When designing a retail display or digital kiosk, aesthetics, function, and hardware play a large part in deciding the main material of the display or enclosure. The most used materials are steel, plastic, and wood. Here, we dive further into different scenarios that would warrant the use of each one.
Steel is by far the most popular structural material for kiosks and is also popular for store displays as well. Its durability makes it the perfect choice for permanent structures, especially for ones residing outdoors.
Outside kiosks or displays need to either be made of stainless steel or have a powder coating to deter erosion caused by exposure to the elements. Even when using stainless steel, a powder coating is often recommended for an extra layer of protection.
Powder coating is a process in which a protective layer is applied in powder form and then baked on using high temperatures. Much like paint, this layer can be applied in a variety of colors and textures, allowing for a certain level of customization. Unlike paint, the hardened coating provides an additional shell of protection around the metal, adding to the strength of the material underneath.
Steel can also be used for accessories, such as hinges and shelving or other structural materials for both steel displays and kiosk enclosures.
One downside to using steel is that it is more expensive, especially if anything requires curves. This is because curving metal requires many small cuts or bends to manipulate it into the curved or radiused shape. This takes more time and manpower to weld and/or finish the metal before the powder coating process.
In cases where aesthetics call for curves, it is usually recommended that another material, such as plastic or wood, be used to execute that part of the design. This saves both time and money, while still allowing for the main structure to remain steel.
Plastic is a material that can be used for both standard and interactive displays. As a main structural component for permanent displays, the plastic must be thick and durable. In cases where acrylic is used, small surface scratches can be buffed away, making visual upkeep easier.
Thermoplastic, otherwise known as Styrene, is a cheap form of plastic that is often used for display and kiosk accessories. These accessories, both aesthetic and functional, can be made through a process known as vacuum forming.
During vacuum forming, sheets of thermoplastic are heated just enough to become pliable. These sheets are then sucked down to a pattern using vacuum pressure and then left to cool.
A great example of plastic accessories are the privacy domes that can be found over printers and keyboards on ATM machines and self-checkouts. Other examples include shelving, platforms, graphics, product card holders, and even some forms of lighting.
While it is less common to use wood as the main structure for modern-day point of purchase displays, some standard and interactive displays still have structural aspects, such as display decks, made of wood.
Being the more budget-friendly options, plywood and fiberboard are commonly used for structural components on permanent displays. This wood is then often wrapped in or covered with a second material.
If powder coating is planned, the wood must be a particular grade of high-density fiberboard to withstand the heat of the powder coating process.
In other cases, a more natural look may be the objective, and in those cases, wood can be used as an aesthetic overlay, such as thermofoil or laminate. While not real wood, thermofoil and laminate are more affordable finishes designed to look like wood, allowing materials such as plywood to reside underneath and take the place of solid wood.
When it comes time to build either a display or kiosk, the designer must consider what materials will work best to bring the client’s vision to life. Most often, the choice comes down to steel, plastic, or wood.