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      • Published 5 Jan 2023
      • Last Modified 29 Aug 2023
    • 16 min

    Everything You Need to Know About Laminators

    Discover how a laminator can protect your important documents and create professional displays with our comprehensive guide.

    Laminators Guide

    Reviewed by Jay Proctor, Technical Support Team Leader (December 2020)

    Laminating provides a helpful way to preserve significant papers and documents. This could include:

    • Certificates
    • Photographs
    • Business ID cards
    • Checklists and safety guidance
    • Report covers
    • Signs and posters
    • Menus

    The majority of offices, schools and commercial premises in the UK use laminate technology primarily to protect and embellish key documents for presentation and display purposes, but it is also possible to laminate many other types of documents (as well as non-paper items and surfaces).

    Lamination typically involves attaching a plastic cover or wrapper to the paperwork. This is normally to protect it from damage and ensure it remains in good condition for longer. The document's plastic coating can also enhance colour and improve presentability. In addition, it provides a wipe-clean surface for use with dry-wipe pens.

    Many types of laminate machines are available nowadays. These machines range from small, inexpensive desktop models for office use to more costly, extensive industrial varieties. Top-of-the-range machines typically accommodate a wide variety of document sizes and temperature settings. They may also include multiple sets of rollers for a perfect finish in applications where quality is key.

    In general, the majority of laminating machines fall into three main categories:

    • Film Laminators - The top layer of these laminators is incorporated into the laminator mechanism itself, so they use two separate layers of laminating film. A bottom layer of film is placed on the items and they are fed into the machine. Hot rollers align and press down the top layer as they pass through the machine. Many (or even larger format) items need to be processed quickly in large-scale production environments and this type of laminator is often the most flexible
    • Pouch Laminators - This is the most commonly used type of desktop-type laminating machine on a day-to-day basis, and it can be found in a wide range of standard office environments. Prior to feeding a document into a clear plastic pouch or wallet lined with adhesive, pouch laminators must be heated to optimal temperatures. The sealed cover is then formed by pressing the two together under hot rollers
    • Cold Laminators - Non-heated cold laminators are ideal for laminating sensitive items that cannot be exposed to high temperatures during the lamination process, such as vinyl, carbon copies, and certain types of photographs. They work by using pressure to seal an adhesive plastic pouch or film around the item. However, these machines are typically smaller and less expensive, and the pouches used can be significantly more expensive than those for hot laminators

    In this guide, we’ll look at some of the more common types of machines, lamination pouches and accessories available from UK suppliers. We’ll help you decide what to look for in a laminator, and choose which sorts might be the most useful across a range of particular applications, environments and workloads.

    How Do Laminators Work?

    Laminator machines apply a thin plastic cover to paper documents by using pressure, heat, and their internal roller mechanism. In the most common scenario, the paperwork is fed into the machine one page at a time, sandwiched between loose plastic sheets or in lamination pouches.

    With most modern pouch laminators, the pre-coated plastic cover has a special extruded adhesive on all its inside surfaces. It is heated under pressure from the rollers to bond tightly together across the back and front surfaces, creating a protective cover and sealing around all four edges.

    Some high-end laminating machines can adjust temperature and feed-through speeds for efficient and effective handling of heavy-duty pouches or larger workpieces. In addition, some may feature sensors to automatically detect and reverse misfeeds.

    As they perform their heating and pressing function, the laminator’s rollers tend to lose some of their heat as it’s transferred directly into the cardboard carrier and the document pouch - this is why you’ll often have to wait a short time between documents, to allow the rollers to come back up to optimal temperature once again before feeding your next document in. However, most modern laminators heat up very quickly, so there isn’t usually a significant delay required between successive feeds.

    Types of Laminators

    Strictly speaking, lamination technically refers to the process of applying a plastic cover to the surface face of a document or other item. Two-sided lamination, where the plastic cover forms a complete seal all around the document on both the front and reverse sides, is more properly known as ‘encapsulation’.

    However, most people use ‘laminating’ as a somewhat catch-all term to mean any form of heat-based plastic coating process, including full sealing of documents in purpose-designed double-sided pouches.

