Reviewing Table Cover Options for Trade Shows

Almost everyone needs a printed trade show table cover at one point or another. Especially at smaller and more intimate conferences, such as chamber of commerce events, regional trade shows, and even corporate – supplier bid conferences, the meeting planner typically organizes small booth spaces with a table and chair for each exhibitor or supplier. You can also see table covers at very large trade shows, covered with display products and brochures. Regardless of the venue, your goal as the exhibitor is to maximize your corporate branding, so taking advantage of table covers and table throws and using them as part of your advertising message is the obvious solution.

Trade Show Table Covers

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Choosing the right table cover for your needs

There are many choices for trade show table covers, table throws, and table runners; the varied choices can seem bewildering, but most have to do with the print method. First, a brief note on nomenclature; outside of the trade show industry, most people call the fabric on a table a table cloth – for trade shows, the normal terminology for a printed cloth is to call it a “trade show table cover”, “table throw”, or “table runner”. Trade show table throws and trade show table covers are synonymous for full size printed cloths; a table runner is the name for a smaller printed cloth, placed over an unprinted cover.


For example, the red design on the right is a table throw; the black design is a table runner, placed over the unprinted yellow table cover. The gray table cover demonstrates a table throw without a back panel; this is sometimes more convenient for storing equipment under the table, and is often called an economy style, as it costs a little less than a table throw that does have the back panel.

Table Cover Printing Options

Table covers are normally printed using one of three approaches; a vinyl heat transfer applied to the throw or runner, a screen print on the fabric, or a dye sublimation print onto the fabric. A fourth option, called an appliqué, combines a dye sub print onto fabric that is then applied using a heat press, similar to a vinyl heat transfer design, onto the table throw.

Vinyl Heat Transfer

The least expensive “print” option, the vinyl heat transfer table throw, uses CAD (Computer Aided Design) tools and requires vector artwork; the CAD process cuts the vector artwork design precisely out of the selected color of vinyl. This vinyl is then applied to standard twill fabric using a high-temperature press; the result is a permanent table cover that can be washed and ironed and is guaranteed not to peel, fade, or crack. The red table cover above uses a white vinyl heat transfer applied to a red unprinted table throw.

The disadvantage to this method is that color choices are limited to the available vinyl colors, so if you need a unique color, or a color transient or blend, that won’t work with this method. Also, each color is a separate CAD and application process, so if your logo or design uses multiple colors, the cost of this method can quickly exceed the cost of a different print method.

Screen Printing

The next print method is a screen print; this also requires vectorscreen printed tradeshow table cover-resized-600 artwork, and is perfect for applying one or two, solid Pantone matched colors to your table throw or runner. It can also be used to apply metallic imprint colors. Screen printed table covers are designed for clients that need Pantone matching, with only one or two colors, and can be very economical choices if a large number of matching table throws are required.

Full-color dye sublimation printing is the more expensive, but also the highest quality choice, for artwork that uses multiple colors and/or is larger than normal. As noted above, vinyl heat transfers and screen prints are ideal for one or two colors; these methods are also designed for specific sized imprints. If your logo or artwork contains several colors, such as a full-color digital product photo, or if you want the artwork to cover most or all of the table throw front panel, or even the entire table cover, then a dye sub printed table throw cover is the only choice.

Dye Sublimation Printing

dye sub printed table cover-resized-600The dye sublimation print process is a two-step process that infuses a full-color digital print of photographic quality into the fabric. This is the same print process used for large-scale, high-quality tension fabric back walls and custom trade show displays and graphic displays. The resulting high-resolution full-color print is permanently infused into the threads of the fabric and the fabric can be folded, washed, and used for many years.

Full-color dye sub prints are available for table runners, for the front of a table throw, and for the entire table cover. If you select a dye applique table cover-resized-600sub print on the front of a full-color table throw, that front printed panel is sewn to another unprinted fabric in your choice of colors.  If you need a full-color print, but just for a small logo or photo, then you can have a dye sub print done onto a small piece of fabric that is then applied using a heat press to an unprinted table cover; this is called an appliqué full color print.

Stretch Table Covers

Higher quality trade show table covers are made from quality 100% polyester twill, which resists wrinkling. This material lies flat, as printed contour table cover-resized-600shown in all of the pictures above. One other option exists, to use a poly stretch fabric that provides a unprinted plain contour table cover-resized-600custom contoured shape, as shown in the picture below. These stretch fabric, form fitting contour table throws can only be used with unprinted or full color imprints (not with vinyl heat transfers, screen prints, or appliqués).

So, those are the choices for trade show table covers or table throws. To recap, for material there are two good choices; form-fitting stretch fabric or high quality 100% polyester twill, which lies flat, and can be used with all of the print choices. Print choices for the twill fabric include vinyl heat transfer, which is the least expensive option if your color vinyl is available, and you only need one or two colors, in a limited area on the table throw. Next choice for the twill fabric is a screen print, which provides a Pantone match, one or two color imprint, again in a limited area of the fabric. Full color dye sub prints are the choice for anyone needing several colors, or a large imprint. Finally, if you select a form fitting stretch fabric table cover; your choice is to have it unprinted or with a full print – no vinyl heat transfers, screen prints, or appliqués.

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