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Exhibit Case Buyer’s Guide

Understand your options and find the perfect case for your exhibit.

Whether you’re designing a custom case from the ground up or choosing from our extensive selection of exclusive exhibit case designs, you have a lot of options. Some are stylistic while others are functional or related to conservation.

Important Considerations Before Purchasing an Exhibit Case

How fragile and/or valuable are the objects you are displaying?

There are several features that can help protect objects on display, including UV filtering, deck and base materials, seals/gaskets, silica gel compartments and security features.


Is this exhibit case for a permanent, temporary, rotating or traveling exhibition?

Consider how long your objects will be on display to help determine the level of protection and case budget. For traveling exhibits, table leg cases with detachable legs can make shipping easier.


Are the objects you’re displaying on loan?

If so, check the terms of your loan agreement to determine specific conservation and security requirements. 


What style and size of exhibit case would best accommodate your objects?

To determine the best style of exhibit case, consider the size and number of objects you want to display, as well as how you want to display them.

Consider the viewing experience and display height. Some cases may have display areas that are above or below a viewing angle that’s accessible to all patrons.

Also think about where you’ll be putting the case. Is it going to be up against a wall or set in the middle of the space with 360° viewing? 


What looks/finishes would work best in your space?

Exhibit case finishes are available to match any décor from traditional to contemporary. Wood, raised or recessed panels, and molding tend to have a more traditional, architectural feel, while clean lines and neutral colors trend more contemporary.

If you’re looking for the most color options, painted bases offer thousands of choices, including custom colors. Laminate bases are available in hundreds of colors/patterns and offer the added benefits of being extra durable and easy to clean.

Anatomy of an Exhibit Case

Panel leg case - vitrine highlighted


Panel leg case - base highlighted


Panel leg case - deck highlighted


Floor-standing Wall Case - back wall highlighted


Styles of Exhibit Case

Pedestal Cases

Pedestal cases have a square or rectangular base that’s finished on four sides. The pedestal gives the case a substantial, grounded feel. Typically made of formaldehyde-free MDF or wood, pedestal cases come in a wide range of popular base finishes, including painted/paintable, laminate and wood.

Ideal for single objects or groups of small objects.

Table & Panel Leg Cases

Table and panel leg cases are a popular choice for displaying flat objects and are available with slanted decks to enhance visibility. The open base has a lighter feel than a pedestal base. Table legs offer a minimalist style that disappears into the background, while panel legs provide more presence.

Ideal for documents, books and groups of smaller objects.

Tower & Freestanding Cases

Tower and freestanding cases include mannequin cases, double-sided cases and other tall cases designed to be viewed from all sides. These cases have a small base or plinth and provide full-height viewing. They may be completely open on the inside, have shelving or have a center display back (double-sided cases).

Ideal for taller/larger objects or groups of objects. Perfect for items that require 360° viewing.

Floor-Standing Wall Cases

Floor-standing wall cases are designed to be pushed up against a wall, so they need less floor space than tower/freestanding cases. They may be open for displaying taller objects or have shelves. Options with pinnable backs are also great for hanging textiles.

Ideal for situations where it’s preferable to use wall space and minimize floor space used.

Wall-Mount Cases

Wall-mount cases are designed to be hung on a wall. Some offer a display deck to set objects on, while others require objects to be mounted to the back of the case. Most wall cases are surface-mount, but recessed cases are also available.

Ideal for eye-catching displays of small or flat objects. Cases can be grouped to display related objects together.

Tabletop Cases

Tabletop cases let you take advantage of existing table and counter space and are easy to change out and rearrange for temporary exhibits. They’re generally less expensive than cases with a base but also come in a smaller size range.

Ideal for temporary displays and making the most of existing table/counter space.

Specialty Cases

Specialty cases are designed to display specific objects, such as flags, jerseys, balls and more. They may include hangers or mounts specifically for displaying the intended object.

Perfectly sized for specific objects.

Trophy Cases

Trophy cases are most often freestanding wall cases. They’re usually glass with sliding or hinged door access and adjustable shelves to display an array of objects. These cases usually aren’t made with archival materials or environmental control features. They are intended for basic display only.

Ideal for displaying collections of related objects that are not fragile or of significant value.


Custom Designed Cases

Custom cases are designed specifically for your needs. This could be anything from a built-in case that becomes part of the architecture of your gallery to cases designed for specific purposes. Gaylord Archival has designed cases for all sorts of unique situations, from cases that fit around architectural columns to a case for a huge, fossilized dinosaur.

Ideal for very specific display and installation requirements.

Acrylic vs. Glass

In the United States, archival-quality cases with acrylic vitrines are more popular, more available and offer a wider range of choices. Glass cases in the US tend to be trophy-type cases that are not archival-quality. High-end glass cases often are manufactured in Europe which means accounting for long lead times and logistics. However, there are a number of other considerations when choosing acrylic versus glass.

Advantages of Acrylic

  • Acrylic material and fabrication costs less, making it more affordable
  • Light weight makes accessing contents easier, which is ideal for rotating exhibits
  • More case fabricators work with acrylic and conservation-grade exhibit cases, resulting in more options and faster turnaround
  • Compared to glass cases, acrylic is easier to replace

Advantages of Glass

  • Excellent for permanent exhibits due to longevity and durability
  • Glass cases fit a specific aesthetic choice
  • Laminated glass is more secure, and loaned objects may contractually require glass cases
  • Glass's tensile strength makes it ideal for larger cases

To learn more about glass versus acrylic vitrines, visit these additional resources:

Features to Consider

ArchivalMaterialsWhen a case is made from archival materials, it means everything in the display environment has undergone industry testing and is considered a safe material that will not off-gas. This includes the vitrine, the deck, any deck padding or wrapping, and seal/gasket materials when applicable. It usually also includes the base, which is typically formaldehyde-free MDF or powder-coated metal.

