Best Pop Up Displays in 2021

updated June 2021

More and more of us shop online, and find it is easy to become swamped in the available choices. Thus, folks shopping for trade show pop up displays frequently ask us which are the best pop up displays.

As an independent distributor, American Image Displays is not required to sell any particular "house brands", which allows us to pick and choose the products we sell, and gives us the opportunity to test out different display designs as they become available. For clients that are looking for a particular brand or model, we're almost always able to offer that specific selection. However, for clients not looking for a particular brand, we are happy to offer our experiences, and the shared experiences of our clients. To help with that, we offer this review of the best pop up displays in 2020.

quadro popup
Original popup system

As a brief history, fifteen to twenty years ago, your choices for trade show displays were much more limited than they are today, and exhibitors often had to use a very heavy modular display made from wood and rigid substrates.

The original trade show pop up displays appeared about twenty years ago, and were made using a metal accordion frame - but that frame was significantly bigger and heavier than they are today. And the choices for graphics were also heavy.

Most popup displays used either "carpet panels" (Velcro-receptive fabric glued to rollable thin plastic sheets) or mural graphic panels (laminated, photo quality prints, printed directly to the surface of thin plastic, or sometimes printed on adhesive substrates that were then glued to the plastic).

These original popup displays solved many problems; they usually shipped in wheeled cases, not a crate, and only weighed about 100 lbs. They could be setup by 2 people in an hour or less. Velcro-receptive graphics on the carpet panel displays could be swapped out quickly, and the mural graphic panels could be changed out for different shows.

Top of the line pop up display kits even started to include a case wrap (usually Velcro-receptive fabric) to hide the shipping case and allow it to be used as a podium or counter at the trade show. This feature solved the problem of having to wait for show services to return the shipping case after the show, allowing exhibitors to take down their booth and get to the airport more quickly.

Pop up displays remain popular for today's exhibitors, but they've changed a bit over the last few years. In 2021, trade show pop up displays continue to be the most popular choice in trade show displays, and the best pop up displays share these same features.

Trade Show Pop Up Display Minimum Features List:

  • The frame is still an accordion style frame, usually made from aluminum to make it lighter weight.
  • That accordion frame "pops up" in seconds, making it very easy for anyone to assemble quickly.
  • Most frames have locks, to fasten them in place once they are expanded.
  • Most graphics for pop up displays these days are dye sublimated prints on fabric - this makes your graphics very light weight and easy to care for.
  • The graphics can be left on the display in many cases, or taken off and folded up.
  • If soiled or excessively wrinkled, fabric graphics can be machine-washed (gentle cycle, gentle detergent) and placed back on the frame to air-dry.
  • Most ten foot pop up displays these days fit into one shipping case, instead of two, and weigh much less than 100 lbs.
  • Most pop up display cases routinely offer case wraps - usually the same dye sub fabric graphics, allowing exhibitors to use those cases for counter and podiums with very colorful branding messages.
best pop up displays - Large custom multi-skin popup display

Large custom multiple skin popup display

Today, the best popup displays have become so portable that they can be used in lots of different events, including marketing events, job fairs, farmers markets, church events, and trade fairs. And the best pop up displays now come in many more sizes - usually starting at 3ft widths, then 5ft, 8ft, and 10ft. The best pop up displays can be combined to create larger shapes and different configurations. Many can be back-lit now. And the very best of these pop up displays can even be stacked, to create 16ft tall displays that are still highly portable and incredibly fast to set up!

The better pop up displays in 2021

So, which are the good pop up displays, and how are they different from the best pop up displays? There are dozens of different manufacturers, and often each of these manufacturers has two or more models - a premium line, and their economy model. In an era when most of the better available pop up displays are all light weight accordion frames, with fabric graphics, how do you tell them apart?

  • Graphic Print Quality
  • Frame Hardware Quality
  • Ease of Assembly
  • Portability
best pop up displays - this one is a 20ft s curved popup display

Serpentine Curved 20ft Pop Up Display

Print Quality - The main job of your trade show pop up display is to display your artwork in a way that catches the attention of passers-by. It follows that the key feature of the best pop up displays has to be the quality of the graphic printing. A lackluster print on a wrinkled "bed sheet" just won't cut it!

Most printers these days use similar equipment, but fabric quality varies, quality control processes vary, printing technician skill levels vary, printer maintenance processes vary - all of these are a factor. And like most things,  you often get what you pay for.

While price isn't always the key indicator, if the print you're looking at is the lowest price you can find, there's probably a reason - the printer may be using less expensive fabric, printing techs may not pay as much attention to cleaning and maintaining their machines, and may not scrutinize the finished product as carefully.

We carefully review the fabric quality and the printed samples, comparing print quality and also the quality of the finish sewing (is it coming loose? fraying?). Moreover, as we order graphics for clients, we keep track of which suppliers get it right the first time, and which frequently have to do a reprint to make our clients happy with their displays.

Hardware Quality - The quality of the pop up frame hardware comes a close second in importance. Most are aluminum frames, but because it's an accordion frame that expands and folds up, the hubs get used a lot. So if a frame has poorly designed hubs, they won't last as long. This quality is a lot easier for a buyer to compare, because the best trade show pop up displays come with lifetime warranties on their hardware. Even good pop up frames can be broken because the person taking it down was rushing, and forgot to release a lock - that lifetime warranty can save money over the expected 4-5 year life of the display.

