Laminations Lamentations

What questions would you like to see answered about laminators and laminating? Back in November, I posed that question to the Wide-Format Imaging Network on LinkedIn and received a number of fantastic questions. Some of the industry’s top lamination experts weighed in to offer answers to your top questions.

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1. What are the pros/cons of UV liquid lamination vs. film lamination?

Tony Caruso, Eastern regional sales, AGL: Liquid lam has grown in popularity in narrow-format printing with menu, brochure, book cover, and postcard printers that don’t need a laminate to add rigidity. It bonds well to heavy ink coverage, costs less on large runs, and it’s fast. However, film lamination still dominates in wide format printing.

Film offers a wider range of finishes and textures, is more durable than UV liquid, plus film can add rigidity and UV protection when needed. UV liquid can’t.

Another consideration is the equipment used to apply the laminates. A UV liquid device has a single use; applying UV liquid laminate. A traditional roll laminator gives the printer the ability to mount and create various decals in addition to laminating.

Frank Corey, senior sales and marketing manager, Quality Media & Laminating Systems: UV liquid laminators are suited for long runs of printed media (banner or adhesive vinyl). The liquid laminators are a substantial investment (way more than most laminators) and from what I am told, there is daily cleaning involved to make the units operate properly. Pro: less expensive than film lamination/sq.ft. Con: greater initial investment, single thickness of coating—unlike films, suited for certain materials and long runs, higher maintenance costs.

Nate Goodman, product manager, Drytac

Film Technology—Pros

Adds rigidity to cast film

Can be conformable (polymeric)

Clean up is limited

Polyester and Polypropylene PE less expensive than PVC’s

More eco friendly (polypropylene)

Liquid Technology—Pros

More conformable

Wide variety of application methods

Low cost of entry

Lower price than film equivalent

Process flexibility


Small batch customization possible

Film Technology—Cons

More money

Not eco-friendly

Requires trimming

More waste

Liquid Technology—Cons

Cost of entry can be high (UV curable)

Clean up considerations can be a drawback

Angela Mohni, vice president Marketing, Neschen Americas: Film lamination provides many more readily available choices in film finish and final application. There are various textures, gloss levels, and performance enhancement such as graffiti resistance and write on/wipe off characteristics. Liquid lamination, particularly UV, provides fewer options on finishes; however, the benefit is lower cost per sq.ft. and faster production. Also, film laminating equipment is much more widely available.

Ed Pierce, product manager, GBC: When considering finishing options, the application and its use must always be considered first. Questions that need to be answered before choosing a finishing option include: Will the application be moved around a lot and be susceptible harsh treatment? How long will the application be in use? Is the application something that needs to be protected from tearing? Will the application be bent time and again? Is the application going to be exposed to harsh environmental conditions? What finish is required? Will the application be used more than one time?

If the answer to any of these questions indicates that the application requires higher levels of protection from exposure and use, the very best option is film lamination. Film lamination offers a great deal more protection and durability to the finished output. Liquid coating has its place, but will not offer the long standing durability and protection that film lamination does.

Of course, price is always a consideration. Liquid coating costs less and if the application is for a one time use, it may be a good finishing alternative. Film lamination offers different levels of price points that may meet the cost targets and can also return a higher margin to the print provider.


2. What laminates will work with toner-based media and other evolved print media?

Caruso: Laminates have also evolved to compliment new printing methods. There are films and liquids that will work well with Indigo, Xerox, Canon, and others. The issue some may face is the fuser unit that is used to bond the toner to the paper. Most fuser units use fuser oil that coats a Teflon coated roller to prevent paper jams. The flow rate of fuser oil can sometimes be adjusted and a technician may liberally apply oil to reduce the amount of jams. Too much oil can create a problem when applying laminates.

Corey: Toner based media require thermal adhesives that are stickier than traditional wide-format laminate adhesives. Most pressure-sensitive laminates stick fine.

Mohni: Film laminates should work with toner-based media, but we always recommend testing to ensure 100 percent compatibility. Pressure sensitive (cold) laminates are recommended and will perform better than heat activated materials.

Pierce: Lamination films are available with different adhesives to address the ever changing toners and agents used with digital print engine output. Some of these toners and agents require a lower melting temperature adhesive and some require adhesives that are ultra aggressive. GBC offers laminating films that use a lo-melt adhesive (activation temperature range of 180°F to 210°F), standard adhesive (activation temperature range of 220°F to 250°F), and ultra aggressive digital adhesive that activates at the same range as our standard adhesive.

The actual substrate, whether it is polyester, polypropylene or nylon, is not the deciding factor with digitally produced output. The deciding factor is the requirements of the adhesive. Some output requires a lower melting temperature, whereas others require specially designed adhesives with ultra aggressive bonding properties.


3. What are the advantages/disadvantages of cold- vs. heat-based laminates?

Caruso: Thermal laminates should not be used when laminating media or substrates that do not react well to heat, such as vinyl media. Cold laminates can be easier to use because there is no dwell time. Thermal laminates are best for encapsulating an image. In the end, the application or the project usually dictates which method is best.

Corey: Cold laminates provide easier, faster set up, suitable for small runs, stick to vinyl banners and adhesive vinyl.

Thermal laminates have the problem of sticking and can cause heat problems with banner and vinyl. Also, thermal lamination adhesive is water-based and not suitable for outdoor use. Cold laminators are less expensive.

Heat laminates are less expensive per thickness. Pressure sensitive laminates are only available in textured surfaces in 10mil, can get thermal matte and lustre and gloss in 10 mil thickness.

Goodman: Some media is heat sensitive, so only cold laminates can be used on these products. Usually heat laminates are less expensive. With adhesion problems and silvering, heated laminates work better than pressure sensitive.

