By Cassandra Balentine
Part 1 of 2
Laminates add protection to digitally printed graphics, especially those vulnerable to damage from elements such as weather or human traffic. In addition to protection, laminators apply specialty films for enhancing graphics with UV protection or anti-graffiti properties. These devices also aid in the process of applying adhesives to film.
Depending on an application’s end use, nearly any digitally printed graphic benefits from the added protection of lamination. “I believe every application requires lamination to protect the print—even a sign in a building for one day can get damaged by people bump into it if it is not laminated,” comments Bob Elliott, product manager, wide format laminators, GBC/SEAL.
In part one of our two-part Web series on lamination, we look at common uses and requirements for this type of finishing. In part two, we will look at some of the equipment on the market.
Evolving with Advancements
As advancements in print engines and ink continue to improve, the need for lamination is still relevant for many applications, especially those that require additional effects or durability. Laminators are also used in the mounting process for adhesive-backed vinyl and the installation of vehicle wraps.
“There are so many more requirements for overlaminating films and mounting adhesives that finishing systems will continue to be useful and profitable additions to any shop for years to come,” says Rob Acker, dealer manager, Graphic Finishing Partners, LLC. “Finishing turns images into useful, sellable products,” he adds.
Wayne Borg, director of marketing, graphics finishing, Royal Sovereign International, suggests that although the durability of inks has improved, there is still a need to protect graphics from scratching, especially if they are going to be handled or used multiple times, such as trade show displays. Additionally, he suggests that outdoor graphics benefit from the UV protection that lamination provides.
“As ink technology improves and changes, the functions of laminates must change with it in order to add value,” says Nate Goodman, product manager, Drytac Corporation. He points out that specialty finishers are available that not only add protection, but bring the image to life.
Tim Saul, business development manager, D&K Group, Inc., agrees, noting that certain laminating films provide enhanced surfaces that cannot currently be replicated with inks alone. “For example, graffiti-resistant films allow spray paint, markers, and other vandalism to be cleaned off of graphics without damaging the print below,” he says.
Laminating films also provide graphics with a consistent finish. “UV inks and some other ink sets typically have a different gloss level than the base media, especially in spots with dark colors or heavy ink coverage. Lamination provides a uniform look across graphics, regardless of the ink type, color, or coverage,” explains Saul.
Aqueous, eco-solvent, and solvent printers that mostly print to paper or vinyl media will always require laminating to protect and enhance their images, says Tony Caruso, regional sales, Advanced Greig Laminators. However, he admits that with the growing popularity of latex and UV-curable printing, the need to laminate for protection is less of a concern.
“A print provider may make a large investment in a UV printer to reduce print costs, but its client may not be satisfied with the UV printer’s textured matte output. This leaves a large void in finishing because most laminators are not capable of laminating UV prints,” he continues.
Print service providers often rely on the latest in digital print technology to produce high-quality output. However, a sellable print requires more than output alone. Lamination is commonly used to enhance durability and provide the protection that wide format graphics need to withstand the elements that commonly challenge the longevity of a print, such as scuffing from human traffic, degradation from direct sunlight exposure, and other weather-related issues.
“The term ‘laminator’ grossly underestimates the range of applications these machines are used for today,” says Acker. He suggests a better term would be finishing system, since the equipment does much more than laminate.
“Traditionally, people think of a laminator for applying a layer of film to one or two sides of a substrate to either protect an image from scratches or the environment, or change the surface characteristics with film textures or gloss levels, or add body to the image for trade show walls or vehicle wraps. Today’s finishing systems are used to apply mounting adhesives to adhere images to boards, Plexiglass, aluminum, and windows. They apply adhesive-backed vinyl to boards for signs and other substrates like foam rolls, where multiple layers need to come together,” continues Acker. “They even apply pre-mask film for colored vinyl lettering. Generally, any substrate that comes on a three-inch core can be applied on a finishing system through a roller process, which eliminates bubbles or wrinkles, and speeds up application.”
Saul suggests that most applications benefit from some form of lamination, especially those that require added visual or tactile properties or increased durability. “Outdoor applications typically require laminating films containing UV inhibitors to reduce ink and media degradation caused by sunlight. Floor graphics, especially those placed on carpets or in heavily trafficked areas, should be laminated for slip resistance and added sturdiness in order to stand up to high heels, wheeled carts or vehicles, and other potentially destructive objects,” he explains.
He adds that trade show graphics are a popular application in which laminators are employed. “Displays including retractable banners and backdrops are typically processed in a laminator for added rigidity, scratch resistance, and overall durability,” he continues.
Elliott notes that laminators are used to protect graphics and apply adhesives. “Some of the most popular scenarios today are applying adhesives for window and floor graphics,” he attests.
Elliott also sees overlaminates applied to signage to create durability and protection against the elements. “I would say the most booming application for laminators at the moment is vehicle wraps. More businesses are using them to advertise and sign shops use laminators to apply the protection needed to withstand the day-to-day elements a vehicle encounters.”
Print shops rely on wide format laminators to address a range of finishing needs. While advancements in print technologies and ink formulations may reduce the need for some applications, lamination is still a common requirement for others.
Sep2014, Digital Output DOLM1408