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Protect & Serve

The Finishing Touch of a Laminator

By Kim Crowley

Laminators are used to protect graphics; common items include point of purchase displays and signs, outdoor projects, and vehicle graphics. The current trends and future initiatives in laminator technology focus on furthering the durability of printed media more efficiently and cost effectively.


Other uses for laminators include the application of special effect coatings and mounting to a firm substrate. “A laminator should be used any time a graphic needs extra protection or a specialty finish,” comments Jerry Hill, VP, sales and marketing, North and South America, Drytac Corporation.


Whether a laminator is used to protect from abrasions, fingerprints, and outdoor elements; to add a specialty coating like frosted glass or gloss; or mounting a print, the equipment allows a print service provider (PSP) to increase productivity and profit, while offering well-finished and long-lasting goods. “Simply put, a laminator converts printed images into a profit opportunity,” agrees Tim Saul, business development manager, D&K Group, Inc.


PSPs should look for laminators that fit their current application lineup and simultaneously allow for future growth. Additionally, the laminator should be wider than in-house printers.


Decoding the Process

Laminators are designed to use liquid or film laminates, each with their own benefits. With film, laminate single-sided for visual impact, encapsulate for protection, and mount to a wide variety of rigid substrates.


Less expensive than film, liquid laminators are often used in high-volume projects. Based on information from Drytac, shop owners can realize a ten-fold decrease in laminating costs with an UV-curable liquid laminator and a four-fold decrease in laminating costs with an aqueous flood coater. In addition, liquid coating produces less waste than film laminating, is faster, and incurs less training expense.


Conversely, film laminators feature advantages over liquid. Steven B. Frazier, project engineer, Coda, Inc., notes that while liquid is cost effective for large volumes, “film is cleaner and quicker than a liquid laminator, and the coated graphic does not need to be spread out to dry.”


Many of Clearstar LP’s customers say they prefer the flexibility of liquid versus the more rigid feel of film. However, some print shops favor the body that film gives versus the more pliable feel that the liquid elicits, share Chuck McGettrick, North American sales manager, and Patrick Forney, product manager, Clearstar.


Hot and Cold

Many laminators employ heat to create a stronger, smoother bond. “Even if a pressure-sensitive laminate is running, if a bit of heat is put on it—about 90 degrees—everything is more pliable,” agrees Frank Corey, senior sales and marketing manager, Quality Media and Laminating Solutions (QMLS).


Laminator warm up time varies depending on equipment and materials. Most range between ten and 25 minutes. “Low-melt films require temperatures from 185 to 210 Fahrenheit and feature lower warm up times averaging ten to 15 minutes. Standard adhesive films require temperatures around 230 to 250 Fahrenheit and may require additional warm up time,” says Steve Milazzo, channel manager, General Binding Corporation.


Clearstar offers a tip to bypass warm up delays. “Turn the heater on when threading the media though the machine to be coated. By the time the media is loaded on the machine, the heater will be hot enough to coat your media,” shares Forney.


Cold laminators do not use heat. Ike Harris, president, Daige, Inc., says laminating with a cold device is easier because heat and speed variables are eliminated.


PSPs experience no warm up time, no heat-related safety issues, and no odor. “Media is returned to its original form even after being folded or rolled,” explains Corey Hoff, product manager, Xyron Inc.


Lamination Hurdles

Operating a laminator often takes finesse and experience, sometimes even creative adjustments and homemade tools. “Lamination is still an art. There are scientific principles involved, but each laminator has its own nuances. A properly trained and experienced operator will get the best results from the equipment,” states Drytac’s Hill.


Problems arise as a result of dust-covered graphics, humidity, temperature adjustments, roller tension, and dirty rollers. Jim Mooney, regional sales manager, LEDCO, Inc., a division of Graphic Laminating, shares a testing tip. “We recommend that an ‘X’ test be done after a sample print goes through the laminator. This procedure tests the strength of the lamination bond by cutting a large X on the surface of the sample with a sharp blade. After pulling back one of the corners of the X, ink and/or paper fibers that come up with the layer of film indicates a good bond,” he says.


Investing in the right laminator is important to achieving the best quality output, with the least operation difficulty. “An inferior laminator can cost money and time, and add more frustration in the long run,” states Tony Caruso, East Coast sales, Advanced Greig Laminators, Inc.


He warns against laminators that use a crowned roller design. “They cannot feed evenly because a crowned roller’s thickest point is at the center and then tapers towards the end. This is a design flaw that causes the center of the print to be pulled into the laminator more aggressively than the sides, resulting in ruined prints.”


Silvering is a common concern with laminating. The visual appeal of the laminated graphic is marred by tiny air bubbles trapped between the adhesive and the print, similar to the effect of tape on dark paper. “Applying heat to the laminate and running the laminator very slowly usually eliminates this effect,” explains Frazier.


Corey says silvering typically goes away on its own in about two days, but customers want the finished product perfect right away.

Working with canvas has its challenges. “Mounting a canvas print usually requires heat to soften the adhesive, thus allowing it to flow into the valleys of the canvas, forming a much stronger bond,” notes Frazier.


McGettrick and Forney say Clearstar customers who coat vinyl, canvas, and wallpapers find success with liquid. “Card stock and paper pose the greatest challenge, as both of these media types function differently and tend to outgas heavily. They are also very porous, which can cause the laminate to behave in contrary ways,” they comment.


Protect and Serve

Finishing graphics with a laminator generates great margins for additional profits. Lamination extends the life of an image and provides extra wow factor when necessary.


Read more about laminators—updates to existing product lines and new models—by visiting Search keyword “Laminator News.” Also, learn about end users’ experiences with their finishing devices in the same article.


Jul2010, Digital Output

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