The International Sign Association’s (ISA) Sign Expo 2017 returns to its West Coast home at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas. Coming up April 19 to 22, the Sign Expo has become one of the premier showcases of digital sign and display graphics technology, sitting comfortably between traditional analog signmaking and cutting-edge dynamic digital signage.

The magic words this year are partners and colocations, as the Sign Expo begins to embrace other kinds of print. Remember, for much of the ISA’s 70+-year history, print had only been a very small component of the sign industry. Largely thanks to digital inkjet wide-format technologies, print has started to dominate and has even contributed in large part to the Expo’s recent growth. (One doesn’t get to say that very often these days...) This year, events and sessions are being conducted in conjunction with several PIA affiliates; Xplor; and Collaboration in Packaging Production (CPP), the latter of which is colocating its expo with this year’s Sign Expo. (Full disclosure: WhatTheyThink has been working with CPP on this year’s program and I will be moderating several sessions, including a business development session on Wednesday, April 19, sponsored by Konica Minolta.)

“We have a lot of exhibitors and suppliers that operate in the print ecosystem,” said Brandon Hensley, ISA’s Chief Operating Officer. “We started taking a look at different partnerships that we could form to help bring more of the print attendees to our event, and meet the needs of our current attendees in the sign space as they continue to expand their businesses in the print world.”

On Wednesday, before the Sign Expo itself opens, Mandalay Bay will host the colocated National Signage Research & Education Conference (NSREC), is an event targeted toward academics and students in urban planning, architecture, engineering, law, lighting science, marketing, and design. The conference takes a deep dive into the science of signage. This year’s event, which is expected to attract 130 to 150 attendees, will focus on the future of signage, how changes in transportation will affect it, and what signage in the “city of the future” will look like.

Also on Wednesday is the return, for the fifth year, of the highly popular Digital Signage Day, six consecutive sessions that explore the technology and business of dynamic digital signage (DDS). After all these years, much of the conversation surrounding digital signage has evolved to more advanced levels, but the primary focus of some of the Digital Signage Day sessions is still on the basics. “A lot of it is still trying to educate the industry,” said Hensley. “Moving into digital signage is a different business model than static signage.” As a result, the sessions focus on the nuts and bolts of writing and presenting a winning digital signage proposal, developing in-house digital signage content, blending static and dynamic signage, identifying the profit opportunities, and more. Early registration numbers for Digital Signage Day are strong, so there continues to be a lot of interest in DDS.

At the opposite end of the media spectrum, ISA has added a track to this year’s educational program that indicates another growth area in the sign and display market: “We added a track dedicated solely to print, which is new,” said Iain Mackenzie, ISA’s VP of Meetings & Events. Sessions in this track range from “Commercial Print Trends and Best Practices,” “UV Printers: The V is for Versatility,” “Choosing the Technology to Best Fit the Application Requirements,” “Using Data to Increase Profit and Create Opportunity,” “In-Plant Success Stories,” and “Transitioning Your Business with Inkjet.” “Again, it’s trying to put everything out there for our members,” added Hensley.

ISA has tweaked its ISA Innovations Awards, sorting the awards into three categories: Print, Electronic and Traditional Signage, and Business Solutions and Software. All show exhibitors were invited to submit what they consider to be innovative hardware and software products. A full list of nominees can be found here.

Other popular show features, returning for the third year, are the Game Changer sessions, two mini-keynote presentations that, said Hensley, “are more of a big-picture kind of session. Those really seem to resonate.” Thursday’s Game Changer presenter is Jake Wood (“The One and The Nine: Building Teams & Organizations That Win”) while Friday’s is Jia Jiang (“Surprising Lessons from 100 Days of Rejection”).

Returning for the fifth time, with some tweaks, is ISA XDP (formerly called the Cross-Disciplinary Program), which serves as a kind of “scholarship program” that  provides an opportunity for emerging professionals in planning and downtown management, as well as academics, to get education, experience, and inspiration. Limited to applicants who have fewer than seven years of practical experience in their field, participants are comped a three-night hotel stay, free access to the show floor, a 50-percent discount on all ISA educations sessions, a $250 stipend upon completion of the program, free guided tours, and more. Only 35 slots are available; more information can be found here.

The show floor also features the popular “Lounge & Learn” sessions, 21 all-day series of 30-minute presentations on such diverse topics as color management, silicone edge graphics, designing effective signage, myriad aspects of digital signage, and more.

Show floor space is sold out and there is a long waiting list. And attendance numbers look to be high. “We’re projecting more than 20,000 attendees,” said Mackenzie.

“When you say ‘signage,’ it’s such a broad market because it’s all-encompassing,” said Hensley. “We try to create a platform where everyone can find a home, move within the event, and find their niche.”  

Information about the International Sign Expo can be found at