Wood is not an archival material and should not be in the display area of the exhibit case; however, if a wood base is completely isolated from the display area by an archival deck, the case may still be considered archival quality. Wood should be separated from the exhibit space via High-Density Plastic Laminate (HDPL), vapor barrier laminate or foil.


UV-filtering acrylic or laminated glass filters out up to 99% of UV rays (97-99% depending on specific material specs) to help minimize light damage to objects on display. This will not eliminate all UV exposure and, if light damage is of particular concern, should be combined with other measures, such as window films/coverings, fluorescent light covers and rotating objects off of display.


A silica gel compartment is a space built into the case to hold silica gel for humidity control. Cases with silica gel compartments should also have seals/gaskets to minimize air exchange and maintain the humidity level.

Silica gel compartments can be accessible under the case's deck or via an external door or drawer. External access makes it more convenient to change the silica gel when needed without disturbing the display area.

You will need to consider the air exchange rate of the case and the size of the case to calculate the amount of silica gel necessary to maintain the humidity level. Use our Silica Gel Calculator to figure out how much you’ll need.

It is also recommended that you use a temperature and humidity data logger to check levels without needing access to the display space.


Silicone gaskets reduce gaps at junction points, such as where the base meets the vitrine, to form a sealed environment that minimizes air exchange. This helps control dust and creates a microclimate in the display area when combined with silica gel.

AccessDepending on how often you need to access a case for changing silica gel, dusting or rotating exhibits, consider the type of access you’ll need and available staff. While some cases offer hinged doors or gas lifters, others require the vitrine to be carefully lifted over the objects without torquing the vitrine. This typically requires two or more staff (depending on vitrine size) and suction cups.  

SecurityThe most common security feature is the use of security screws. Security screws have head patterns that require a specialized screwdriver to remove and are used to attach the vitrine to the base or frame at multiple points. Keyed locks are also available on some cases. 

Laminated glass is also a security feature because the lamination keeps it in tact even if broken.

RemovableDeckAccessRemovable decking allows the deck to be removed and updated with linen or Ethafoam® to change the look of the display space. It may also provide a space for silica gel underneath; however, the vitrine, objects on display and the deck will need to be removed to access the silica gel compartment. This works best for stable items, temporary or rotating exhibits or cases that have a smaller display space.

MobilityIf you need to move exhibit cases out of the way for events and receptions (lest your cases end up tables for cocktails), some cases have or can be customized with hidden casters or pallet jack access.

Look for the Make it Mobile logo at


When overhead lighting is insufficient or you want to highlight specific objects, cases can often be outfitted with different lighting options. Fiber optic lighting is the museum standard, but it can be expensive and difficult to integrate into casework. LED lighting has become more acceptable and is often found in different styles, such as spotlights, light bars, light hoods and overhead lighting. Halogen lighting should be avoided as it creates heat, which can damage items on display.

Exposure to any kind of light can cause irreversible damage over time, so light exposure should be limited for fragile and valuable objects.

Also keep in mind that lighting requires power, so you'll need to run a cord from the case to the nearest outlet. Cords can pose a tripping risk, so this may not be ideal unless the case is being placed against a wall and in proximity to an outlet.

StorageSome exhibit cases offer storage in the form of a cabinet base or drawers. Drawer storage may or may not be accessible to patrons. Patron-accessible drawers provide visible storage and are typically covered in acrylic for protection/security. 

Shelving is most often found in tower and floor-standing wall cases. It allows you to take advantage of vertical space to display a number of smaller objects, minimizing floor space used. It also allows arrangements that create visual appeal and is very versatile for rotating exhibits.

Other Things You May Need for Your Exhibit Case

Acrylic Cleaning Supplies

Acrylic Cleaning Supplies

It is important to choose cleaners that are designed for use with acrylic because ammonia and alcohol-based glass cleaners can cause yellowing, hazing, microfractures, cracks and scratches. Learn more about the Care & Handling of Acrylic.



Suction Cups

Suction cups are recommended for manually lifting vitrines, acrylic panels and plate glass. They provide a much more secure grip when moving vitrines into and out of place around collections, and they help minimize torquing that can split the vitrine seams.  



Display Accessories 

Our wide range of display accessories, including stands, risers, cradles and mounts, provide support for your objects on display in addition to creating visual interest.  



Silica Gel

Available as loose beads, sheets, packets and cartridges, silica gel is used to maintain a specific relative humidity level inside an exhibit case. Use our Silica Gel Calculator to find out how much you’ll need.



Environmental Monitors & Data Loggers

Monitor environmental conditions within your exhibit case with data loggers that provide information on temperature, humidity and even light exposure. Find the best monitor for you with our Environmental Monitor Comparison Chart.



Exhibit Labels

Communicate important exhibit information with our variety of label holders. Need help writing moving exhibit copy? Check out our resource on Creating ADA-Compliant Exhibit Labels.



Helpful Hints

  • Almost all exhibit cases are made to order, even if they’re not customized. Be sure to allow a minimum of three months lead time (longer for custom cases) to ensure on-time delivery. You’ll also want to double-check your order before placing as most exhibit cases are non-refundable.

  • Exhibit cases are big, heavy and can be somewhat fragile. Many are shipped in large wooden crates to ensure safe delivery which adds to the size and weight. Plan your delivery route and installation location carefully to ensure you have adequate clearance at all points.
  • Paintable pedestal cases are an easy and cost-effective way to refresh a rotating exhibit. Paint them to add to the visual appeal and enhance the narrative, or paint them to blend in with the surroundings so they virtually disappear.

Other Resources

AIC Wiki – Exhibition Standards & Guidelines

Gaylord Archival Showcase Comparison Chart


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