By Olivia Cahoon
Part 1 of 2
Laminate protects and preserves graphics. Applications that are typically exposed to human contact or harsh environmental elements require lamination. Laminate—film or liquid—is commonly applied using a laminating device. Other options are available like manual rollers or spray units, but laminators are considered cost effective, especially for larger jobs. This equipment is available as either cold or hot—thermal—technology, with each option designed for use depending on the material running through the device.
Built for Versatility
Laminators are beneficial when applications used for banners, exhibits, high-end art, indoor signage, museums, outdoor signage, photography, point of purchase displays, retail graphics, sign and display, and vehicle wraps require additional protection from either a film or liquid.
“A laminator provides the ultimate in versatility,” says Tony Caruso, Eastern regional sales, Advanced Greig Laminators, Inc. The right laminator processes both pressure-sensitive and thermal films. In addition, a laminator can be used for mounting applications, roll-to-roll laminating, and as a premask applicator, adds Caruso.
According to Michael Pender, president, Supply55, Inc., “all inkjet-related application environments directly benefit from the use of laminators.” He believes laminating films should be viewed as added value to increase print provider profit margins.
Cold lamination, also referred to as pressure sensitive, exposes a release liner to the adhesive prior to applying. Vinyl applications generally require the use of a cold laminator, in addition to large production runs of paper posters. Cold laminators tend to be less expensive compared to hot or thermal equipment.
One benefit of cold roll laminators is that they always ready to use. “By splitting the release liner from the film and securing it to the take-up roll, users can effortlessly apply a variety of pressure-sensitive films, such as gloss, matte, and luster, that protect and provide enhanced finishes,” explains Dan Kane, marketing manager, Royal Sovereign International, Inc.
Cold lamination is popular among vehicle graphics suppliers. “Car wraps require lamination to withstand car washes, salt, and other elements,” says Angela Mohni, director product marketing, SEAL & GBC, part of ACCO Brands.
Despite the benefits, there are challenges to cold lamination. For example, Darren J. Speizer, VP, sales and marketing, Drytac, says users need to pay special attention to even nip pressure and film tension to ensure a desirable final product.
Also, pressure-sensitive adhesive films usually have a higher price per square foot compared to thermal films used in hot lamination.
Hot or thermal laminators use heat to activate the adhesive to bond to the media or substrate. They are used for encapsulation, mounting, and single-sided lamination. Caruso says four factors must be considered to achieve quality output when using a thermal process—temperature, dwell time or speed, even nip pressure, and film tension.
“Thermal laminators are ideal for applications that frequently require encapsulation because there are two sides of adhesion to meld together with heat applied,” shares Mohni. She believes thermal laminators are more forgiving and cure faster than cold laminators.
Challenges are also present with this technology. According to Kane, aside from the initial issue of warm up times, thermal lamination users sometimes have difficulty determining proper speed and temperature. Some thermal films may have higher levels of adhesive or polyester, which correlates to dwell times and temperatures based on make and model.
Liquid and Film
Laminators can run either a liquid coating or film laminate depending on the device.
Devices specifically designed for applying liquid coatings are generally more expensive than film laminators, according to Mohni. This difference in price requires users to commit to laminating larger volumes before experiencing any type of cost savings.
Despite this, liquid laminates offer many advantages. Available as either aqueous, solvent, or UV-curable compositions, the product doesn’t produce as much waste compared to film during the application process, shares Scott Yang, engineer, Eastsign International Ltd. He also states that in his opinion liquid lamination offers better environmental protection than film laminates.
“Using a liquid laminator helps reduce—if not eliminate—issues encountered with film lamination including bubbles, silvering, and misalignment, thus reducing waste and production rerun. Squaring up of material isn’t required while laminating nor it trimming of the laminate post lamination,” says Sarah Stafford, sales and marketing, printing inks, Marabu North America LP.
Alternatively, film laminators are often used for laying down cut vinyl and pre-masking type materials. Svein Ove Martinsen, VP, sales and marketing, Rollover AS, says handling boards up to 5×10 inches is simpler because film lamination can be done on a flatbed surface.
Brian Biegel, marketing communications specialist, D&K Group, explains that a film laminator can apply a variety of finishes up to 10 mils thick. “These films can have drastically different looks depending on the application—everything from a standard gloss or matte finish to a textured surface that provides the look and feel of a linen or canvas surface.”
Speizer says film laminators are more versatile than liquid because film laminators perform several functions and applications. “While a liquid laminator might be able to, for example, coat wallcovering all day long, a film laminator can mount to various substrates, laminate with a huge array of aesthetic options, and meet the needs of varying applications like anti-graffiti, dry erase, scratch resistant, and slip resistant,” he continues.
Film laminate challenges include bubbles and creases that increase the silvering effect. Bubbles and creases are removed with a heat assisted roller, a slight increase in roller pressure, and somewhat of a reduced lamination speed, adds Martinsen.
Protect and Preserve
Laminators still hold value in a developing market of durable and long-lasting ink advancements. Whether a thermal or pressure-sensitive laminate or liquid coating, lamination protects graphics from human touch and the weather while providing graphics with a textured and visual quality when needed.
Aug2017, Digital Output