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Modular Sign Systems

Gone are the days when setting up an exhibition stand took several workers and days of labour, says Harry Mottram. The modern modular sign system makes for easy pickings

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Pick your own: this neat modular sign from Spandex is a fine example of an information sign

Light, bright, and ....

From welcoming signage at industrial parks to printed tape barriers that guide hungry conference attendees to their lunch, modular sign systems come in all shapes and sizes. They cover a multitude of signage jobs both indoors and outdoors. They can be directional, welcoming, or informative, and they can display and sell messages.
Their uses include exhibitions, retail units, colleges and schools, public events, museums and festivals, showrooms, and hotels. The list is endless. We are in the age of the pop-up modular sign system, and the best thing is they are easy to use. But essentially all the work has been done for you—all you have to do is print or engrave your message onto the substrate.

Growth in demand

Simeon Wicks, owner of Tecna UK, says there has been a growth in demand with more diverse uses for their aluminium system coming from just about any sector you can think of. He says: “We set up ten years ago and we’ve grown 30 percent year on year. It’s mainly exhibitions, but also retail, it’s about exhibition contractors and large-format printers understanding there’s another way of doing things. Why take heavy panels in the back of a transit van when I can get a modular system folded up in the boot of a car?”

It is this ease of use and flexibility that has attracted many sign-makers to use modular sign systems as part of their armoury in opening up new business opportunities and offering clients more choice. Until the 1920s, signs were made individually, but with the growth of motor transport and the expansion of factories and places of work, a demand for modular systems grew. As new materials and techniques were pioneered before, during, and after the Second World War, the potential was opened up. One classic example in Britain of a successful modular sign system is still in operation today. In 1963, the Government realised with increasing traffic on our roads a unified signage system was required. The Worboys Report recommended a universal system which led to the adoption of the already existing Kinneir and Calvert designs.

As corporate image became widespread, so did signage for other Government departments, businesses, and local authorities. The market expanded as new modular systems were created with the area a growth sector for the signage industry.


Gabi Parish, marketing manager for Europe at Spandex, says: “More and more people are looking to do display banners using frameworks that are larger and more interchangeable, perhaps using meshes and textiles using a rail or frame system that enables quick and easy changing of the media. This system is also true for large format exterior signs which now need to support the capability for shorter-term promotions and messaging requirements, as opposed to previous campaigns that would have remained in situ for much longer periods.”

Frame work: the stretch fabric signs are pulled over a lightweight metal frame

Spandex and Antalis are two firms that have a range of modular sign systems available. Choosing the right one for a sign-maker is vital as it is possible to buy a system which in the end does not last very long and reflects badly on the sign company. Spending time in researching systems is time well-spent. Like any new purchase, simply choosing the first system or the cheapest is not the way to go. Step one is to ask for free samples and advice. Do not let high pressure selling persuade you for one system over another. If a company does not want to give you a free sample then it is a sure sign they will probably let you down in customer service and delivery.

Writing for www.signindustry.com in an article called Choosing A Modular Sign System, Roger Schneider says: “Request data sheets that reflect the specifications of the system: It’s ability to withstand the elements; it’s compatibility to outdoor/indoor, UV light. How difficult is it to paint or anodize? Check the stability of the components before and after assembly. A sense of a ‘flimsy’ finished product may show a divergence in the system components. Don’t hesitate to put the system components to the test by checking their resilience. Unfortunately, they will have a good chance of being mistreated in the field.

Exhibition: a neat lightweight fabric and metal modular display

“Check for compatibility with the types of graphic and sign making equipment you currently have available in your shop without making further investments in new technology and equipment. It is advisable to choose a flexible system that allows for a wide range of signage and graphic techniques. Systems that have been designed to ‘frame’ or ‘hold’ other substrates, usually prove to be more flexible and accommodating both to the customer and the designer.”

It is advisable to choose a flexible system that allows for a wide range of signage and graphic techniques

The downside of a modular system is in its very nature. It is not a custom-made solution to a design problem. There will inevitably be compromises to do with size and adaptability, so a system that offers more units and parts that can alter the system’s size or ability to be adjusted to fit a brief will be more useful than one that is simple, less flexible, and probably cheaper. Choosing a firm that is good on service is another factor so ask to speak to former customers as they will give the best recommendation.