Mohni: Hot laminates have a price advantage over cold laminates. Some users who are new to finishing find hot laminates easier to handle because there is no release liner to work with.Finally, since hot lamination films don’t have “active” or “sticky” adhesive until heat is applied, dirt is less likely to get trapped in the adhesive.

Cold laminating films are the dominant products in the marketplace because of the final application and print technology. Many PSPs are printing to self-adhesive vinyl, thus cold laminating films are the best solution for use with that print media. Also, cold films stick to just about everything, including many high surface-energy polyesters.

Pierce: Cold, or pressure sensitive, over-laminates must be used with heat sensitive output. An example of this is the use of cold laminates for signs printed on adhesive-backed vinyl. Thermal laminates cannot be used for this type of high volume application.

Cold laminating film does carry a higher price point than thermal films, but provides the required protection, durability, longevity, and finish required for the application while also providing a positive return to the print provider.


4. What is available for graffiti protection?

Caruso: AGL offers two types of anti-graffiti films: an economy anti-graffiti film and a high performance alternative to Tedlar films.

Goodman: Drytac’s Instacure POP, Enduracoat Stain Resist, and Protac akk offer anti-graffiti protection.

Mohni: There are laminating films available on the market that have anti-graffiti properties. SEAL manufactures Print Shield Anti-Graffiti cold laminating film. Once applied to an image, graffiti can be removed with a wide variety of non-toxic cleaners found at any local hardware store. And, once cleaned, there will be no residual ghosting of the graffiti.

Pierce: Films have been developed over time offering varying levels of protection for applications exposed to graffiti vandalism. The newest and most effective entrant offered by GBC is our new Arctic Anti-Graffiti film. This is a pressure sensitive over-laminate using a PCTFE substrate, which is plasticizer- and stabilizer-free and is chemical, flame, and stain resistant.

Graffiti made using a permanent marker can be cleaned using simple household cleaners and a cloth or paper towel.

Graffiti made with paints will require a cleaning solution that breaks down the paint and the laminated application will not be exposed to either the graffiti of the solution, thus leaving the application clean and protected.

5. What type of laminate works best with window perf?

Caruso: AGL’s Cover-Rite V2G is a cast, clear laminate with a built-in clear pre-mask that is a benefit during installation. Applying this step saving product to an image will cut a seven step process down to three. Our laminate, with its built-in premask, bridges the perforations to make applying graphics quicker and easier.

Corey: For window perf, you should always use a gloss polyester (retail window application) or cast gloss (vehicle) with an optically clear liner.

Goodman: Cast vinyl is one option as well as UV coatings such as InstaCure Super Flex Gloss.

Pierce: For window perf, no lamination is recommended. But if a laminate is desired, optical clarity is the most important factor, so PET laminate would be the best option.


6. Which is better: film or liquid


Caruso: Film lamination offers the ultimate in versatility. It can be used for the same applications as liquid and can be used on applications where liquid can’t be used.

Roll laminators that are used to apply roll films also give a print shop the ability to mount graphics to various substrates. A printer with limited space or a limited budget will certainly get more use from a film laminator.

Goodman: Types of laminates are not always interchangeable. For some the best product might be what has the lowest cost along with ease of use. Others might want something that they can use with a larger spectrum of their applications.


7. What options are there when it comes to polycarbonate laminates for durable tradeshow graphics?

Caruso: Polycarbonate films are still available and used today. Textured vinyl films have become a very popular alternative. They can provide a similar look and protection at a lower square foot cost. AGL offers both polycarbonate and textured vinyl films for almost any tradeshow application.

Corey: Polycarbonate laminates currently use better adhesives to eliminate the tunneling that occurred in the past.

Co-polymer pressure sensitive films that are the same thickness and have the same “lay flat” capabilities but cost less are a good alternative. (We call this product “Exhibitshield”.)

Both Polycarbonate and co-polymer laminates work with film, paper, and backlit films. Buy both the print media and laminate from a reliable source who knows how well the pair works together.

Mohni: Polycarbonate laminate is the most durable, scratch-resistant tradeshow laminating film. Most are available as pressure sensitive solutions and come in 5, 10, and 15 mil thicknesses.

This high performance comes at a very high cost to the PSP. The trade show market has changed over the years and many are finding that graphics only need to last for a single show, so many PSP’s question the need for such a high performance laminate.

There are many other textured products in the market that are less expensive and will do the job. We recommend our Print Shield Floor Guard, which is a durable, scratch resistant PVC product.

Pierce: Polycarbonate films offer the most durable finish for tradeshow graphics and other POP type signage.

Polycarbonate film is a cold laminating film and there are various thickness available. GBC offers a 5 mil polycarbonate cold laminating film, which is specified to provide the maximum amount of protection to the graphic while meeting the most desired price point in the market.


8. Are there any tips/tricks to using polycarbonate laminates for durable tradeshow graphics?

Caruso: The most common mistake I come across is with retractable banner stands. When laminating the image, using a 5mil film and rolling the image facing out will greatly reduce the chance of the graphic de-laminating. A textured vinyl film is a great alternative because vinyl will have greater flexibility than polycarbonate.

Corey: Buy both print media and laminate from same source. Always allow print media to outgas (especially solvent or eco-solvent media) overnight before laminating. Allow laminated graphics a few hours before installing, just in case. Most say to roll the image out.

Mohni: The main thing with trade show graphics laminated with any film is to make sure you store them with the image wound out. This puts less stress on the bond between the media and the laminates and virtually eliminates the chance of tunneling in the image.

Pierce: Choose a high quality product with a strong cross linked adhesive and then make sure to roll the final product image out to prevent tunneling.