but there was not time to get a visa for the graphic designer. I need a graphic designer on-site to handle the final version (I flew FOUR graphic designers to ISA 2011, for example, plus myself). So in Dubai it was not until the second day, late, that we could prepare the sheet. And it was not yet in Arabic.

Dubai 2010 budget cost FLAAR Report Guangzhou 2010 Wide Format UV Printers Tradeshows Worthwhile Korea 2010 ISA 2010 trends
FLAAR evaluates trade shows around the world.


Why ISA?

Creating this FLAAR-style list for ISA 2011 was achieved because attendees and members of ISA had asked the sign association for help knowing what questions to ask. This fit perfectly with the FAQ concept of all FLAAR Reports. We already had our own check-off sheets for the Technical Writers on the FLAAR staff; they attend all the really big international expos.

I was a member of a sub-committee of ISA, so Sapna Budev asked if FLAAR could prepare such a check-off list (scorecard). Since we already had one prepared, we said yes. What you see now is the result.


What’s tough is to know what printer models are present in each booth before the expo starts. So we make a guestimate in advance. Then on the last show set-up day (the day before the expo opens) we revise the list for printers. So we will try to get an updated version onto the FLAAR web site. There may be times there is a slight difference in versions between ours and that on the ISA web site because our web staff is on-site at the expo center (flown up from our world headquarters). Now you see why doing all this is a bit expensive. But we felt it was a great way to assist attendees.

And also to assist booth personnel; 95% of every day they have to stay in the booth. It’s tough for them to have time to get out and find out where all the other products are situated.

It is not realistic to revise the list for inks or media until the booths are fully open. And even on the day before the expo opens, many printers are still on the trucks outside or still on a highway somewhere far away. But we do the best we can.

Another obstacle is the worldwide tradition for most exhibitors to check every single possible category (for the main Exhibitor Guide, the booklet that is handed out on opening day). So we had to make a few guidelines: no listing in the ink list for an OEM printer manufacturer since they are already in the printer list (if UV or textile). And their ink is obvious. So the ink list is exclusively for a company that specializes in ink. Merely having a bottle of ink in a booth is not what we are looking for. The list is intended for major distributors and manufacturers.

Same for media and substrates. 80% of the printer manufacturers rebrand media and substrates but everyone knows this already. What we wish to assist the visitor, the attendee, is where are all the other media booths.

So the list is specifically intended to cut-to-the-chase and focus on real ink and real media booths. In advance it’s pretty hard to do this, but we did the best we could.


We prefer that the Assistance Sheet is neutral. Anywhere else in the world, there would be thick bold fonts for anyone who paid money.

Anywhere else in the world there would be a paying sponsor with their logo on both sides of the sheet. FLAAR Reports did this work in the interests of improving trade show experience for attendees.

Yes, obviously any institute needs funding: there are 20 people on our staff. But for the exposition lists, even though there are Platinum sponsors on every single Exhibitor List catalog around the world, we preferred that for the launch of this concept, that there be no sponsors (other than ISA sign expo itself).

What to call the sheet? Scorecard? Checkoff sheet?

Scorecard seems to be an industry standard. But score suggests there is a winner and a loser. We prefer not to have this concept on the trade show sheets: our goal with these sheets is to provide a service in response to specific requests from attendees.

So FAQs sheet; comparative FAQs sheet; comparative spec sheet; checkoff sheet. These are other terms. Standards is another possible designation.

score chart

The first generation of our Reference Sheets for Trade Shows was designed for SGI Dubai expo 2011. The current version for ISA has been expanded and improved to cover 5 topics.

This innovative format for an exhibitor list is Copyright

Since we were already preparing this concept in Spring 2010, we copyrighted the layout and concept to FLAAR Reports. Since ISA was the first expo who asked themselves for this concept, we joined them in the copyright. But certainly FLAAR Reports would like to license this concept to other expos around the world. The reason is simple: “united we stand, divided we fall.” If every sign expo squabbles with others, then both are weakened. Printshop owners have stopped coming to some trade shows because there is not enough to attract them. So our inspiration was to provide at least our share of giving out a new feature, a way to help attendees at a sign and printer expo.

Trade magazines are disappearing, going bankrupt, or losing advertisers every month. If there were a way to cooperate instead of past traditions, more trade magazines would survive.

For future versions

The original idea was to include a map; but this is an added cost. But a map was part of the original concept: where is each UV-cured printer. Where is each textile printer? In the future, especially if there is funding (we prefer funding from the organizer rather than just one manufacturer), we can add maps to the hand-outs. If you have comments, please write us at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it We read every incoming e-mail.

Logically we would like to include RIP software, but in advance we have no way to know where they are located. CO2 laser engravers and other products: yes, we would like to have check off sheets for everything. But the cost (in time and staff) was just too much. We would rather do something innovative, and get it accomplished, rather than attempt to do too much and not get it finished by the deadline.

If you wish this concept for your expo, please let us know far in advance. And yes, we do need airfare and hotel in most cases. The labor and time and experience we can donate, but airfare and hotel makes a big difference in our ability to send the team to get this done. For a regional or local expo we need just two people. For large expos three. For expos the size of China, it takes minimum of three plus at least three translators for the last show set-up day and first show exhibit day.


Updated January 4, 2012.

First posted April 14, 2011.



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