Many facilities, such as hotels, casinos, schools, convention centers, museums, and resorts, will have the need, either on an occasional or frequent basis, to set up displays using pipe and drape components.

Of course, pipe and drape displays are traditionally associated with trade show exhibits.  But these displays can be used for something as simple as a celebrity autograph session or author book signing, or for more elaborate occurrences such as live entertainment performances.

In addition to trade show booths, pipe and drape components are ideal for creating backdrops, stage areas, or room dividers.  Other popular facility events at which they are often used include meetings, fundraisers, banquets, speeches, or nearly any public event held in a ballroom.  Some locations also use pipe and drape as an attractive “shield” option to hide sections of the site which are undergoing cleaning or repair work.

This article will help you select the correct components for some of the more typical pipe and drape applications.

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Basic Components Overview

A trade show booth (or back wall) consists of four basic items – three components, plus drape.  Bases, placed on the floor, provide support for the entire set-up.  Vertical uprights are inserted into the bases to create the back and side “walls.”  Drape support rods are hooked into the uprights after the drape is fit onto the rods.  Finally, the drapes themselves create the walls or backdrop.

The typical Trade Show booth

The style and size of booths most commonly seen at trade shows and conventions is a 10-foot x 10-foot unit, with an 8-foot back wall, and 3-foot side walls.  To build and set up this kind of trade show booth, these components are necessary:

  • Two small bases for the draped side walls
  • Two large bases for the back wall
  • Two 3-foot uprights for the draped side walls
  • Two 8-foot uprights for the back wall
  • Three drape support rods (two for the sides; one for the back)
  • Six panels of 3-foot height drapes (three panels for each side wall)
  • Four panels of 8-foot height drapes (for the back wall)

Multi-booth set-ups

If your site needs to set up multiple booths for an event, the most common initial arrangement is for a line of ten booths, side by side.  With each individual booth “sharing” components with its neighbor, this configuration requires a quantity of 11 of each of these components – small bases, large bases, 3-foot uprights, and 8-foot uprights.  It also requires 21 drapes support rods, 33 panels of 3-foot high drapes (for the 11 side walls) and 40 panels of 8-foot high drapes (for the ten back walls).

Twenty booths can be set up in a ten-per-line “back-to-back” configuration, again with individual booths sharing components.  With the back walls being shared, only 11 large bases, 11 8-foot uprights, and 40 8-foot high drape panels are needed (the same quantities of these needed for the ten booth configuration described above).  But the other elements will need to be doubled up, necessitating 22 small bases, 22 3-foot uprights, and 66 panels of 3-foot height drapes.  A total of 32 drape support rods are necessary.

For larger trade shows, craft shows, fairs, or other public events featuring vendors, a 100 booth set up is often utilized.  This arrangement consists of four “inside” lines of the back-to-back 20 booth lines, plus two “outside” lines of ten booths.  Components required are: 110 small bases, 66 large bases, 110 3-foot uprights, 66 8-foot uprights, 170 drape support rods, 330 panels of 3-foot height drape, and 240 panels of 8-foot height drape.

Making the Connections

There are two basic systems for connecting uprights and bases.

Slip-Fit: In this system, the upright tube is open at the bottom and slips over a pin in the base.  This style is frequently seen in exhibit halls where set up speed is critical.

Screw-In: Here, the bottom of the upright is threaded to be screwed into the base.  Thus, the base and the tube become physically connected.

In choosing, and setting up, bases and uprights, remember that the size of the base plate should increase correspondingly with the height of the upright.  Larger base plates are also recommended in set-ups where there might be wind, or heavy foot traffic.

Base Styles

Standard flat bases for slip-fit systems: In these rectangular, slightly-raised heavy-steel base plates, the neck pin is attached via a screw on the bottom.  These bases have two hole positions, to allow the same base to be center-balanced for free-standing set-ups, or side-mounted for use against a wall.  The standard sizes are 8” x 14” (which are used with 3-foot uprights) and 14” x 16” (which are used with 8-foot uprights)

Heavy-duty flat bases for screw-in systems: These square, flat bases are commonly 11” x 11” (used with 3-foot uprights) or 15” x 15” (used with 8-foot uprights).

Upright types

There are three basic types of uprights:

Standard (fixed-height) uprights are available for both the slip-fit or screw-in systems.  The most frequently-used sizes are 3-foot (for sides of a standard “trade show” display) and 8-foot (for the back walls of a display).  They generally feature 1.5-inch diameter tubing (which is the industry standard).

Adjustable uprights enable the creation of booths or walls at heights ranging from 3-feet to 22-feet.  Available in ten sizes, adjustable uprights are often used to cover up items in high-ceiling locations, such as gymnasiums.

Heavy Duty uprights are a variation which features extra-heavy wall (.083) drawn aluminum tubing.  This represents about 33% more aluminum than the standard or adjustable upright styles. Heavy duty uprights feature hardened steel hooks embedded in cast metal pins riveted to the tubing.  Set-ups using heavy duty uprights also often use a different base variation, the cast iron base, which is a generally heavier (11 pounds or 19 pounds) raised base.

Drape support types

Drape supports enable you to adjust the distance between your uprights.  There are two styles: telescoping (the most frequently-used style) and fixed.

Telescoping drape supports consist of two pieces of anodized aluminum tubing which telescope (one piece inside the other), allowing for various distances between uprights.  A set-up using telescoping drape supports can easily change its width.

The most common size of telescoping drape support adjusts between 6-feet (fully closed) to 10-feet (fully extended.  Other sizes include 7-12, 8-14, and 9-16 foot lengths.  Button stops in the support are at increments of every two feet, matching standard booth widths.

As is the case with uprights, there is also heavy duty telescoping drape supports, featuring heavy wall (.083) drawn aluminum tubing.

Fixed drape supports are less extensive than telescoping tubes, and are ideal for situations where the width of a set-up does not need to be changed.  They are lighter than telescoping supports, and are available in sizes of 4-, 6-, 7-, and 8-feet.  Fixed supports at the 3-foot height are frequently used to designate lines, as an alternative to post and rope.

Drape Fabrics

To complete a set-up, along with bases, uprights and drape supports, the final element is draping.  Any material can be used for draping, but there are three main fabrics which have over time become the most frequently used.

Banjo cloth drapes is the most common style of drape used at trade shows due to the lighter weight and lower cost.  It is less opaque than other fabrics.

Premier fabric, providing a rich “linen” look, is often used at formal events.

Velour Drapery is the popular all-cotton choice for theatrical or stage events.

The above fabrics are usually available in multiple color choices, and because they do not go out of style, the ability to add to or replace drapery that matches previously-used set-ups is assured.  All fabrics must be flame-retardant and pass the California fire marshal test.


Pipe and drape displays or booths are generally easy to set up.  Understanding the options for bases, uprights, drape support rods, and drape fabrics will enable anyone planning an event that will feature trade show booths and/or draped walls to set up attractive and functional units.

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