    There are numerous types of laminators available for handling different sorts of documents, pouches and workloads. In this section, we’ll take a brief look at some of the more common varieties found in many homes and offices today, and which sorts might be best suited to which type of production environment.

    A3 Laminator

    If you need to protect and enhance large print materials like posters or signage for display purposes, A3 laminators are a great option. Usually available in thermal film varieties, both single and double-sided, they offer more flexibility in terms of operating temperature, workpiece size, and item orientation. This makes them perfect for creating sealed, protected documents for public display, such as exhibition graphics, public signage, or window dressings.

    A4 Laminator

    A4 laminators are the most common format found in schools, offices, and retail environments. They’re particularly widely used for producing report covers, multiple ID or business cards, photo montages, checklists or instruction guides, wipe-clean rotas, menus and other reusable documents that need to stay looking presentable even in constant handling.

    Most A4 desktop laminators tend to be the pouch variety, and rely on heated rollers to seal purpose-bought adhesive plastic wallets around the documents in question. More economical varieties usually incorporate a single pair of rollers that pass the paperwork through the laminating machine, while higher-end versions might feature multiple sets of rollers to ensure a cleaner finish with greatly reduced risk of bubbling or misalignment.

    Office Use

    The key decisions you’ll need to make when choosing a suitable laminator for office use are what size to go for, and also how often you’ll likely be using it. Both A3 and A4 varieties can come at a wide range of prices and specs, but for the most part, the more expensive versions will offer one very key feature over more cost-effective models: speed.

    While the initial investment in a top-of-the-line laminator can be much higher than for a budget brand, it may actually work out saving you money in the long run if you’re not constantly having to wait around for slower laminating processes and ramp-up times, or frequently having to re-run the process due to a higher incidence of misalignments and bubbling that you tend to get with very cheap laminators.

    Many models intended for more intensive day-to-day school or office use come with handy time-saving features such as built-in memory functions, meaning you don’t have to re-programme the machine each time you want to use it.

    Industrial/Heavy Use

    Again, the key decisions when looking to buy heavy duty or industrial laminators will generally come down to the degree of flexibility required, and the intensity of use you expect it to undergo. Heavy duty laminating machines can be built to withstand near-constant use, but you can expect to pay a premium for this sort of durability and consistency of performance.

    If you’ll need to laminate multiple items on a daily basis, especially at a high rate per hour, certain higher-end or heavy-duty laminator machines are built to work faster and harder than others, producing superior quality laminations at a much quicker output rate.

    Another key consideration will be how long you want your laminated items to last, as this will impact on the type of lamination pouches or films you should buy, and thus ultimately on what sort of machine you’ll need to meet your production demands.

    Hot and Cold

    When it comes to choosing whether to buy a hot or a cold lamination machine, the key differences between the two (apart from the obvious!) really come down to the types of documents you’ll be working with.

    Many people feel that, for short-run or occasional use, a cold lamination machine is sufficient for their needs - and in fact cold laminating can result in a nicer-looking document for certain types of ink or printed materials, as the lack of heat makes it far less likely that any running, blurring or colour variance will appear in the end result. Additionally, they tend to rely on heavier pressure than heated roller versions, meaning that there can be less likelihood of bubbling with high-quality machines.

    Hot lamination, on the other hand, tends to be a better choice for consistency and durability over more frequent daily use, particularly in environments where speed and repeatability is more important than flawless finishes. The pouches intended for hot lamination use also tend to be considerably cheaper and more widely available than cold versions.

    Provided you have a clear understanding of what material and document types are suitable for hot roller laminating, it’s a very straightforward and quick process to protect and embellish many documents in a short space of time with a heat-based machine. Higher-end models also offer numerous additional features for batch-processing, temperature adjustment, programmable memory functions and more.

    Laminating Photos

    A quick word on laminating photographs: it’s one of the more common intended uses for laminating machines generally, but one that many users tend to be (understandably!) worried about.

    While photograph lamination is usually done to help preserve the picture for longer, there’s always a perceived element of risk when you can’t easily replace the photo should anything go wrong. The main point to note when laminating photographs is that, as with all laminating machines, higher roller counts will give you better and more consistent results, with far less chance of misfeed or bubbling.

