“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face,” wrote Eleanor Roosevelt in her 1960 book You Learn by Living. “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
Those are words to live by for many of us, including print service providers who would like to add the profits that come with being able to provide expert lamination service, but fear lamination is too hard—or too costly—to master.
Print finishing and lamination is one of the most profitable portions of an entire printing project, said Tony Caruso, NJ-based Eastern regional sales manager for Madison, WI-based Advanced Greig Laminators, better known as AGL Inc. “But there’s a lot of fear and uncertainty because of the finishing,” he added. “If you don’t have the right tools for the job, all the time and money invested in creating that graphic is in the dumpster.”
The biggest challenge Caruso confronts in his job, he said, is educating print providers to the opportunities in lamination, as well as demonstrating best practices, tips, tricks and techniques to obtain optimal results.
“You can do it well, do it exceptionally profitably, and expand your offerings to current and prospective customers, along the way capturing new projects you never had the opportunity to capture before,” he said.
Chuck McGettrick, North American sales manager for Charleston, SC-based manufacturer Marabu North America, believes the failure of many shops to take up lamination is based upon lack of knowledge. “A lot of times, people have heard horror stories,” said McGettrick, like Caruso suggesting fear may be behind the reluctance to get aboard the lamination profit initiative. “Many times, when people see [lamination] machines at trade shows, they’re not running. We run our machine at every trade show...It’s an education thing. It’s having the knowledge that this product and process can work for their application.”
As McGettrick said, when trepidation isn’t a factor, it is often simple lack of understanding that prevents shop owners from seeing the value lamination offers. “It’s an overlooked step,” agreed Caruso. “The most simple way of looking at lamination and finishing is it’s a method of protecting and enhancing your images, and providing customers with a variety of finishes and textures. It’s like a clear coat on paint. If you were to paint a vehicle or put a graphic on it, the final step would be to put on a protective coating. If you were to finish your wood floors, the final step would be to put a coat of urethane on it. Lamination is the final step in protecting and enhancing wide-format graphics.”
One major recent development at AGL has been the company’s simplification of its product names. The entire line of laminates is encompassed by the name Cover-Rite. Behind that name are suffixes that denote individual Cover-Rite products. For instance, the name Cover-Rite P3G stands for polyester laminate (P) 3-mils. thick (3) bearing a gloss finish (G), Caruso said.
One very new product garnering rave reviews is AGL’s Cover-Rite V4.75T, a vinyl (V) 4.75-mils. thick (4.75) and featuring a textured finish (T).
Cover-Rite V4.75T is a pressure sensitive, eco-friendly material with semi-gloss textured finish excellent for floor graphics, and UL listed for slip resistance. Its textured finish gives it a fingerprint and scuff resistance perfect for high-traffic areas, such as point-of-purchase, wall graphics and banner stands.
“Feedback’s been overwhelming,” Caruso said. “It’s becoming incredibly popular. We’ve had this product out now for about six months, and it’s quickly becoming one of our most popular brands. It’s extremely versatile, and ideal for displays and exhibits where the exhibition hall requires an environmentally-friendly solution, which more and more halls do. ”
With the new and simplified naming system, matching Cover-Rite laminate products with AGL Inc.’s Print-Smart media products now becomes much easier, Caruso said. For instance, a material called Print-Smart V4.4MWF (a 4.4 mil. thick vinyl white matte floor) can be matched with Cover-Rite V4.75T.
“What’s extremely important to a lot of shop owners is having a match component solution,” he said. “A printable media with a matched overlaminate is important for their customers and end users who seek warranty coverage. Now you have a UL-approved media for slip resistance, coupled with Cover-Rite V4.75T, also approved for slip resistance, for a complete end-to-end solution.”
The new names help customers match laminates and media. “Lots of times, a shop will pick up a competitor‘s catalog, read a 10-word description of a product, and try to figure out if it’s right for them,” Caruso said. “Our solution simplifies the names so they can better understand what they’re purchasing.”
