Last year’s International Sign Association (ISA) Sign Expo in Las Vegas drew not only large crowds—and many first-time attendees—but saw print signage make strong inroads in a market and a show traditionally dominated by electric signage. As the latest generations of wide-format equipment, inks, and substrates have made printed signage more versatile, print has encroached more and more in these areas, a refreshing change when we recall how much electronic media have encroached into print’s territory.

The ISA International Sign Expo 2014 is coming to Orlando’s Orange County Convention Center this April 23–26, with educational and networking sessions starting on the 23rd and the trade show itself starting on the 24th. (Each year, the Sign Expo alternates between Las Vegas and Orlando.) Some new features of the show debuted in Vegas last year, and will thus be new to an Orlando—and thus a largely Southeast U.S.— crowd.

DDS Takes Off

One of the hot topic areas of last year’s Sign Expo was dynamic digital signage (DDS) with a “Digital Signage Day” dedicated to educational sessions, and a show-floor “Dynamic Digital Signage Park” of exhibitors and smaller educational sessions. Over the past year, both the market and interest in the technology have only grown. As a result, DDS will have a greater presence at this year’s Sign Expo.

“We’ve really got a nice lineup of speakers, and we’ve expanded the [Digital Signage Day] sessions a bit and added some new ones,” says Glenn Feder, ISA’s Director of Business Development. This year, the sessions “are a little bit more advanced,” he adds. “It is a little deeper dive in understanding what the complexities are and some of the best practices associated with developing content. That’s one of the sticking point in the industry. No matter where you look, it’s critically important and people are a bit uncertain how to go forward.”

Digital Signage Day debuted at the Las Vegas version of the show, so there will be a repeat this year of some of the introductory sessions for the Orlando crowd who may not have made it out to Vegas last year.

The Dynamic Digital Signage Park was also new last year and will be about 25% larger this year, says Feder.

Not Just Digital Signage

DDS is probably the fastest growing—and perhaps even the sexiest—part of the market, but it’s only one component of the much larger signage ecosystem. To cover the waterfront, there are nearly 60 sessions planned, grouped into such tracks as Project Management (a new track this year), Regulatory Issues, Sales, Technical, and Management. These shows are largely about networking, of course, so there are also several Peer Networking Roundtable sessions.

There is also a slate of architectural design sessions designed to inspire creative thinking. “We are traditionally known for seminars that teach you ‘how to do stuff,’” says Sapna Budev, ISA’s Director of Strategic Initiatives. “These sessions are more aspirational and hope to inspire new ways to think about signage, materials, and technology.” The architectural design sessions will look at such areas as wayfinding signage, type and typography, design for healthcare environments, “digital landscapes,” and more. “This is our second year of the architectural design track and it sold out completely in 2013, so we believe it is resonating with a large sector of our traditional attendees as well as new segments of creative professionals with a stake in well-designed signage,” says Budev.

A new feature this year is the INKJet Print Theater, run in partnership with GraphExpo. The INKJet Print Theater features free hands-on demonstration and educational sessions and roundtable discussions on the show floor. A very short list of topics includes textile, garment, and apparel printing (and the profitability thereof); personalization; traditional and LED UV printing; HP Latex printing; and the perennial favorite, color management.

Blow Up

The Sign Expo also features some colocated events, including the Almo E4 AV Tour, featuring classes and sessions in professional audio/visual technology. Another colocated event in particular that is worth a look is the Inflatable Advertising Dealer Association (IADA) Convention. Making promotional balloons, blimps, and those floppy, dancing humanoid figures you usually see outside car dealerships are really only the most conspicuous applications in a large but highly specialized business. How do you go about designing and manufacturing these kinds of things? What options exist? Is it prohibitively expensive? It’s a completely different market from what traditional for-pay print providers are used to, but it’s worth a visit.

On the Floor

More than 500 exhibitors will be on the show floor, and in addition to traditional stalwarts, this year as many as 20% of exhibitors will be Sign Expo first-timers. The gamut of offerings on the show floor will run from electric signs, to wide-format print (in all its myriad varieties), to textile and apparel printing, to dynamic digital signage. Look for a few exciting product announcements in all of these areas.

“There are more exhibitors than 2012 [the last Orlando show], and registration so far is higher than 2012,” says Iain McKenzie, ISA’s Director of Meetings & Events. “We’re very excited.”

WhatTheyThink will be covering the ISA Sign Expo textually and videoly.