By Olivia Cahoon
Part 1 of 2
Despite advancements in ink composition, lamination is still used for a variety of applications from vehicle wraps to labels and tags. Print service providers (PSPs) may choose between liquid or film lamination to protect, preserve, and enhance printed materials.
Liquid laminates are available as aqueous or solvent coatings cured to printed applications. On the other hand, film lamination involves a substrate applied with rollers and/or heat. For the purposes of this article, we focus on film lamination.
Film or Liquid
Laminates are applied to digitally printed applications for a variety of reasons including protection, preservation, special effects, and added properties for handling materials. Deciding between a film or liquid laminate typically depends on application and quantity.
For short-run applications, film lamination is a cost-effective solution because it offers a wider assortment of options to fit applications. Cory Jones, associate product manager, SEAL/GBC wide format laminators and supplies, ACCO Brands, believes film laminates offer an extensive number of finishes and benefits that aren’t available with liquid laminates including slip, tear, and scratch resistance; UV protection; and protection against graffiti.
“If you’re looking to do an outdoor application, film laminates generally stand up to the elements better than liquid laminates do,” he offers. Liquid laminates are commonly used with direct mail and book jackets to provide a cost-effective thin layer of protection for large quantities over 5,000 pieces.
Although liquid laminates are a less expensive material, the application equipment can be costly. “If graphic manufacturers do not have the correct equipment for liquid laminate applications, they can increase cost savings by using film laminates,” explains Mark Elvester, senior technologist, 3M Commercial Solutions.
Film laminates are selected for applications in need of improved appearance because they offer ultra-glossy and ultra-matte options, says Elvester. In addition, they feature more flexibility and provide ease of use for curved or textured projects.
Compatibility with substrates and inks should also be considered when deciding between film and liquid laminates. For example, UV-curable liquid cannot be applied to porous materials because the absorbed coating may not completely cure, and the product would be contaminated with toxic liquids, suggests Brian Beauban, Midwest regional sales, Advanced Greig Laminators, Inc. These items include fabric, gator board, uncoated card stock, and uncoated paper.
Additionally, liquid coaters are usually very job specific and can’t be used to mount graphics to the substrate. “The cost of a UV container capable of handling both rigid and flexible rolls is very high, three to four times the price, compared to a laminator,” reveals Beauban. With a laminator, he says PSPs have much more flexibility to handle a variety of tasks from laminating to mounting and linear trimming.
Film laminates are used with digitally printed applications found indoors and outdoors requiring UV protection or added durability. “From offering a layer of UV protection to your digital media, to floor graphics that require an overlaminate that is a clear, scuff-resistant vinyl,” offers Jessica Stone, marketing manager, Ritrama Inc. Outdoor durability for printed media with an applied overlaminate typically ranges from two to eight years.
Additionally, film laminates are often applied to graphics exposed to harsh environments. This includes transit advertising wraps, like bus and train wraps, for the body of the vehicle as well as for the perforated window film, explains Bekie Berg, market development specialist, product branding business team, FLEXcon.
Film laminates also protect graphics from high-powered washing, weathering, and abrasion. “The use of an optically clear overlaminate for perforated window film prevents water from being trapped in the perforation holes, preventing passengers from getting motion sickness as well as allowing for improved visibility for passengers looking outside the window,” recommends Berg.
Carpet and floor graphics typically require a film laminate for a consistent walking surface. According to Berg, these are available in a range of thicknesses providing multiple options for durability and puncture resistance. Additionally, labels, tags, and decals use film laminates to protect and preserve graphics.
“Anytime you want to control your aesthetics, durability, or usability of a print, film laminates allow you to do so,” says Darren Spiezer, VP of sales, Drytac. Other applications that use film laminates include those that require different textured finishes, scratch-resistant or FDA-approved materials, UV protection, and anti-graffiti properties. He offers, “finishing a product with a film laminate adds value and in turn creates a higher profit for the PSP.”
Besides protection, film laminates offer benefits like improving a graphic’s appearance or texture. For example, a matte laminate can be used with a wall graphic to reduce the glare of harsh lighting, shares Matt Buckley, business development director, wide format market, GPA, Specialty Substrate Solutions.
Laminating films are available in several finishes to produce special effects. “A laminating film modifies the gloss level of a graphic to create a shiny or non-reflective surface,” adds Brian Biegel, marketing communications specialist, D&K Group. Additionally, textured or coated laminating films create a luxurious feel to engage tactile sense, increase value, and offer added durability.
For some window graphics, a laminate is applied to increase substrate rigidity for easier application. Buckley says it’s also used with vehicle wraps for the same reason—the image is printed on the thinner film substrate and the added laminate makes the material easier to handle and apply without over-stretching.
“Film laminates add thickness to the graphic, which is not something liquid laminates can do,” agrees Jeffrey Stadelman, marketing manager, Mactac Distributor Products. Added thickness is useful for applications that require installation including wall graphics, vehicle wraps, and point of purchase signage. “It simply makes the graphic easier to handle and control when installing,” he continues.
Traditional overlaminates for pressure-sensitive PVC films are clear. However, a number of factors like sustainability, responsible sourcing, and extended durability are driving alternative films like urethanes, says Joshua Barnard, product manager, digital print media, Avery Dennison Graphics Solutions. “Although traditional PVC overlaminates are still by far the dominant choice, the demand for specialty overlaminates has increased over the past few years,” he offers. In addition to a shift in materials, there is also advancements for special effects like sparkle, metallic, and textured overlaminates.
Robert Rundle, national marketing manager, Catalina Graphic Films, sees the laminate market transitioning to higher clarity and more durable calendared films that offer less shrinkage. “The introduction of rough matte films and thinner laminate films offering lay flat and abrasion protection are becoming popular as of late.” For example, matte or luster finish laminates improve graphic appearance and readability.
“The optical clarity of some thermal film laminates made with a low-melt EVA adhesive continues to be exceptional,” adds Gregory M. Sottile, director of sales and marketing, USI, Inc. Low-melt film laminates now include heavy-duty laminates that have a thick base polyester film. While premium 3-mil low-melt films typically have a film/adhesive ratio of 0.5/2.5, Sottile says newer, heavy-duty films have a ratio of 1.0/2.0 for a 3-mil thickness. “The result is a film with a rigid, more robust feel even though there is no difference in the actual thickness.”
Before selecting a film laminate, it’s important that PSPs consider all aspects of the job. Gary York, wide format product manager, Agfa Graphics, thinks PSPs should ask clients if the project is for indoor or outdoor use, preferred media and ink types, how frequently the project will be handled or moved, and if it will be used in a rough environment. “Projects that are in more harsh conditions or need to last an extended period of time should use laminates such as vehicle wraps, trade show graphics, long-term museum work, wayside/trail signage, and outdoor signage,” he adds.
According to Steve Truan, VP of marketing, LuxeFilms, using the proper equipment is key for successful lamination. Systems for one- and two-sided lamination differ and won’t work if misapplied. Additionally, Truan says some toner-based devices require a digital type adhesive, specially formulated to handle fuser oils and toner.
Two-sided laminators are typically heated using a heat shoe device or heated silicone rollers, says Leah Rochat, marketing coordinator, Nobelus. It’s used for applications like cards, brochures, and menus. One-sided laminating equipment utilizes a large polished chrome roller underpinned with a silicone nip roller, which Rochat says ensures needed pressure.
In addition to added durability, film laminates enhance graphics with special effects and offer anti-graffiti properties. Before selecting a film laminate, PSPs should consider the application’s requirements, the laminator used, and digital printing equipment. The second part of this series offers a roundup on film laminates.
Jun2018, Digital Output