Retail Display Design and Options for Customized Graphics

Retail display design is definitely more of an art than a science, but a good industrial designer will also have strong analytical capabilities to ensure the POP display is optimized for material yields, cost-effective shipping, and so on. Retail displays are sometimes referred to as “silent salesmen.” An effective display must sell the product to the shopper in the absence of retail store personnel to do the job. One of the most important aspects of an effective point-of-purchase display is the graphics.

Obviously, the content of the graphics is hugely important. Eye-catching design, concise messaging, attractive colors, and the right materials are all part of the equation of creating effective graphics. In today’s blog, we’ll look at 10 different types of permanent or semi-permanent graphics that you might consider for your next POP display. There are dozens of other varieties and treatments, but these 10 tend to be some of the most popular in the world of retail display design.

1. PVC– PVC is one of the most widely used substrates for signs in the industry. PVC is a plastic that comes in a variety of thicknesses. It is cost-effective, durable and easy to work with. It can be direct printed or you can print a vinyl graphic and laminate it to the PVC board. There are lot of related types of material like PVC foam, all of which have a little different performance characteristics and economics. There are also close alternatives like foamcore which is a very economical and lightweight paper-faced foam board that can be easily printed on and cut.

A more expensive alternative to foamcore is Gator Board which is an extruded polystyrene foam encased between layers of a melamine and wood fiber veneer. For the purposed of categorizing graphic treatments, we are lumping all of these variations under the PVC category since they are all a form of plastic, but there are important differences that you should understand before deciding on what material to use for your graphics.

A couple examples of displays using PVC board graphics are shown below.

MUSCLE MILK retail display design
CCO retail display design

2. Vinyl Stickers– Adhesive-backed vinyl stickers are a good way to go if you want to apply graphics to a variety of different materials. You can also print on paper-based materials, but vinyl tends to be more durable (and bit more expensive). The example below is a vinyl sticker we printed for the base of the 180s ExoLite display.

180 EXOHEAD retail display design
  • Acrylic- Acrylic is a versatile and generally durable material that is frequently used in the POP industry. It can easily be direct printed or screen printed. Acrylic can be used in lightbox applications such as the header in the sunglass display shown below. In this case the acrylic was printed “second surface” which basically means it was printed on the back side. However, the majority of lightboxes are made using a material called Duratrans which is a lightweight translucent film material that can be used in a backlit lightbox frame.
  • Rather than lightboxes, a more common use of acrylic is for header signs similar to the Griffin sign shown below. 
9FIVE retail display design
Griffin retail display design

4. Wood– Wood is another popular material to be used for graphics. Wood can be direct printed, screen printed or used with applied vinyl graphics. Using a pre-finished material like the pre-finished birch in the example below is generally best for graphical applications.

BANGS retail display design

5. Laser Engraving– Laser engraving is a popular approach for applying graphics on wood substrates, particularly for those who are trying to achieve a natural look. The tradeoff with laser engraving is you give up multi-color graphics, but it’s a great option for the right display. We particularly like using laser engraving with bamboo as in the example Coola box we made below.

COOLA SUNCREEN BAMBOO retail display design
  • Laser etched/Paint Filled Graphics- Another treatment similar to the laser engraved Coola box shown above is to use laser etching or laser engraving and then paint fill the engraved portion. This addresses the downside of laser engraving we mentioned which is the lack of color. It does require another step in the production process and is therefore more expensive than plain laser engraving, but it can be very effective in achieving a premium look for certain applications like the ViX Swimwear display shown below.
VIX SWIM WEAR retail display design

7. Stenciling– Stenciling is a lower-tech, more imprecise approach to graphics, but it can be very effective and appropriate for certain applications. Most commonly it is used on wood and is designed to create something like a shipping crate feel. The main downside is that sometimes the text needs to be modified slightly so it can be used with a stencil. If done carefully, stenciling can achieve a look similar to silk screening like the Hang Ten example below.

HANG TEN retail display design

8. Dimensional Letters– Adding dimension to your graphics can help attract attention to your display and give it a higher-end look. Dimensional letters can be made out of many materials such as MDF, sheet metal, PVC or acrylic. Dimensionality does not have to be limited to just letters. It can be used with any graphical element. The example below shows the Mota logo that we made out of laser cut acrylic letters.

MOTA ACRYLIC retail display design

9. Non-Acrylic Transparent Plastic– Transparent plastics like PETG are often used for graphic applications on POP displays. They are generally a lot thinner and less rigid than acrylic and therefore don’t look as high-end, but they work great for curved applications. The Smartwater display shown below is a good example of how clear plastic can be used to create an interesting 3D effect to help draw shopper attention to a display.

Smartwater retail display design
  • Magnetic graphics- Magnetic graphics can be a great choice if you are looking for an opportunity to make your graphics interchangeable. Magnetic graphics are applied to surfaces that are either sheet metal or surfaces that contain metal strips. The magnets in the material on which the graphics are printed are relatively strong so the graphics tend to stay down nicely.
  • It’s easy to print full color graphics on the magnetic material so it’s very versatile and a great alternative to creating channels to hold interchangeable graphics. In the counter display we made for the Amplifi display below, we used magnetic graphics on the slanted front part of the display.
Ubiquiti retail display design
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