If the need exists, AGL Inc.’s team of field representatives is available to visit clients and play consultative roles in their businesses. The reps work one-on-one, person-to-person, in each shop, discussing specific applications. “Because this is a business that’s driven by specific applications, it’s important to know and understand what the specific applications are,” Caruso said.
At Marabu North America, the StarLam 1600R Liquid Laminator is the newest product gaining wide acceptance, McGettrick said. Introduced in 2008, the machine is 84 inches wide, with a maximum coating width of 64 inches. It coats substrates from vinyl to canvas, takes ClearStar ClearShield water-base coatings, has a self-contained wash trough for easy clean up and a laminate recirculating system that saves on waste. It ships ready to use, he added.
“The operation is extremely intuitive,” McGettrick added. “It can be used by a single operator, and is suitable for storefront shops or high-production settings.
“We install these machines and train on the machines, so [operators] are comfortable running them. The laminate will provide UV protection, chemical resistance, abrasion resistance, and do it all while remaining flexible.”
For some shops, acquisition of the StarLam 1600R Liquid Laminator can mean up to 50 percent savings on lamination, and provide a profit center the shop wouldn’t otherwise enjoy. “Many times they buy this solution for a particular job, such as wall coverings, fleet graphics or vehicle wraps projects,” McGettrick said. “And they find they can use it throughout their business.”
North Haven, CT-based Quality Media & Laminating Solutions, Inc., a 20-year-old major distributor of mounting and laminating supplies, is another leader in the field. The company’s product line continues to evolve with changes in the market, said senior sales and marketing manager Frank Corey. “A number of our larger clients have expanded into laser-type printers that have fuser oils, and many laminates don’t stick to fuser oils,” he said. “We have our Digi Guard line of thermal laminates that will adhere to fuser oils and surmount that problem.”
Over the past couple years, he adds, his company has also noticed expanded use of cast laminates, a high-performance product frequently used in vehicle graphics and higher-end, long-term outdoor signs. “Our Premium Cast Laminate meets the highest specifications,” Corey said.
Yet another area that has experienced growth is the thermal lamination of UV-curable polyester media, he added. “Because the media and the laminate are both polyester-based, they stick well,” Corey said.
“Some of the applications include encapsulated trade show panels, encapsulated backlit films, and point-of-purchase signage. The UV printers that you can use these materials on include the EFI VUTEk PressVU, HP, Durst Rho, and Oce. Our Hard Guard and Digi Guard lines both work in those applications.”
Those considering an entry-level option in lamination may want to investigate the Prisma Series of cold or heat-activated laminators from Remington Laminations Inc. of Grapevine, TX. Used primarily by smaller sign shops seeking a cost-effective solution, the Prisma Series machines use a standard three-inch core material and are available in sizes that can accommodate 55- and 65-inch-wide prints, said Remington account executive David Cowart.
Remington also recently added a Motocross Graphic Kit laminating film called Remy Glossy 12. “It’s a very thick vinyl laminate that may be used either indoors or outdoors,” Cowart said, adding the film’s thickness and rigidity make it ideal for Motocross or off-road racing decals that go on bikes, ATVs and jet skis, as well as any application calling for a high-gloss, thick laminating film.
Daige Inc. sells mainly to the sign industry. “The type of media they print on they need cold pressure-sensitive [lamination],” said president Ike Harris. “We have a niche in which we provide an affordable cold laminator. It has the features found on a more expensive cold laminator, but costs thousands less.”
The product Harris refers to is the Daige Solo, so named because it is designed for a one-person operation. Albertson, NY-based Daige brought out the Solo about 18 months ago, investing it with a heavy-duty motor, silicone-covered nip rollers and an automatic takeup for the liner.
“It’s used by any sign maker with an inkjet printer, and also by people in the graphics industry who want to mount prints to boards,” Harris said.
In sum, whether or not a shop embraces finishing and lamination as a service comes down to how interested they are in reaping all potential profits, Caruso said. “There are many shops who do not laminate, and could be leaving money on the table, because they’re not offering their customers and clients a way of enhancing their graphics,” he said.