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Retail Display Materials and the Choices to be Made

POSTED: 26 April 2019

When you are considering an in-store display solution you need to think about the suitability of materials to use and avoid making assumptions. Consider the retail display materials that will meet your requirements, not only for the intended use, but also to minimise any environmental impact. The assumption that cardboard is always environmentally preferable to plastics is wrong. There are many different factors to consider when choosing the best materials to use, let’s take a look at them:


The generally held perception is that the more durable and longer-lasting a material is the more it tends to cost – with paper or cardboard usually the cheapest, followed by plastic, wood, and then metal. However, the reality is more complex that this, as it depends upon the size and scope of the display and also what processes the materials need to go through to fit the brief. For example, card or paper may require a special cutter, when metal could simply be bent in to place. In this instance, metal may be the cheaper option. Consider any treatments that will be necessary, any processes such as trimming, bending or joining, and the finishes that could be involved such as paint, print, powder coating etc. All these elements will impact the final cost. When calculating expenses look at what is needed and the turnaround time for production, and not just the cost associated with the raw materials.


Consider how long you need a display for. Displays made out of paper or cardboard wear down relatively quickly and are easily damaged. They are temporary displays best used for short-term events such as weekly sales promotions. By comparison, plastic lasts far longer (several years) but does eventually fade and crack as time goes on. Plastic might be suitable for a long-term but not permanent display. Wood is a versatile material that can be used for either semi-permanent or permanent POP displays. Metal displays with proper upkeep can last for several years and are suitable for long-term in-store displays.

Ease of assembly

When assembling a display what it is made of can affect how easy it is to assemble.  Displays made out of paper or cardboard are easy to damage and require careful construction. By comparison, plastic tends to snap or bolt together and is far harder to damage. Wood requires a level of woodworking skill to properly assemble e.g. it can be damaged if screws are not installed correctly. Though, an advantage of wood is that it is easier to work with than metal and can offer a high-quality finish with a faster turnaround time. Metal has its own difficulties when it comes to ease of assembly. While very hard to damage, metal displays often require more effort and tools to assemble due to needing screws, bolts, and so on. Displays made of metal are also very heavy and they may be unsuitable for certain scenarios, such as where they need to fit into existing retail furniture such as shelving.

Easy of assembly


POP unit assembly - material choice is critical

Moving about

When moving a display two factors have to be kept in mind – weight and durability. If a display has to be moved regularly consider using a design and material combination that is easy to move and hard to damage, and use heavier materials for longstanding immobile displays.


Not all materials are suitable to be engineered for different display requirements. However, a mix of different materials can often be used together to create a solution that fits your requirements, such as metal shelving with plastic buckets, or a metallic frame with canvas or plastic painted message areas.

Engineering decisions can be confirmed in prototypes.


When selecting materials, a prototype stage is essential to product development. Without prototyping you have no way of knowing if your material selections are workable. Materials could be too heavy, too weak, and there's also a chance that manufacturing issues will occur. You might find that your design requires extra bracing or there are stress points, for example. Material selection should always be given careful consideration and prototyping helps you make the right choices.

Environmental impact

What will happen to your display at the end of its life? This is something you need to consider at the planning stages of your in-store solution.  With the right forethought, displays can be produced so that at the end of their life the display can be broken down and the different elements recycled.

Using cardboard can seem like an easy solution to ensuring a display can be recycled at the end of its life but this assumption can be wrong. Corrugated cardboard may be coated and this coating must be removed with chemicals prior to recycling, and it is only possible to recycle corrugated cardboard so many times as the fibers break down. If the POP unit is needed for only a very short time then corrugated cardboard could be the most cost-effective material to use but care should be taken to minimise deterioration in use otherwise further units may need to be produced.  Having to replace the display would involve additional transport, storage, more production time and cost, and more waste.

Is card board the best choice for a display?

Plastics can be used to provide a lightweight display but with more longevity than cardboard. We hear a lot about how plastics are bad for the environment, but actually it isn’t quite as clear cut as that. HIPS and acrylic are plastics commonly used for in-store displays. HIPS (high impact polystyrene) is a strong, rigid material which is easy to machine and economical to use. Acrylic is also a cost-effective material, and is heat resistant, scratch resistant and can be polished easily. Both materials are very easy to recycle so long as consideration is taken with any printing. If a display needs to last longer than the typical lifespan of corrugated cardboard, then using a plastic that can be easily recycled would actually be the eco-friendly choice.

Key takeaway for choosing retail display materials

There is a lot to consider when selecting the right retail display materials for your in-store marketing. The information in this article will help put you in a position to understand why certain materials are used and any advantages or disadvantages associated with them. With this knowledge, you can avoid making assumptions and make good choices that will serve you well.

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