Laminators are a key component to print providers. They provide the value-add to deliver a quality product. Lamination is an important consideration for a wide range of wide format applications. This finishing step enables print service providers (PSPs) to present a product designed to withstand any elements it may encounter throughout its life span—whether UV rays or fingerprints. Lamination services are common and add value to a print job, especially for long-term applications, those that are displayed outside, or are prone to handling.
Even with developments in ink sets for wide format printing, lamination or coating is still relevant. Some film laminates or liquid coatings are designed for specific functions in addition to overall durability. Applications designed for long-term outdoor use benefit from a weatherable film that protects against UV rays as well as other elements that affect the longevity of a print. Additionally, emerging applications, such as floor graphics, vehicle wraps, and wall graphics, are adorned with specialty overlaminates that provide anti-graffiti or anti-slip properties.
“Today it is easy to find media and ink that can withstand weather, temperature changes, and UV rays. However, lamination is still a critical step because it also provides protection from dirt, debris, insect splatters, tree sap, and scratches in addition to enhancing the image with different fabrics and finishes,” says Tony Caruso, eastern regional sales, Advanced Greig Laminators, Inc. (AGL).
Many factors should be taken into consideration when choosing a laminating film. Primarily, it is dependent on the end use and other specifications of the application itself.
“If the application is indoors, customers can use either thermal or PSA lamination films,” says Tim Saul, business development manager, D&K Group, Inc. Each of these provide adequate print protection for interior applications. However, for outdoor use, Saul recommends PSA versions. “The outdoor vinyl laminates are designed to withstand the outdoor elements and are available in various finishes, ranging from gloss to textured,” he adds.
In addition to protection, lamination has the ability to add aesthetic improvements, such as a matte versus glossy look. Greg White, sales manager, Coda, Inc., admits that glossy laminates are more popular for commercial displays as the apparent enhanced saturation adds an eye-catching pop to the image. On the other hand, portrait and wedding images benefit from subtle luster or matte laminates.
White suggests polyester-based laminates be used only on flat surfaces, while flexible materials—such as vinyl laminates—are better suited for curved surfaces.
As a general rule of thumb, thermal laminates provide the most cost effective and highest quality output for applications printed onto paper. “Many of today’s printers use toners that require specially formulated adhesives in order for lamination films to properly bond to the printed output,” says Ed Pierce, product manager lamination supplies, GBC.
Garth Bertini, marketing/sales manager, USI, Inc., agrees, noting that prints with heavy ink coverage require films with aggressive bonding characteristics. “Porous bond papers can use a variety of films while high-gloss papers require specific films. If you are using a printer with fuser oils, you will need films that are formulated specifically to bond to these oils,” he explains.
Chemical Make Up
The chemical properties of a laminate film or coating help determine their effectiveness in protecting prints or serving the functions for which they are designed.
For protection against UV rays, UV inhibitors are added to the construction of a film. This helps protect a print from fading in UV light. The more inhibitors added to a film, the greater resistance to UV. However, it is important not to confuse UV-curing with UV protection.
David Conrad, senior product manager, Neschen Americas, notes that many mistakenly assume that a UV liquid coater uses liquid laminates that provide UV protection. This is incorrect. “The UV liquids used by these coaters are actually cured by a UV light source and provide little or no protection against UV rays. If they provided protection against UV rays they would never be able to be cured,” he explains.
Jerry Hill, VP of marketing and sales, Drytac Corporation, agrees, noting that UV-curable liquid coatings by nature cannot be fortified with UV stabilizers, because they would not cure under UV light. The company’s Enduracoat water-based liquid coatings can be fortified with UV stabilizers and the Enduracoat line of liquid coatings offer several coatings that are durable outdoors for four years or more.
Lamination films are made from different substrates with varying properties to address the required life of finished output and account for environmental conditions. “When choosing the type of film to use, always consider the environmental conditions a finished graphic will be exposed to,” says Pierce.
For example, vinyl films perform best in outdoor conditions because of their ability to expand and contract during shifts in outdoor temperatures. Thermal and pressure-sensitive films include UV ray inhibitors, which should be used with finished graphics exposed to sunlight and high-density lighting.
Materials used to manufacture a film laminate or liquid coating determine its outdoor durability or how it protects prints from weather and UV rays. For example, Drytac’s InterLam Pro line film laminates use a UV stabilized PVC-based film. This makes them outdoor durable for two years or longer. The company’s most durable outdoor film is Weathershield Emerytex, which utilizes a polymeric film, making it outdoor durable for five years or longer.
“All imaging material can benefit from the protection offered by laminate films, but the surface of many inkjet materials requires lamination to protect against abrasion and moisture,” says White. Coda’s laminate films are all carrier-based and are specially formatted to provide moisture, UV, and abrasion protection. Unlike liquid laminates, films offer consistent application, with no variation in the thickness of the laminate.
Compatibility is essential to the success of a print. This includes a close look at what types of film are compatible with the printed substrate. Also, determine which types of solutions run best in any given laminator. Like any investment, it is important to analyze daily volumes and typical applications. It is also essential to figure out if additional productivity could alleviate bottlenecks in finishing. Determining the best width is another factor. Consider current and future lamination needs in comparison to available space when it comes to deciding how wide a device to purchase.
AGL laminators work with any laminate, thermal, or pressure-sensitive material on a three-inch core. The devices are capable of running one- up to 15-mil films. AGL’s non-crowned roller design ensures a flat output with no image curl or lines.
Any type of pressure-sensitive laminate is compatible with any of the cold laminators in Coda’s product line. The company also provides heat-assist machines used with pressure-sensitive films for a more complete bond. The Codamount laminator can be purchased as a full thermal machine for use with thermal laminates.
D&K lamination films are designed to prolong the life of prints and/or enhance the print with texture. “The films are designed with longevity in mind, due to the quality of the film and adhesive combinations. Each of the D&K PSA films and thermal films have added UV absorbers to provide additional protection from UV rays. Saul says D&K films can potentially double the print life of the ink and media combination. Most types of thermal and PSA overlaminates are compatible with D&K lamination equipment.
Dataplot GmbH provides EMBLEM PVC lamination films that are specially developed with UV blockers inside PVC and glue. The film is used in the cold lamination process. “For laminating self-adhesive vinyl you have to take care to use the same technology,” stresses Bernd Rüter, international sales, Dataplot. He explains that if print vinyl is monomer, it is necessary to use monomer lamination film. Similarly, if print vinyl is polymer, it is important to use polymer lamination film. If print vinyl is cast vinyl, use cast lamination film.
GBC offers a range of laminators that run a variety of films. Several laminators run thermal films and mounting adhesives, others run pressure-sensitive films and mounting adhesives. Others run both thermal and pressure-sensitive films and mounting adhesives. GBC laminators are available for wide format, narrow format, and single-sided applications.
Any pressure-sensitive laminate film can be used on Drytac’s JetMounter laminator line. The wide format models feature heat-assist rollers to help pressure-sensitive laminates flow out and prevent silvering. The VersaCoater UV-curable and AFC aqueous flood coaters are designed to work with the InstaCure UV-curable and Enduracoat water-based liquid coatings manufactured by Drytac.
For optimal results, Neschen’s Conrad recommends using Seal branded films and adhesives with its laminators. However, all types of standard films and adhesives run through its roller laminators. “It is always advised to test a film, adhesive, and media combination before starting a job to ensure you get the results you and the customer are looking for,” he adds.
Most films are compatible with USI laminators. However, the company does specifically blend its films for use on its equipment. Bertini suggests discussing the specifics of a job with the sales representative to ensure the best choices are offered.