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Armor & Appeal

Laminates Protect and Enhance

By Kim Crowley

Laminates do more than lengthen the life of large format prints. Based on a wide variety of finishes, laminates shield graphics from glare and add design elements. Final installation also benefits when laminates are used. “Lamination is viewed as a requirement and no longer as a choice,” states Matt Buckley, technical specialist, FDC Graphic Films, Inc.

Composition Systems Inc. (CSI), based in Falls Church, VA, uses laminates for its vehicle graphics, posters, and adhesive vinyl wall murals. “We typically recommend lamination when the image is displayed longer than a few days,” notes Rob Harris, COO, CSI. “We view lamination as a cheap insurance policy against damage.” Harris estimates that at least 90 percent of CSI’s photographic output and 85 percent of their adhesive vinyl output is laminated.

“All large format prints should utilize a laminate. It is an opportunity to add value to your print as well as increase revenue for your business,” shares Brian Franks, director sales and marketing, Advanced Greig Laminator, Inc. (AGL).

Lamination adds an extra stream of revenue for the print provider, but it mainly serves to beautify and protect. “We don’t generate a tremendous amount of profit when we laminate, but we normally sell it to our clients as peace of mind,” says Harris.

Universal Protection
Many unavoidable elements and controllable hazards influence the longevity and polished look of printed graphics. “Laminates are the universal surface protection of digital media,” says Martin Kugler, corporate communications manager, Hexis USA LLC.

Fingerprints discredit the look of printed graphics. In retail situations, graphics often need to be cleaned. Abrasions, marks, and scratches result from human hands and feet; dust, graffiti, road hazards, transport, and installation are other issues to consider.

UV light accelerates the aging of prints. “When a digital print is in a sunny location for an extended period of time, it is not uncommon to use a laminate,” says Susie Mendelssohn, marketing, Triangle Digital INX Co. “However, the need for laminates is decreasing due to changes in ink fade resistance. Most inks once required a laminate, but today solvent inks provide up to three years of outdoor durability,” she continues.

Despite this evolution, laminates are necessary in many locations. “The extent of UV protection offered by substrate laminates varies by product and temperature zone. Be sure to check with the manufacturer before extending warranties based on UV protection,” cautions Ritchie Daize, international digital sales manager, Arlon, Inc.

LexJet Corporation’s laminates feature UV inhibitors with PreLume technology. “PreLume technology visually enhances graphic output by providing a white point that is brighter, whiter, and lasts considerably longer than substrates whitened with typical optical brighteners,” says Jeff Leto, product manager, LexJet.

Lance Hutt, global digital product manager, Avery Graphics believes laminates go beyond protecting graphics from common elements. Current laminates provide unique functions such as anti-graffiti features, water resistance, high-traffic zone protection, and UL approval for common floor graphics.

Indoor and outdoor promotional applications aren’t the only output that need protecting. Peter Spotto, sales manager, DreamScape, advises that wallcoverings receive a laminate coating to protect against stains and abrasion. “This is especially necessary for installations in high traffic areas—such as hallways, stores, and play areas—where there is an increased chance of damage to the surface.”

Visibility Issues
Large format signage only succeeds in portraying a message if it is clearly visible. Certain conditions, such as lighting, influence the way a printed graphic is viewed. Targeted lamination controls glare from overhead or harsh lighting situations. “A high-glare lighting environment requires a luster or matte finish so the customer can see the message,” shares Jeffrey Stadelman, graphic products technical marketing manager, MACtac Graphic Products.

“To avoid glare, a matte finish is common for interior graphics or locations where cameras will be found,” says Tim Boxeth, marketing manager, 3M Graphics Market Center.

Window films, which feature holes to let light in, require an overlaminate. Buckley notes that laminating is essential for view-through-window graphics and high-resolution images to maximize reflective properties.

Judy Bellah, public relations manager, Clear Focus Imaging, Inc., says laminates maintain visibility by preventing a window film’s holes from filling with water. This could happen from rain or a window wash.

Enhance an Image
Laminates act as design elements. Depending on the finish, laminated graphics can look very realistic. “A gloss overlaminate is very common for vehicle wraps to provide a wet-paint look,” explains 3M’s Boxeth. Gloss finishes attract attention and give color a vibrant statement.

New overlaminate finishing options extend beyond classic matte and gloss finishes, adding a dramatic effect to printed graphics. For example, a frost coat can be used for a Winter ski resort ad or a glitter laminate for a jewelry store poster. “For indoor use we use patterned laminates for added effect,” says Troy Downey, owner, Auto Paint Equivalent (APE) Wraps of Coronado, CA. “All of these provide the client with added pop to elevate the prints to a higher level,” he adds.

MACtac’s Permacolor Enhancers series of overlaminating films include components like glass shards and metallic flakes built into the formula. Stadelman says Permacolor Enhancers add an extra sparkle in vehicle wraps.

