From October 1-3, VisCom (formerly "Sign Europe") was held in Düsseldorf, Germany. When I entered the exhibit halls, I immediately noticed a difference from former shows: fresh air. At the 2007 show, in the afternoon, many visitors felt slightly dizzy after having inhaled the fumes from the many solvent-ink printers.
Also, I noticed a slight decrease in exhibitors (310, compared to 320 in 2007), but 22% more visitors (10,900 in 2009 vs. 8,900 in 2007).
The organizers included (again) digital media as part of the "visual communication" coverage, and companies offered some “unusual” products, such as "content" for digital-signage boards.
More than 22% of attendees were from the sign industry, while only 3 to 5% were end users (final customers). Sixty-two percent were interested in POP and directional signs, 31% in illuminated/neon signage, 52% in digital printing. But to my observations, visitors didn’t spend too much time watching moving images on computer screens. In my opinion, the world is already overfilled with such information, which takes one of the most expensive resources –- time -- to be transmitted.
Will the "content contest" for digital displays that the organizers announced for the next VisCom show, help their acceptance? Classical signs are much faster to recognize, easier to maintain and, thus, more advantageous.
Products and trends
Concerning illuminated/electrical signage, my main focus, there wasn’t much new to see. The show mirrored, more strongly than ever, that LED products for channel letters and sign illumination are sold by price, not quality. Many Asian (mostly Chinese) companies, located in a row with almost identical, minimalistic booths, sold exactly the same products by underbidding their competitors.
From several LED replacements for fluorescent lamps, not one was economically or technically even marginally acceptable. Comparing the technical facts, today's LEDs can’t meet the energy efficiency and color rendering of a standard fluorescent lamp -- not to mention the low price of a standard fluorescent and the fixture.
The trend I saw LEDs video walls and digital messageboards favored "transparent" architectural embedding of the displays.
Also, the first Chinese and Korean copies of automatic, channel-letter bending machines debuted at the show. Regarding neon supplies, the usual manufacturers, except TecnoLux from Italy, were represented.
Regarding large-format digital printing, nearly all manufacturers have switched to waterbased inks or UV-curable inks. Some still offer solvent-based inks, but called them "safer solvents," except for a few special applications, where "the real sniff" is needed to discern the truth.
Mixed media emerged as one of the top, large-format-printing trends. Several printer manufacturers pooled their booth space to show that almost any medium could be a substrate. So, don't believe what you see. What appears to be a wood table could be glass. The fabric of a sofa or carpet might but just be printed, not really woven. Also, a model (an eye catcher for male visitors) wore clothing with patterns and pictures that were photographed only minutes before the show.
I didn't check every machine’s technical improvements or new releases. Anyway, a prospective buyer should carefully compare the technical parameters before deciding –- so many changes have occurred so rapidly.
Four companies offered inflatable signs, including an inflatable, self-assembled tradeshow booth. Of course, every major sign show must feature car wraps (with Porsches, Ferraris and Hummers).
Only two exhibitors I saw still offered “handcrafted" signs, with great attendee interest. In my opinion, the digital world looks too uniform, and, in the future, we’ll find our way back to "classical" signcraft. In the long run, high-quality, handcrafted signs will survive the cut-throat price war centered on el-cheapo signs and components.