Printing and Design Tips: August 2014, Issue #157

What Are Table Throws and Table Runners?

It is a truism that everything is an advertisement for your business. Every brochure, large format sign, letter, or business card showcases your brand, and if you present your business at a trade show, you might add the table throw and table runner to this list.

What is a table throw? It is a fabric table cloth branded to your business. It covers your table at a convention.

I have recently begun procuring convention materials for a print brokering client of mine, so I have been doing extensive research. Here are some options I have found.

Size and Dimensions

Convention booths come in standard sizes (often 10-feet x 10-feet). Therefore, the tables used for convention presentations are usually either 6-feet or 8-feet in length.

If you attend many conventions and need to cover both 6-foot and 8-foot tables, you might consider a convertible table throw. This can be folded and hooked (usually with velcro) to cover a larger or smaller table as needed. Or, for less money, you can buy a table runner, a narrow printed fabric piece you lay down over an unprinted table cloth. These come in various widths, such as 24” or 30” wide, and you lay them across the table and down the front to the floor. Under a table runner, you would place an unprinted table cloth of, perhaps, a contrasting color.

Table throws can be purchased that are fitted to the table. These create more of a display podium look, with crisp, vertical edges from the table top to the floor.

Other options include stretch fabric, which covers the table top and table legs with a more curved, futuristic look. This is especially dramatic if your banner has been printed not only on its front but all the way across the top, front, and sides of the fabric.

As an alternative, you can choose a more draped look, with the table throw falling naturally from the edges of the table, with folds (like a table cloth at a fancy buffet). I think this looks a bit more sophisticated, but it depends on your goals and the use of the table throw. You might also want to ask your vendors about rounded corners on the bottom edges and plastic clips with which to attach the throw to the table, so it won't move or slip off.

One final consideration is the size of the table throw's back panel. Convention goers will never see this side, but if you have boxes of product literature you need to access, you might find it useful to have only a few inches of fabric hanging down the back of the table throw. This would allow you to more easily grab a handful of brochures from a box under the table. (Some vendors call this an “economy table throw.”)

Printing Options

Screen printing one copy of anything is not cost effective. You have to do a lot of set-up and clean-up work for a single image. However, if you can produce a number of identical table throws at the same time (let's say three or more copies), screen printing may be a good option. The screen printing ink is thick and durable, and it sits up on the surface of the fabric table throw as well as seeping into its fibers. Nevertheless, if you mistreat a screen printed piece, the ink will still crack, so it is still important to fold the table throw and return it to its plastic bag between uses. Screen printing will also accept multiple washings.

If you choose to screen print your table throw, your large format print provider will ask how many inks you want to use. It's most economical to start with one or two on a base table throw color that contrasts the ink color, although spectacular design work can be accomplished with four or more inks. This does get expensive, though.

If you're printing only one table throw, however, your best option is dye sublimation technology. (In this process, inks are first jetted onto receiver paper. From the receiver paper, the image is then transferred to the final fabric using heat and pressure. The heat sublimates the inks, turning them from a solid to a gas and then transferring them into the fibers of the table throw fabric.)

Dye sub printing is suited for polyester fabrics, rather than cotton, so your table throw will probably be polyester. My large format print provider has also spoken of nylon fabrics used for table throws. In some cases, the fabric used on the front of a table throw is different from the more stretchable fabric covering the table. Regardless, it's wise to ask for moisture resistant and fire resistant materials. And since people spill liquids from time to time, make sure the printed product will tolerate multiple washings.

Unlike screen printing, your dye sublimation table throw can have artwork on the front, sides, and top (essentially, across the entire surface of the table throw). What this gives you is a much larger “canvas” to work with. Imagine the difference between a marketing poster on the side of a bus in a frame and a fleet graphic covering all sides and windows of a bus. The latter provides a breathtaking view. The same is true for a table throw with art splashed across its entire surface rather than just applied to the front panel.

More Convention Materials

Pens and cups branded with your company's name can also be of value at a convention. Anything that gets your brand in front of potential buyers on a repeat basis is ideal for reinforcing the sale of your product or service.

But how do printers add logos to three-dimensional objects like cups and pens?

There are a few ways. I have seen a special apparatus created to hold pens under the moving print heads of inkjet equipment. Inkjet printers can spray an image on just about anything that can be held in place.

An alternative for a longer press run is screen printing, and for a cylindrical object like a mug, screen printing works in the following way. The flat fabric or metal screen with ink slathered across its mesh surface stays in a fixed position in contact with the mug, while the mug itself is rotated. The squeegie then drags ink across the surface of the screen and through its mesh, depositing the viscous ink on the moving surface of the cup.

For some other products, like golf balls, pad printing is ideal. In this process, a squeezable pad (like a hand exercise ball) picks up the inked image from a printing plate. The pad is then lowered onto (in the case of a golf ball) the spherical (or other-shaped) surface to be printed, depositing the inked image.

[Steven Waxman is a printing consultant. He teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.]