Drytac Corporation’s Protac range of laminates includes 18 finishes. “The most artistic finishes resemble brushed steel, cracked ice, heavy textured canvas, antique leather, and linen,” says Jerry Hill, VP of sales and marketing, Drytac.

Eclypse Patterned Overlaminates are new to R Tape Corporation’s Eclypse overlaminate line. “Graphics are matched to one of five finishes that add dimension and texture. These finishes include Glitter, Carbon Fibre, Linen, Frost, and Diamond Plate,” says John Porpora, director of marketing, R Tape.

3M also provides enhancer laminate options. “3M offers a metallic ‘sparkle’ overlaminate in limited market test right now called 3650-0559,” notes Boxeth.

Pattern overlaminates are attractive, but not for every project. “These are special effects products. So we recommend using them for special applications. In a store environment, the eye-catching appeal stops consumers in their tracks. Your marketing message is noticed, read, and remembered,” explains Jim Hingst, business development manager, R Tape.

Application Upsides and Pitfalls
In addition to damage protection, visibility, and attractiveness, laminates add thickness to graphics. “They help build a thicker, more manageable product to handle,” says Robert Rundle, viscom market manager, Ritrama Inc.

The result is an easier installation. “Application is typically easier with the added thickness a laminate provides,” says Buckley. “With the constant improvements in ink technology, more customers may begin to laminate less for the protection value and more to change the finish or make application easier,” he continues.

“Many applicators prefer—and charge lower application rates—for graphics that are substrate laminated since they have more body and are easier to handle,” admits Daize. “Substrate laminates also eliminate the need to use transfer tape, which saves application time.”

The application of a laminate can be challenging. “The combination of the correct pressure, tension, and temperature always makes it interesting. Laminating is as much an art form as actually creating the prints,” admits CSI’s Harris.

“Dust must be carefully cleaned-out,” cautions Alejandro Scotti, production manager, Influence Graphics, a NY-based digital printer. “For cold laminates, it’s better to use low heat to smooth out tiny bubbles. For graphics over eight feet long it is important to set the correct pressure settings so wrinkles don’t appear at the ends.”

Laminate Options
Various media requires specific laminates. In particular, a liquid laminate is better suited for canvas due to its texture, states Jim Manelski, president, BullDog Digital Imaging Products, Inc. “All canvas prints produced on water-based printers need a liquid laminate to protect the print from moisture, abrasion, and fading. Canvas printed on solvent printers do not necessarily require a liquid laminate, but many print service providers (PSPs) still coat solvent output for added protection or to achieve a desired sheen,” says Manelski.

Liquid laminates are applied with coaters, or by hand with sprayers or brushes. Options are available from companies like 3M, BullDog Digital, Clearstar LP, DreamScape, Drytac, Lumina Coatings International Inc., Optima International, and Triangle Digital.

Solid laminate solutions are made of vinyl, cast vinyl, orientated polypropylene (OPP), polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polycarbonate, polypropylene, or tedlar. These products are sold on a roll. Thermal laminates are applied using a laminator that incorporates heat. Pressure-sensitive, or cold, laminates are applied with the aid of a heatless laminator.

Laminates in the solid category are available from companies such as 3M, AGL, Arlon, Avery, FDC Graphic Films, General Binding Corporation (GBC), Hexis, KAPCO Graphic Products, LexJet, MACtac, Neschen Americas/SEAL, Oracal USA, Quality Media and Laminating Solutions, and Ritrama.

Finding the proper laminate for a particular project depends on factors such as the duration a graphic is used, media and ink, budget, and how the print is displayed.

Cost is a major driver when choosing the best fit. “Film laminates range from 25 to 75 cents per square foot. Some liquids cost just three cents per square foot,” admits Hill.

“Shops sometimes utilize a liquid laminate because they don’t have the equipment required to install a vinyl laminate,” states David Grant, VP of marketing, Oracal. “Other times shops choose a liquid laminate to save material costs, especially for jobs not requiring extended durability.”

Surface texture also determines the type of laminate required for a project. For example, floor graphics require a slip-resistant laminate. Meanwhile, “in the case of textured wallcoverings, it is not advisable to use a vinyl or thermal over a heavily textured surface,” notes DreamScape’s Spotto.

Read our Laminates Roundup online, at, for highlights on popular laminates available today.

The Future of Laminates
Manufacturers continue to improve laminates. Many advancements are slated in the next few years. With customers clamoring for sustainable solutions, laminates will go “green.” Rundle of Ritrama expects to see this change.

Laminates save PSPs money in replacement prints. They aid by connoting a special feeling or message within a campaign and ensure output is visible. Laminates offer a variety of benefits that lead to more attractive, longer lasting large format graphics.

Apr2009, Digital Output

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