Laminators Drive Profits, Fuel Efficiency

Laminating systems are helping wide-format providers fuel efficiency and add revenue streams.

“Laminating systems help drive profits,” affirms Carl Hoffman, director of sales/graphics, Royal Sovereign, a manufacturer and supplier of cold, heat-assist and thermal laminators and finishing equipment.

“When a customer comes into your shop and asks to have a file printed, what do you do, just print it and then roll it up and put it in a cardboard tube or place a rubber band around the graphic?  Here is where your salesmanship comes in. You need to ask your customer what the intended use of their graphic images will be. Adding lamination for protection, enhancement, or changing the surface look is a great up-sell. This is also true if you mount the graphic to a substrate. All of this can increase the price and profit by as much as three times. The key is to sell finished solutions and not just prints.”

Adding lamination to the finished piece helps protect and enhance the graphics, explains Bob Elliott, product manager for GBC lamination equipment. “Depending on the type of film you are using. you can add texture, UV protection, protection against certain elements (we even offer anti-graffiti film) or simply color enhancement,” he says. “This protection and enhancement can demand an upcharge over just the printing that can lead to a higher profit margin.”

GBC, which merged with ACCO Brands in 2005, offers a complete line of binding and laminating machines and supplies.

Increasing Profits

“Additionally, by simply using different films, a wide-format provider can increase profits with the number of applications they are able to offer, differentiating themselves from their competitors,” says Elliot.

At the lower end of the market, customers will often choose to not laminate, and print direct to save on cost. Looking beyond banners, retail and high-end applications customers still want a certain “look” says Frank Corey, senior sales representative for Quality Media & Laminating Solutions.

Laminating delivers a gloss finish, vivid colors and less banding. In addition, the image is protected from scratching and has longer outdoor durability and protection from UV light fading, says Corey.

He cites QMLC’s bubble-free window adhesives for graphics for retail interiors, such as those on display at The Port Authority in New York City, as an example. The product offers full graphics on the windows of the first floor of the building. Printed on a clear film, and laminated on the back with white vinyl, they also provide a less expensive alternative to printing with white ink.

QMLS sells laminators and heaters made to its specifications—all domestically manufactured, says Corey. “Initially we were a laminates and adhesives company, but as companies moved into digital printing, we adding digital media that works well with laminates,” he says. “We’ve added print media that works well for all laminates.”

The application and substrate dictates whether heat or cold laminating is used.  Since the growth of digital printing, there’s a resurgence in cold laminating, explains Greg White, regional manager with Coda, Inc. The company is credited with developing the concept of using pressure-sensitive adhesives for graphic mounting more than 35 years ago. Coda allows clients to customize their machine from a menu of features, allowing, for example, a migration from cold to heat-assist or thermal, or adding a top or bottom feed, or take up for encapsulating in a single pass.

“Digital print output is heat sensitive, and substrates will color shift if laminated with heat,” he says. Whites, for example, will turn yellow over time.

Coda’s line of cold laminate tabletop machines are available with heat assist units, which provide some heat to hasten the process, but at a much lower temperature than used by heat laminators. It won’t ruin digital or photographic output, says White.

Heat Assists

In the past few years, heat assist laminators have grown in popularity, acknowledges Hoffman. A warming top roller heats the lamination film just enough to cause the adhesive to become less dense, allowing the adhesive to flow more readily into the printed media’s little nooks and crannies. “This helps eliminate the phenomenon known as ‘silvering,’ when little pinhead-sized micro-bubbles are trapped between the media and laminate adhesive,” he explains.

In addition to helping drive profits, laminating systems help promote efficiency in mounting graphics to substrates and applying transfer tape to vinyl lettering. Using a laminator can slash production time in half compared to using a manual process, not only saving money, but also creating bubble free signage with higher customer satisfaction and lower failure and returns.

The mounting capability of a laminating system offers a world of different applications that can be used to expand profits by giving a provider the ability to sell specific products. With specialized adhesives you can mount graphics to create adhesive window graphics, counter graphics, floor graphics, decals, vehicle wraps, trade show signage, and backlit displays.

Most of these applications can be created with any of the machines in GBC’s new Spire line, consisting of four platforms constructed of steel, with both thermal and cold models. “The Spire III machines even have a 2” mounting gap, allowing an operator to mount to substrates over 2” thick,” says Elliot, adding that GBC demonstrated this capability at a recent conference by mounting a graphic to a door. “With all of these possibilities, the provider can expand their applications even further and charge a premium,” he explains.

To help promote efficiency, Royal Sovereign offers wide-format laminators with roll-to-roll media options to allow the operator to feed more than one image at a time into the laminator. “You can print a full roll of material on your inkjet printer and then transfer it to the laminator and laminate the fully printed roll and have it wind-up at the rear of the laminator,” says Hoffman. “This eliminates running the laminated material over a table upon exit or having it fall to the floor where it may become kinked or dirty. Our laminators also are provided with a quick notch roller height adjustment system that speeds the process when changing from print laminating to mounting.”

An important consideration when investing in a laminator is durability and whether or not adequate pressure is assured across the entire length of the lamination rollers, something often lacking in very inexpensive models. There are different methods of achieving this capability: Royal Sovereign laminators use spring pressure and precision ground rollers to assure even across the length of the rollers, while GBC’s Spire series ensures that adequate pressure is applied across the entire nip area of the main rollers using a center force pressure system with infinite adjustments through the crank handle.

When Buying a Laminator

Here’s what to consider when buying a laminator (provided by Bob Elliot of GBC).

  • Durability – you want a system that will last.
  • Width – you want a system that is similar in width to your printer or to the applications you plan to provide.
  • Hot/Cold – are you laminating prints from an aqueous inkjet printer or a solvent, eco-solvent printer? You can buy a hot laminator, run it cold and use on any type of print. However, if you have a solvent/eco-solvent printer, a thermal laminator is not necessary, as you won’t use the heat functionality. With aqueous inkjet prints you can use a thermal laminator to encapsulate or use PSA films and mounting adhesives.
  • Roll-to-Roll Functionality – Do you need a laminator with roll-to-roll functionality? You will want this if you plan to create long banners or vehicle wraps.
  • Speed – How frequently are you laminating? How many pieces are you running at once? How experienced are your operators? The answers to these questions will help gauge what level of speed you need. 
  • Value – How do the features compare for the price? You want to make sure you buy a laminator that makes sense for your business. As with anything, you need to consider the trade offs.
  • Ability to Add on Later – Do you think your needs may change? If so, do you need to buy a new machine or easily enhance the base unit you have?
  • Applications you are looking to create – Buy a laminator that will help you increase profits and create the applications you want to do today and in the near future.  This is one of the single most important considerations when making this purchase.  Make sure you buy a laminator that has the capabilities you need for the applications you are looking to create.
  • Support – What kind of support is out there for your laminator? If it breaks, can you get parts easily? Are service technicians readily available?