Have you seen the price of modular display panels? Exhibition display panels are aimed at the corporate market. Why not make your own? I’ll show you how to make cheap art display panels that are easy to make and look professional.
Make art show display panels using polycarbonate sheets. You need 4mm or 10mm twin-wall polycarbonate roofing/glazing panels. Cut them to size, use them as they are, or cover them in nylon fabric, vinyl, or spray paint. Tidy the sides with edging strips.
Let’s go into more detail and then I’ll suggest an alternative option.
(I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post. However, I only promote products I like and recommend)
Make Your Art Display Panels With Polycarbonate Sheets
You see so many ideas for art show panels on sites such as Pinterest, and they’d have you believe that you can just toss your panels into the back of a van and, off you go. Yeah right.
Well, what if you don’t have, or want, to own a van? Are the panels they suggest really so practical? Other sites advise peg-boards and Gridwall panels (affiliates). Have you ever picked up a 6ft x 2ft metal Gridwall panel? (affiliate). They’re not my idea of portable I can tell you. You’ll get a hernia.
It’s all very well if you’re young, fit, and healthy, but what about everyone else? You need something much more manageable.
That’s why I use polycarbonate sheets (affiliate). They are super strong, super light, and easy to cut yourself. Not only that, they can be spray painted, covered in sticky-backed plastic, or brushed nylon fabric (affiliates)
And if things go wrong? It’s not the end of the world, they are cheap enough to replace.
How to Cut Polycarbonate Sheets
You can order polycarbonate cut to size but if for some reason this is not an option, you can cut your display panels yourself.
No skills are needed and very few tools: (affiliate links)
A sharp craft knife will cut 4mm sheets and you’ll need a long metal ruler. Please be careful. You’ll be tempted to press too hard and the blade can slip easily. Mind those fingers, I say that from bitter experience.
I used a cutting board (affiliate) beneath the board but you could use some cardboard.
A new sheet will have a protective film on both sides. It not only prevents ugly scratching, but it’s also less slippery for your ruler, and you can draw guidelines over it with a permanent marker. Don’t peel it off until the end.
Thicker polycarbonate can be cut along its corrugation with a sharp blade but you’ll need a fine-tooth hand saw to cut across it.
Simple errors or untidy cutting can be disguised with an edging strip at the end.
That’s all there is to it. What could be simpler than that?
What Size Art Display Panels Do You Need?
This is where it’s not so obvious as you think. I traded for many years without a van and when I eventually bought one, it was very small and space was limited.
I cut my art display panels to fit my van space. I had just over 5ft (150cm-ish) to play with, 6ft panels were too long.
You will find that standard-sized panels in hardware stores will usually be 2ft (60cm) wide by up to 10ft (300cm) long. It may make more sense to order online, and if you do that, you might as well get them cut to size.
Talking about sizes you should read this too: What Size Art Sells Best? Frames and Apertures – FREE Chart
For years I’ve been using 5ft x 2ft (150cm x 60cm) display panels.. Originally I used 10mm twin-wall panels but more recently I’ve used 4mm x 4ft x 2ft (120cm x 60cm) panels. They are strong enough for my needs, I suspend them on a metal frame but I’m not hanging picture frames.
If the panels are going to take any weight or be free-standing, you’ll be better off using 10mm sheets, they are more rigid.
I’m obsessed with weight and size because these days I cycle to work and transport my stuff on a bike trailer. Everything I do must survive the knocks and bangs of everyday work and the weather.
Polycarbonate sheets are perfect. If they can survive that on a daily basis, they can survive a van or a car roof rack.
This post is an extract from my guide called Selling Art Made Simple, and there is plenty more like this. It’s everything you need to know!
How to Cover Your Art Display Panels
There are 3 ways to cover your panels. All have pros and cons: (affiliates)
- Brushed Nylon Fabric
- Sticky-back Vinyl Wrap
- Spray Paint
Let’s go through them.
Brushed Nylon Fabric (affiliate)
Originally I spray-glued Velcro-compatible nylon fabric to the boards. The same stuff they use on commercial exhibition stands.
It was a messy job and tricky to get a bubble-free finish, but the results were good.
It seemed like the perfect answer, but after a few months of heavy use, the shortcomings became apparent.
The nylon fabric was not suitable for exterior use.
The color bleached. Every time I moved a picture there was a darker patch of color beneath. It didn’t like the rain either. The fabric actually shrank at the edges.
None of this is a problem indoors, but there was another reason to stop using fabric. The brushed nylon wears out. Eventually, the fabric loses its tack and velcro doesn’t stick.
That’s the same problem you’ll get with professional modular display panels. They are great for occasional use, and if that’s your intention, go for it. Otherwise, consider a different option.
