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LFR editor Derek Pearson looks back on 20-years of visiting a certain upcoming sign show at Birmingham’s NEC…

I think the first time I walked into the sign show at the NEC it was in sepia, but it certainly wasn’t a silent movie. It used to be called Sign UK back then, but Sign & Digital UK better reflects the current graphic marketplace. Back in the late 90s the halls were awash with the toxic tang of solvent inks but the 21st Century is a gentler, more eco-friendly beast. That strange, dry atmosphere in the NEC still leaves my lips cracked and reduces my voice to a husky growl, but that would be just as true for a boat show or a dental event.

There have been other changes too. My first sign show in 1996 flew past in a kaleidoscopic blaze of coloured sheets of vinyl, strange aromas, shouting exhibitors and the continuous, teeth-rattling buzz of machinery. Every face was a stranger and every stand presented items of novelty and interest. Times change, most of the faces are now a lot more familiar with several I am happy to count as friends, but the novelty and interest remains unabated. CAD CAM, 3D printing, large format printers, desktop milling systems, speciality materials, vehicle wrapping systems, window graphic materials, blokes abseiling to the ceiling and (possibly) a partridge in a pear tree vie for my camera’s attention. Three days doesn’t seem long enough to properly investigate all the stands, but by close of play on the Thursday evening I bet exhibitors are happy to count their leads and will be very relieved to be heading back home.

The longest queue I ever saw at S&D UK was several years ago and it was for a company that had sent out a calendar to its customers. The calendar pictured a pretty, topless girl sitting on a motorbike. Girl and bike were on the company’s stand for one day and she was signing copies of the calendar. I have to say I was envious. In my spare time I am a novelist and I have done book launches and signings on a number of occasions. If I got a queue like that little girl on a bike I would be a bestseller by the time I left for home, but I think it reflects more on the men of the latter-day sign industry than it does those of the modern world. I have to wonder what sort of queue she would get now?

So the clock is ticking and soon I’ll once more be pulling out my most comfortable shoes to cushion my feet as I walk the equivalent of one and a half London marathons while stalking the next story to be found in halls 17 to 18 of the NEC from the 19th to the 21st of April. Information about exhibitors can be found at www.signuk.com and are currently gracing the pages of Large Format Review.

See you there, and please, let us know what you think of the UK’s foremost graphics event, we’d love to know. Contact me via This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Derek Pearson will be at Sign & Digital UK 2016 throughout the three-day event. He can be found either on LFR’s stand (M6) or circulating the halls in search of the next breaking news story. Feel free to send him details of press launches taking place at the show.