Uniform look

Flexibility is picked up by Gabi Parish of Spandex. She comments: “For sign-making customers, we are also mindful of the importance of supplying product lines which work for them and with which they have become familiar, as well as the need to ensure these offer a level of modularity while delivering a uniform look or style. Naturally, with sign systems, this style element is a factor, but customers also need to be able to adapt things and change elements further down the line, so there is the need for in-built versatility that allows customers to add-on, should they need to.

“Fundamentally, we endeavour to supply systems that offer customers the basis on which to add to or change relatively easily, and thereby produce a different sign solution without too much additional expense or hassle. This versatility also extends to enabling customers to alter the method of delivering the same message slightly differently via the same system, for example by changing a free-standing display to one that can be adapted and suspended from a ceiling.

Pop-up: these signs are perfect for exhibitions and seminars and can be adapted and added to

“More and more people are looking to do display banners using frameworks that are larger and more interchangeable, perhaps using meshes and textiles using a rail or frame system that enables quick and easy changing of the media.”

Laurie Ley, customer service at Your Print Partner, stressed that having stock available was one factor for customers. He says: “We’re a UK manufacturer based in Lincoln, we hold all of our stock downstairs in the warehouse, so it’s ready to order and print. Unlike a lot of companies in this country we don’t manufacture in China or Poland. We make it all and keep it in-house, which gives a nice and quick turn-around time so service of an order is in three to five days. A lot of other manufacturers can’t offer that service and they have to bring it in from overseas.”

There is no one definition of what a modular sign system is other than to say it is one that is already designed and comes in sections that the sign-maker puts together for their client. They are designed for either outdoors or indoors.

O Factoid: In 1963, the Government realised with increasing traffic on our roads a unified signage system was required and the result was a document that defined traffic signing in Britain. O

The HB Modular Sign System from Sign Box is typical of those available with uses in corporate and government headquarters, educational institutions, sport and leisure facilities, healthcare, and public sector environments. The company says: “One of our most flexible interior signage solutions, the HB modular sign system is a strong, yet lightweight interior scheme that suits a diverse mix of signage requirements and budgets. It comprises a simple assembly of extruded, interchangeable aluminium profiles that are stove enamelled to an exacting paint finish and will accurately match any RAL, BS, NCS or Pantone reference. Text, graphics and icons are usually screen printed and deliver outstanding results every time. At just 6mm thick, our modular sign system is renowned as the most flexible signing system currently available on the market.”

Minimise waste

The most important aspect of a modular system is that it can be changed to enable clients to update or change the signs with ease, minimising the amount of waste and increasing the usage. Updating signage in such an easy way gives the sign a longer life and helps to refresh the information as things change. Indoors some of the systems are aimed at the exhibition industry where, like in retail, the sign systems may require daily changes.

Clear view: these signs from Spandex give an indication of the range of modular systems available

Simeon Wicks of Tecna UK says: “A lot of companies feel they cannot do an exhibition because they think it will mean two chippies, a van and a day—when with modular systems you can do it with just a car and the kit. They can purchase the aluminium frames and pay for the fabric—after that they can reprint the fabric and that’s all they pay for. They are paying for one person, unskilled, to go out by car or plane.”

Barrier systems are used to cordon off areas to the public and are usually a simple tape and posts. They are increasingly used as a form of modular sign system with a little innovation. Tigrox is a system marketed by Laurence Wetton in Dorset. It is much broader tape allowing messages to be printed on the surface.

Queue for a sign: Tigrox barrier signs are another example of the diversification of the modular sign industry

He comments: “We call it an interchangeable printed barrier system. It’s a barrier system in the same type of tape barriers that you have at airports, but is wider than tape barriers. It allows for four full colour print and it is interchangeable as it takes only 30 seconds to change from one graphic to another. We’ve sold it to schools, we’ve sold it to retail, and all sorts of applications and events. It’s good for conferences as they have catering for the delegates and they need to shield the buffet or catering area from people who aren’t at the conference.”

From preventing queue jumpers to pop-up exhibition displays, to directional and information signage, modular systems cover a wide variety of briefs. The beauty being, of course, the whole effect is greater than the sum of its modular parts.

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