Ease of Assembly & Portability - Most pop up display frames use a fabric graphic that is attached with a Velcro strip sewn to the edge of the graphic. Some designs use a button hole in the edges of the graphic, that slips over a button on the popup frame. All of these pop up displays normally keep the graphic on the frame while it is disassembled, so set up time is literally a couple of minutes, just open the frame, lock it open, and pat down the graphic side flaps.


SEG Graphic Install on an Embrace Popup

A very few - included in the list of the best pop up displays in 2021 - use a silicone edge graphic (SEG) that has a silicone strip sewn onto the edge of the graphic, which is pushed into a groove on the popup frame.

While this approach requires a couple of extra hardware pieces that attach to the frame, the finished look is noticeably better, because there is no visible, slightly wrinkled Velcro-seam line behind the graphic - instead, the graphic is taut and smooth, with no wrinkles at all. This adds 5 minutes or so to the assembly process, but results in a better look. A side benefit is that the graphic is folded up when packed, so it is less likely to get wrinkled even when stored for a longer while.

EXTRA Features

The best pop up displays manufacturers have continued to refine their offerings, and now offer some extra features. These features are limited to just a small group of trade show pop up displays:

Back-lighting your trade show graphics is becoming increasingly more popular, as it never fails to make the display stand out a bit from the neighboring booth without back-lights. We currently offer back-lighting in many of our extrusion frame displays but only a few of our best pop up displays offer back-lighting, with a choice of LED or T5 Fluorescent lights.

Modularity means you can reconfigure your display into different shapes, using the same hardware, or adding or removing hardware. Modularity is much-desired feature in trade show displays, and is normally found in truss systems, as well as some extrusion based and panel based systems. Three of our pop up display systems now offer brackets to allow combining frames into longer widths, and adding turns and corners.

Stack-ability - building taller displays and towers used to be the hallmark of custom design shops, typically using wooden and extrusion framing and fabric or rigid graphics. However, two of our pop up display kits now also allow their frames to be stacked, so that you can stack two 8ft tall frames to create a 16ft tall back-wall or even a 16ft tall tower!

The best pop up displays in 2021

As you might imagine, the best pop up displays in 2021 combine all of the key requirements of the better pop up displays - they all offer top of the line print quality, frames with lifetime warranties, with many different frame widths, that are all easily set up and dismantled. Adding to that, the best pop up displays all offer extra features as options - back-lighting, modularity, and stack-ability. Exhibitors don't have to take advantage of all of these features, but they are available as needed.

#1) The Embrace is the best pop up display - and it is a SEG Pop Up Display. It is offered at an economical price point. This frame is warranted for it's lifetime against manufacturing defects, and comes with a high quality dye sub fabric print. The Embrace is modular, and can be linked together in different configurations. It can also be stacked, building displays up to 16ft tall. The Embrace is also available with back-lighting. The 10ft Embrace starts out at $1200 including end caps and a shipping case.

#2) The One Fabric Popup Display is the runner up, one of the best pop up displays, and comes with a unique twistThe fabric is made from recycled plastic bottles. It takes a beautiful full color dye sub print, offers all the normal features of a premium popup, and also adds the advantage of being a terrific green solution.

This "Green" advantage can be leveraged in your marketing, or just a subtlety in the background that helps you and your company help our shared environment. A 10ft One Fabric Display starts at $798, including frame, printed graphic, and soft carry bag.


Honorable Mention:

Collage Multi-Skin Tension Fabric Displays use a light weight aluminum frame, and offer a unique, multiple graphic look that is popular with clients with lots of product images. The frames come in 9 different shapes and the graphic skins also offer a dozen or so shapes and sizes. This allows for a multitude of different looks from your display, making it look like a different display at every event.

The graphic "skins" have button holes in the corners, and can be changed out in seconds. This allows the exhibitor to swap graphics on different days, or even put up a new graphic while the client watches. Thus, if your products  change frequently, or if different images need to be shown for different markets at different events, this is a very helpful solution. The frame comes with a lifetime warranty, and in dozens of different frame shapes and graphic skin combinations. Prices start at $835 and vary with size of the frame and the number and size of graphic skins.

Collage 4x3 trade show popup tension fabric display

The Quadro trade show pop up displays offer what has to be the strongest accordion frame available. It is very strong, and comes with a lifetime warranty. The Quadro pop up displays are available with the traditional Velcro-receptive "carpet panels", as well as traditional laminated mural graphic panels. There is a variant of the Quadro that also offers dye sub fabric panels in multiple "quads", similar to the Xpressions display. Because of the strength of the Quadro frame, it is easy to add shelves and monitor mounts. The Quadro starts out at $2400 for an 8ft display.

Those are our selections for best pop up displays in 2021, based on our experiences, and plenty of shared stories and experiences from our clients. Also worth noting is that there are a half-dozen good pop up displays, not mentioned here, that are very close in capability to those that are listed. We left those others out because we were trying to give you a manageable number of displays to review.

As noted above, we can offer almost any brand and model of pop up display, so if you have a different favorite, we're still happy to help. But for those that have not already selected a favorite brand and model of pop up display, hopefully this review of the available choices in 2021 will be helpful. Please don't hesitate to let us know if you have any questions or would like any additional information.