Laminators and Coaters

Always wear protection in the rain.
Photo by Christopher A. Solerno

Regardless of what the printer manufacturer says, the life of a print may not live up to customer expectations when exposed to the real world. While many eco-solvent, UV and latex inks claim great UV, abrasion and chemical protections, the reality of an errant road pebble can ruin an otherwise great wrap. So how do you protect your hard work – cover it in some type of armor? Yep! We’re talking about laminators or liquid coaters. In many shops, the laminator is not only a must for protection of graphics, but it can also be used to add a little extra cash to the bottom line.

Lamination is pretty straight-forward: You get some clear, self-adhesive plastic laminate and use it to cover the image. If you prefer a liquid coating, then you spray or dip the image in a specialized liquid that will dry clear. Of course, nothing is ever that simple and shopping for a laminator or coater will depend almost entirely on what type of printing equipment you use.

As an example, let’s say you work with vehicle wraps and have a 60-in. eco-solvent printer. If you want to print at full width – and who doesn’t – you will need a laminator that can accommodate that width. You will also need to look at the specifications of the laminate that you want to use. In most cases the laminate requires both pressure and heat to properly bond to the print. If you do this kind of printing, you need to look for a laminator with a heated roller. As you can see, there are some factors in choosing the proper equipment.

COLD AND ROLLED

So, during your search did you see cold laminators that don’t offer a heated roller? Why would you need one of those? The primary reason has to do with your printer’s ink. Eco-solvent, UV and latex are usually fine with heated laminates and liquid coatings. Aqueous ink, like you find in fine-arts printers, will fog under heat and will smudge, or wash off in liquid-laminate coatings. Cold films will work just dandy with these prints. So if you do prints with water-based inks, then you’ll need a cold laminator. 

We’ve mentioned liquid laminates a few times but they are not used in signshops as frequently as roll laminators. There are plusses and minuses to both systems. The liquid laminate will be less expensive than roll laminates based on square-foot coverage. Many vehicle wrap shops like how much more conformable liquid-laminated prints are than roll laminates. Roll laminators can be a pain to load and you may have to reconfigure them depending upon the type of lamination you do. Liquid laminators are pretty straight-forward to use with just pouring in a bottle of coating when the need arises.

There are, of course, advantages to using a film laminator. You do have to keep a liquid laminator clean and you need to factor in daily maintenance that is not needed on a roll laminator. A real feature of a roll laminator is the wide variety of over-laminations available. You can add textures that cannot be done with liquids. And specialty laminates for things like floor graphics can help to add new products to your shop offerings.

All in all, a laminator is an essential piece of equipment for all digital printing shops. Whether you want to go the liquid or roll method is up to the types of printing you do. A good laminator will set you back a little under $20K. With all of the benefits that it brings, the investment is well worth it.