In many cases, industry attention is always focused on the "big guns" in the print shop—the printers that output thousands of feet of material—while some of the other processes in the shop can get forgotten. Lamination has been one of the topics that been left out in the cold, so to speak. With the emergence of UV technology and inks that deliver longer durability without lamination, some print service providers might wonder if overlaminate films are really necessary—or if they just add more time to a job that might have a tighter turnaround than in previous years. Additionally, there's the extra expense for the material and the labor to install it properly—without ruining the graphic.
Wide-Format Imaging posed three questions to overlaminate experts to get their views about the current industry misconceptions and challenges surrounding overlaminates, the new developments that will help to grow overlaminate usage among newbies and pros alike, and the reasons why print service providers should offer finishing and overlamination services as part of their "one-stop-shop" approach to the market.
1. What do you think is the biggest challenge or misconception about overlaminates?
Mary Ann Kucera, product marketing manager, MACtac: One challenge that comes to mind is that most overlaminating films just don't stick to UV inks. UV inks’ surfaces are usually pretty tightly cross linked and somewhat difficult to stick to, but frequently, they also very textured and looks almost sand-like.
There are a number of different laminates available, so it's important to choose the right one for your job. You need to consider how long the graphic has to last, unusual environmental conditions, conformability requirements, the type of lighting the graphic will be viewed under, and more when considering which overlaminate is appropriate for your job.
As far as processing goes, most laminates are easy to use. Apply them at room temperature to dry the graphics (24 to 48 hours), and watch your tensions. If the finished graphic will be shipped, maintain a six-inch inner roll diameter to prevent de-lamination.
Steve Milazzo, GBC Channel Marketing Manager: The biggest challenge facing over laminates is that ink and printer manufacturers believe that their output does not need to be laminated. Signs, banners, and other wide-format applications all can benefit from lamination to prevent the inks from scratching, to provide protection from abrasive chemicals, to enhance color and also to provide a variety of textures to the printed output.
Angela Mohni, vice president of marketing, Neschen Americas: The biggest challenge is helping customers and print providers understand the true value of finishing. Lamination is more than simply putting film over a printed image. It allows print providers to offer new applications and transforms a print into a sign or display that helps present the message more effectively. Lamination needs to be fully understood to be appreciated and educating the customer on its advantages and opportunities, as well as training print providers on its value and earning potential is key.
Molly Waters, sales support manager, technical services group, Avery Dennison Graphics & Reflective Products Division: One challenge is for the sign shop or converter to convince the customer that an overlaminate is necessary on applications that have a short lifespan. An example is a short-term vehicle wrap. In an attempt to keep the overall cost of a wrap down, the shop or converter may try to skip using the laminate. If the wrap’s lifespan is one to two years and the printer manufacturer states the film is two year durable, a customer may not see the need to protect the graphics with an overlaminate.
What is often misunderstood is that in addition to UV protection, the overlaminate provides protection against abrasion and mild chemicals. If the wrap isn't laminated, it will become scratched after a few trips through a car wash or by trees and other objects. The inks can also be affected by gasoline around the fuel tank as well as other cleaners.
Another good reason to use a laminate is that it makes the film easier to manage, without an application tape, which is the way many installers prefer to apply. If a laminate is not used, the film is too thin and flimsy and more difficult to install.
2. What kinds of developments do you think we'll see next in overlaminates?
Kucera: Although direct to board and UV will continue to affect the business, as will liquid laminates, the best durability and conformability is only available through pressure-sensitive laminates right now. We expect to see more functional laminates in the future, which offer features in addition to light control and surface protection.
Milazzo: The development of lower cost entry-level films made from polypropylene. This will not only reduce the investment per square foot but will provide a solution that is more environmentally friendly (polypropylene vs. pvc). Also, new more exciting anti-graffiti films will be introduced to the marketplace to preserve and protect indoor and outdoor signs.
Mohni: Popular applications such as vehicle wraps and outdoor signage will continue to dictate pressure sensitive film prices, which will become more and more aggressive. I also believe that more specialty type films, such as textured, graffiti resistance, floor graphics and window films, will continue to improve performance and increase application opportunities for customers who are looking for new ways to protect, enhance and improve their printed images.
Waters: Manufacturers continue to work on making their products easier for customers to use and increasing conformability. We are focused on adding additional conformability to meet the ever-increasing number of surfaces that marketers are looking to use for promotions as the demand for out-of-home advertising continues to increase.
3. What is the best argument for offering overlamination and/or finishing services in a printing company?
Kucera: Printing companies should consider offering overlamination and/or finishing services because laminates improve the finished appearance of the graphic. They help the colors pop, add depth, and provide a consistent finish. They are also useful for viewability as matte and luster laminates reduce glare and provide better visibility of the underlying message in difficult lighting situations. Laminates also add a layer of protection from fade, dirt, abrasion, handling damage, and moisture.
For floor graphics, laminates improve safety because they add slip resistance to the printed work. They also add body to printed media, making application of large pieces easier. Laminates are also an additional source of profit because they enhance, protect, and make your customers’ investment in their promotional efforts more durable.
Milazzo: Being a “one-stop shop” is a powerful value proposition. Surveys conducted by GBC have shown that over 50 percent of the profit in any job comes from “finishing what you print”. Many applications require lamination. If a printer does not offer finishing services, they will have to job that portion out and risk losing the entire job.
Mohni: Protection is still the number one reason for lamination, followed by visual enhancement and added value. In today's competitive retail and consumer environment, corporate image is more important than ever. Ensuring that an image used for display advertisement is protected from the rigors of its environment, such as UV, abrasion, moisture, handling, and even graffiti, is critical to the longevity of its message. It is also important that the image provides the highest visual impact possible, which lamination achieves by offering textured films, the appropriate gloss level or the necessary rigidity to get the maximum effect. Not only does lamination allow the print provider to present new application possibilities to customers, it also gives customers peace of mind and confidence, which can dramatically maximize a print provider's earning potential per square foot compared with printing alone.
Waters: The number one reason to use an overlaminate is to protect the printed graphic. Without an overlaminate, inks typically last one to three years. With a premium cast overlaminate, the durability can go up to five years depending on the ink. Calendered overlaminates are less expensive and can protect and extend the lifetime of the graphics, they are suitable for flat surfaces and simple curves.
The second reason to use an overlaminate is to protect the printed image from abrasion and other elements. The inks can be easily scratched when not laminated.
The use of an overlaminate also allows customers to change the finish on a printed graphic. Manufacturers offer a variety of finishes from matte to luster and high gloss. This allows the customer to choose the best finish for the type of graphic they are producing.
The added thickness of the overall product when laminated also makes the product easier to handle during the installation process.