    The most budget-conscious laminators will generally come with two rollers, and these can be somewhat inconsistent - far better to go with four-roller models for documents that matter, and in the case of cherished photographs, six rollers or more is even better. These are generally the more expensive models, but as with so many things, high-end photo laminating machines do tend to confirm the old ‘get what you pay for’ adage.

    Also, be conscious of the film or pouch you’re using for the lamination on important photographs. For the best results, you’ll want to use high-quality film that’s relatively newly made and decide beforehand what’s the most appropriate trade-off for you between the thickness (and thus durability) and consistency/rigidity. Also, be mindful of the finish you’re looking for - gloss pouches or matte, smooth or textured - and, for really cherished items, always do a practice run on a blank piece of paper first.

    Plastic Film

    The type of laminating pouch or film you select for any given project will be influenced by various factors. First and foremost, you’ll need to consult your own laminator’s spec sheet to check what are the minimum and maximum thicknesses of film it will accept. These values can either be stated in millimetres or microns.

    Secondly, you’ll need to know what you want the finished product to look and feel like, and adjust your film/pouch selection accordingly:

    • 10mm pouches, if your laminating machine can accommodate them, will result in an extremely durable document that is difficult to bend and manipulate.
    • Conversely, a 3mm pouch will result in a much more lightweight document that’s easier to work with, but also far more bendable and less robustly protected against damage or environmental challenges.
    • Don’t forget that total lamination thickness will usually be double the rated thickness for a single side of the film or pouch, as most projects will tend to be sealed on both sides.

    Finally, bear in mind the finish you’ll want for the application and environment you’ll be using the document in. Gloss pouches, for example, can look sleek and impressive on report covers and certificates but may prove too reflective to be ideal for public signage in brightly lit areas.

    How to Use a Laminator

    All laminators will come with their own specific step-by-step instructions, and these should always be your first port of call when looking for guidance on how to use a laminating machine. However, there are rules of thumb which are common to laminators, and it pays to know the general workflow for laminating prior to inserting your first document.

    When using a pouch-style laminator to seal plastic wallets or films together around an item, the document and its pouch are usually assembled first outside the machine. In some cases, these are then placed inside an additional protective cardboard cover, known as a carrier.

    On certain models, this carrier adds an important layer of protection between the hot rollers and the plastic surface, which reduces the chances of the plastic pouch bubbling, clouding or sticking to the rollers as it’s heated. Note, however, that most modern brands of laminating machine no longer require a carrier - it used to be entirely standard, but these days the demand for them is becoming less widespread.

    Always check whether the manufacturer of your chosen model recommends a carrier or not, as using them unnecessarily can mean having to perform multiple passes of a single document, when in most cases they ought to require just one. Where they are required, they can sometimes be supplied with the laminating machine itself, but it’s more common to find them included with packs of pouches bought separately.

    During the lamination process, the user waits for machine’s rollers to come up to temperature after being switched on and then feeds the document assembled in its pouch - either with or without the cardboard carrier - in through an opening or tray at one side of the machine. As the document passes through the rollers, the plastic pouch around it is heated and pressed together, forming a sealed cover.

    Depending on the make and model of laminator you buy, you may find you have to wait a short while between lamination runs so that the rollers can get back up to ideal temperature before the next batch is worked through.

    After successfully laminating a document or item, any excess plastic left to form a border around the edges can then be trimmed away once the surface has completely cooled. Never attempt to do this when the item is fresh off the machine, as this can warp or distort the plastic in various ways which will then be very difficult to correct or remove as the sealed pouch hardens.



    Whether opting for an inexpensive personal home-use laminator, ideal for small-batch or project-by-project hobbyist use, or a more hardwearing/heavy duty design intended for heavier office, school or workplace rotation, there are a range of additional considerations and features you’ll need to bear in mind when choosing which type of product or laminating accessories to buy.

    For more advice on laminator types, pouch and film selection, installation, use and maintenance, please feel free to contact a member of our expert support team any time.

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