Lamination is important for the protection and preservation of digital output in almost any environment. While the actual process of laminating is fairly straightforward, successful operation of machines takes a certain level of trained expertise, practice, and skill to avoid costly mistakes. Many manufactures are on hand to help and share valuable advice with both new and experienced operators.
The Process of Lamination
An awareness of some of the key components of lamination helps when running such devices. “The first is temperature,” notes Tony Caruso, Eastern regional sales, Advanced Greig Laminators, Inc. “Without the right temperature the adhesive may not activate. The second is speed. Proper dwell time is required for the adhesive to activate and bond. Thirdly, too much, or not enough tension could cause curling or wrinkles. Lastly, proper pressure is required to ensure a good bond,” he adds. Tension and pressure are two factors to pay attention to with cold laminates in particular.
The process with hot or thermal and cold laminates is similar, only thermal requires the device to heat up first. Running the machines is fairly easy once users get the hang of it.
“For a hot laminator, turn the machine on, bring it up to the desired heat, load and thread film, run a test print through the laminator, run the graphic through the laminator, cut it out of the web and then cut or trim the graphic for the desired effect,” says Bob Elliott, product manager, lamination, GBC.
“Hot or thermal laminators use one or two rolls of film to laminate or encapsulate a substrate,” explains Wayne Borg, director of marketing graphics and appliances, Royal Sovereign. “Heated top and bottom rollers apply heat to the laminate and cause the adhesive coated side of the laminate to liquefy. As the substrate passes between the rollers, the laminate is pressed onto the surface of the substrate and when the adhesive cools, a permanent bond is formed between the laminate and the substrate.”
Running a test print first is good practice. Lee Coda, president, Coda, Inc., also recommends users run many images at once to prevent wasting laminate.
Cold laminators are used for substrates that are sensitive to heat, such as vehicle wraps or vinyl. “These laminators use pressure-sensitive films that are coated on one side with a sticky adhesive that does not require any heat,” notes Borg. “The adhesive on the pressure-sensitive film is protected by a removable release liner. Before the laminate makes contact with the substrate, the release liner is removed and as the substrate is passed between the rollers, the laminate is pressed onto the top surface of the substrate causing the laminate to permanently bond to the substrate.” Cold laminators are only used to laminate one surface at a time.
“Once turned on, the process of cold laminating is simple—slide media onto the feed tray, step on a foot pedal to begin feeding document into the machine, and after the media passes through the machine, users cut away from machine,” explains Corey Hoff, product manager, Xyron Inc.
A benefit of cold laminates is that it does not require any wait time. “With cold laminators there is no need for specific heat settings that may complicate the procedure, and it isn’t necessary to change speeds based on the type of media used as it is with hot laminators,” says Ike Harris, president, Daige, Inc.
Challenges with Lamination
Most agree that lamination takes time and some level of skill to master. Experienced operators are familiar with certain challenges associated with lamination and understand the best methods.
According to Frank Corey, senior sales and marketing manager, Quality Media and Laminating Solutions, some common challenges associated with lamination include wrinkled prints, bubbles, skewing to one side, and dirt. “The best way to prevent such problems is to keep the laminator and the adjacent area clean—wipe it down at least once a day. Also, use quality products—films and vinyl that don’t have flaws, quality adhesives without any dropouts, and smooth liners to help the adhesive wet out faster,” he advises. He also recommends giving a leader of about one and a half to two feet of blank print before the image so that if a problem occurs, the leader may be trimmed off and not affect the entire print.
Coda also recommends printing a larger size to cope with print registration issues. “When mounting, make the print slightly larger than the substrate, then trim it after mounting,” he suggests. “Or the substrate can be slightly smaller than the print and trimmed.”
Harris stresses the importance of following manufacturer instructions. He also recommends cleaning the print well before lamination, and allowing the inks to cure properly on the print to avoid outgassing.
Choosing the right film or adhesive for a particular application is also important. “Films are blended with additional resins to provide better bonding characteristics for different papers and surfaces,” explains Garth Bertini, marketing/sales manager, USI, Inc. The stock may also become an issue. “Sometimes a thick stock absorbs too much heat from the rollers and the laminator cannot recover the loss in temperature, which causes the film to stop sticking to the print,” he adds.
The demands of the application should dictate the choice of finishing materials. Jim Fino, product manager, finishing, Neschen Americas, suggests that print providers ask questions such as, will the graphic be placed inside or outside? How long do you need it to last? Do you have a hot or cold laminator? Will the graphic be mounted or hung?
Also an important consideration is the printer used to print the application. “Lamination films are available in different adhesives to address the ever changing toners/inks and agents used with digital printers. Some of these toners/inks and agents require a lower melting temperature adhesive and some require adhesives that are ultra aggressive,” explains Elliott.
Practice Makes Perfect
The learning curve for both hot and cold lamination devices is dependent on the type of laminator, the exact process, and the skill and the attention to detail of the operator. Knowing that training and guidance is key to successful operation, many manufactures offer services including installation training from experts, representatives on call, and step-by-step online videos and guides.
Corey recommends purchasing a laminator from a company in one’s geographical area to obtain proper training during installation and a follow up within two weeks to review procedures.
With the correct training and education, the learning curve for laminator usage can be short. “Spending one day with an experienced technician or trainer gets a new laminator operator producing beautifully finished graphics within a few days,” advocates Fino.
The amount of training necessary is also dependent upon the applications the shop creates. “Applying a cold laminate to a vinyl banner requires less training and expertise than face mounting to Plexiglas,” explains Elliot. “The learning curve involves knowing the nuances of lamination—the correct heat, pressure, speed, and tension.”
As with any new device, practice makes perfect. The more a shop runs the laminator, the easier it becomes.
Click here to read part one of this exclusive online series, Laminators Leave a Lasting Impression.