LAMINATORS OR ENCAPSULATORS, POUCH OR ROLL, ARE YOU LOST IN THE MINEFIELD?
The world of paper finishing is often somewhat confusing, and sheet protection/enhancement via lamination or encapsulation is no exception. If you are looking at this area but unsure where to go with it, this article should help to straighten things out!
LAMINATION OR ENCAPSULATION?
First of all, although related, these are 2 different processes. So if you’re thinking about adding to your portfolio of finishing options, the first thing is to decide what you’re trying to achieve.
LAMINATION is the process of adding a thin (typically 20-40micron) overlay polypropylene based (OPP) film to one or two sides of a sheet in gloss or matt finish, to enhance the colours and presentation of the document while providing a level of protection. This process is used for book covers, business cards, document folders etc. Lamination is trimmed flush with no border.
ENCAPSULATION involves applying a thicker (38-250micron) polyester based film to both sides of the sheet, trimming with a border all round to provide complete waterproof protection and added stiffness to the finished document. This is typically used for wipeable menus, outdoor signs, posters etc.
SMALL FORMAT OR LARGE FORMAT?
This blog is primarily focused on small format i.e. up to B2 sheets. If you are interested in finishing A1 posters, rollup banners and vinyl graphics, click here to find out more about large format lamination/encapsulation.
Pouch "laminators" such as Renz HT330 Dual are actually encapsulators, using preformed polyester "pouches" formed of two pre-sized sheets of polyester film sealed together at one end. Pouches are available in standard sizes and leave a full border round the sheet.
Pouch encapsulators are easy to operate and are the lowest cost option. Consumables are inexpensive. Comprehensive range of equipment available for all budgets.
Putting sheets into pouches is a fiddly and slow process, so is economical for very short runs only. Restriction to standard sizes.
Pouch machines are ok for offices and general low volume use. If you're using for production ensure you get a decent model such as ............, and if your budget can stretch to it go for a roll encapsulator!
DESKTOP ROLL LAMINATORS/ENCAPSULATORS
Desktop roll encapsulators such as Linea 650 produce the same result as pouch equipment but use a roll top and bottom. Ashgrove stock desktop machines for up to 650mm widths (A1). Desktop roll encapsulators will also perform double-sided lamination using OPP laminating film top and bottom.
Desktop roll laminators such as Matrix Duo 460 or Surelam Pro 500D are essentially similar to roll encapsulators but with the addition of an all-important anti-curl bar enabling single-sided lamination to be performed without the problem of curled sheets you would otherwise encounter.
Larger rollers increase the quality of the finished result compared to pouch machines, and you can encapsulate/laminate any size or length so long as it fits between the rollers. Desktop Roll Laminators are versatile because they can perform single and double-sided lamination plus encapsulation, all from the one machine!
Desktop roll equipment is faster than pouch but still relatively slow (1-2m per minute typically). Also trimming and bursting of sheets must be performed manually. Limited roller pressure means that expensive digital film must be used whenever digitally printed stock is being laminated.
Desktop roll laminators are great for short run production e.g. up to 100 sheets at a time, giving professional results for a modest initial outlay. If you have runs of 500-1000 sheets or more, read on.......
FLOOR-STANDING SEMI-AUTO LAMINATORS
Semi-auto floorstanding laminators such as Matrix 370P and GMP Q-Topic are great for short-medium run lamination using OPP film up to B2 size. Mostly these machines perform single-sided lamination although new duplex models such as MX530DP can also perform double-sided lamination and encapsulation. Feeding is by hand using a gate separation/spacing system for faster production up to 8m per minute (if you can feed sheets this fast you're a pro, typically 5-6m/min is a good operating speed). On single-sided models, double-sided lamination can be performed by running the sheets back through again.
Semi-auto machines burst the sheets automatically so mark a big step up from desktop models. The semi-manual feed method requires minimal set-up and size changing can take seconds. Pneumatic models have greatly increased pressure enabling low cost standard film to be used on many digitally printed jobs. New pneumatic models can also perform foiling!
READ ALL ABOUT DIGITAL FOILING HERE
Semi-manual feeding means operator presence is required constantly and running speed is limited to the operator's proficiency. On some semi-auto models bursting can be temperamental.
Semi-auto machines are an excellent option for short-medium runs from 10-1000 sheets and are adequate for many digital print producers. However if you are looking for reduced operator input and continuous running for runs of 1000+ sheets, consider fully auto.
Until recently, fully automatic laminators cost £40k+ and were for big litho print producers only. This has all changed now with models like Neptune and Europa bringing fully automatic suction-fed deep-pile single-sided lamination at speeds up to 20m/min into affordable territory for digital and short-run litho printrooms. Europa PB is a fully double-sided machine. If you are doing runs of 100-5000+ sheets then these machines are for you.
Fully-auto equipment takes the hassle out of laminating. Push button operation enables hassle-free running for short or longer runs at speeds of up to 3500 sheets of B3 per hour. All models are pneumatic so can use standard film on most jobs.
Even quality simple feeders like those on Europa and Neptune require a little bit of setup, so fully-auto machines are not so versatile for very short runs e.g 100 sheets or less.
Anyone who does a reasonable amount of sheet lamination should now consider bringing this in-house, equipment is now available that will cope with work from litho and digital print depts and enable cost-saving and time-saving.
NEPTUNE PERFORMING DIGITAL TONER FOILING
FULLY AUTOMATIC ENCAPSULATING LINES
Volume encapsulating requires different equipment - consider machines such as Fujipla ALM-3220 or D&K Encapsulating lines if you are looking to produce larger volumes of fully waterproof posters, credit cards etc.