Sticky-backed Plastic Vinyl Wrap (affiliate)
You can buy vinyl sticky-backed plastic (affiliate) in wide 3ft (90cm) rolls. Choose your color and you are good to go.
It’s important to remember that anything trapped between the vinyl and the panel will stand out horribly as you stick the plastic down. The tiniest speck will stand out like a teenage pimple and you can’t remove it. Even a hair will look like twisted wire. Be warned, the surface must be clean.
The other issue is air bubbles. It’s so hard to apply vinyl without leaving a rash of bubbles behind. I found the most success by laying the vinyl on a flat surface and unpeeling it, sticky side up. I could then carefully place the panel on top, press it down, flip it over and smooth it out.
You can remove a bubble by pricking it with a needle. It’s not invisible but it is much better.
You can use a hairdryer to heat the vinyl and peel back the edge. You must be careful and peel it evenly, but it works.
Car Spray Paint (affiliate)
My final discovery was spraying a section of polycarbonate with black car spray paint (affiliate). It adhered wonderfully. I used matt black but the limit is your imagination.
I have experimented a great deal with paint, and I haven’t tested it long term, but I don’t anticipate problems if I spray both sides. If you decide to spray one side only, be aware that any scratches will allow the light to shine through like tiny light beams.
If scratches present a problem, I can’t see why a quick respray wouldn’t fix the issue.
One Other Option to Consider
Polycarbonate panels are available in bronze. In other words, you can use them as they are, without covering them at all. Gridwall, pegboard, and wire-mesh alternatives, certainly don’t look any better.
If you need a darker base, you can cover the back with anything you like and just use the bronze frontage. When you add edging strips they will look great.
How to Join the Panels Together
I have done this in the past. The easiest way to link the boards together is to use self-adhesive Velcro strips as hinges. Another option is to drill holes and tie them together with a cord or shoelaces. The holes can be tidied with eyelets.
There’s almost nothing that can’t be rigged up using a self-adhesive hook and loop velcro Tape (affiliate) I use it all the time. I buy 25m x 25mm rolls on Amazon or Ebay.
If you want to attach two 10mm panels without needing to hinge them, there are ‘H’ section PVC strips designed to do just that. You can get them from the same roofing suppliers.
How Do You Edge Your Art Display Panel?
Polycarbonate sheets are easy to make attractive. You can buy 4mm and 10mm edging trims and cut them to size.
When I had trouble finding 4mm trim I improvised and used a series of paper binder bars (affiliate) instead. It looked OK. Another option is a 4mm car trim. Black panels with chrome car trim borders would look great.
An Alternative Art Display Option
Instead of using polycarbonate sheets, you can use Correx corrugated plastic signboards (affiliate). It’s the same board used by sign makers for temporary ‘For Sale’ signage.
I use it all the time. It’s so handy. It cuts like cardboard and you can make boxes, trays, and backing boards. There’s any number of uses. I use it for cheap art display panels too. It’s not as robust as polycarbonate and it scuffs easily, but then again, if it gets damaged I cut it up and re-use it for smaller jobs.
Like cardboard, it’s not very strong along the corrugations. It bends easily. You must use rigid trims at each end if you use them for display panels.
Alternatively, if you don’t mind doubling up, you can buy some double-sided carpet tape and stick two panels together. If you cross the corrugations, one panel with vertical lines and the other with horizontal, the board will be rigid.
There are surprisingly few classes about exhibiting in shows. This is one I found for you on Skillshare (affiliate)
Cheap Display Panels – Final Thoughts
I make my own cheap art display panels because I know from experience that the less I have to carry, the happier I am. Lugging around heavy gear ain’t no fun.
Don’t get too obsessed with having the perfect display. When in doubt throw a cloth over it. It works wonders. All you need is something that grabs the attention of passers-by.
Subtlety is all very well, but you have micro-seconds to catch the eye and bold is best. When it comes to advertising yourself, good taste must take 2nd place. Think big and bold and you can’t go wrong
If you like the way I draw and want to try things for yourself, this is my basic kit: (Amazon affiliate links)
- Pentel Mechanical Pencils 0.3mm
- Derwent Graphic Drawing Pencils
- Daler-Rowney Heavyweight Cartridge Paper
- Jakar Battery Eraser
- Tombo Mono Eraser Pen
- Faber Castell Putty Eraser
- Blu Tack
Don’t miss out. This is info’ you will not find anywhere else!
If this post floats your boat, check out these:
- How to Repair Drawing Paper: 9 Ways to Rescue Your Artwork
- Selling in Art Fairs (5 Tips You Can’t Afford to Ignore)
- How to Prepare for an Outdoor Art Fair (Your No1 Problem Revealed)
- This is How to Price Art Prints: Practical Advice for Beginners
- What Kind of Art Sells Best? All The Secrets Revealed
Plus find an ONLINE COURSE that suits you.
PIN IT AND SAVE IT