Building Exhibition Panels

Building Exhibition Panels
Most museums don’t have unlimited resources to create exhibitions. Many temporary exhibits are created in-house, using tried and true methods that are practical and inexpensive. If you are planning a long-term or traveling exhibition, the investment in more sturdy products is worth the wear and tear your panels will experience if they will be up for a year or more.

If you are creating an exhibit that won’t be up permanently, the following list includes options that are less expensive than having a graphic designer fabricate them for you.

Please note: The first two options on this list assume you have already printed your materials in-house or had them printed elsewhere before creating your panels.

Foam Core

Most museums rely heavily on foam core to create exhibit panels. The least expensive option is to purchase plain foam core from your local craft store. It is available in a variety of sizes, ranging from small 20” x 30” boards all the way up to 4 x 8 feet. The next step is to create a bond between your paper panel and the foam core.

DO NOT USE SCOTCH TAPE. Your paper will buckle, and it will likely not stick to the foam core as long as you want it to. When mounting your panels, make sure the entire piece fits onto the board. You will be cutting it out later, so don’t get hung up on whether or not it is straight.

There are three ways to mount paper to foam core:

1. Spray adhesive. I prefer 3M Super 77. It creates a tight bond that will last. However, it is unforgiving – once it sticks, it’s STUCK! To avoid peeling edges, the trick is to overspray beyond the paper to ensure full coverage. Lay a larger piece of paper down underneath your panel to keep the glue from coating your floor. Be sure to use it in a well-ventilated area. It is not pleasant to breathe.

2. Dry mount adhesive. You can apply a dry mount adhesive onto your foam core using a product such as a Coda laminating machine. You can purchase rolls of adhesive that can be applied directly onto the foam core to create a sticky surface. The adhesive is covered with wax paper that you peel off to expose the adhesive just before you mount your panel. You can also purchase laminate for the machine in a variety of finishes for a polished look.

3. Pre-mounted adhesive boards. You can purchase, at a slightly higher cost, foam core that has adhesive already mounted on one side. If you are not interested in investing in a laminator, but you don’t want to use a spray adhesive, this might be a cost-effective option for you in the long run.

After you have mounted your panels onto the foam core, it’s time to cut them out. The best – and safest – option is to use a mat cutter. You can also use a straight edge and a razor blade, but this option is much less stable. (Early in my career, I actually cut the tip of my left thumb off using this method. I was much relieved to discover my current employer had already purchased a mat cutter when I took the job.)

Foam core is generally attached to the wall using a double-stick foam tape. I recommend Scotch Permanent Mounting Tape. I have tried other brands, but nothing has ever fallen off the wall for me when I’ve used Scotch. It can be difficult to remove a panel at the end of an exhibit, but that is far better than having one crash to the ground mid-way through and crushing a corner or two.

Poster Frames

There are a variety of inexpensive frames available today that come in a wide range of oversized options that might be perfect for your application. Choose something neutral in a black, gold or silver finish so you will be able to reuse them many times for a variety of exhibition topics. Plexiglas is much lighter and will not break, so avoid frames with real glass if possible. Poster frams are perfect for galleries that have a hanging system in place so you don’t have to put up a nail or picture hanger to hang them.

To trim your panels, remove the Plexiglas from the frame and set it down on top of your panel. Trace around it with a pencil and use a mat cutter to trim the excess. You can also use scissors, but go very slow so you make a perfectly straight cut.

Kodak PhotoTex Paper

This is the priciest option available for in-house exhibit panel creation. But in my opinion, it is well worth the cost. PhotoTex is a repositionable canvas-like paper that you can print on directly. The adhesive is similar to a post-it note, but it will not buckle, peel, or wrinkle. It comes in a variety of sizes in both rolls and flat sheets for plotters or desktop printers.

There is no residue after removing a PhotoTex panel from the wall. It is a curator’s dream! If your budget will allow, PhotoTex will take a lot of the hassle out of exhibit installation, particularly for oversized panels that can be unwieldy and difficult to mount and hang using other methods.

Some of the products listed above are available on

You Should Also Read:
PRODUCT REVIEW - Kodak PhotoTex Plotter Paper
How to Choose an Exhibition Designer
How to Create an Exhibit on a Shoestring Budget

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This content was written by Kim Kenney. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Kim Kenney for details.