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Print Preservation: A Look at Wide-Format Laminators

(October 2008) posted on Fri Oct 10, 2008

The laminator is your first line of defense when you need to shield and enhance your screen-and digitally printed graphics. Learn about the types of machines on the market and find out how a laminator can help you expand your capabilities and customer base.

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By Ben P. Rosenfield

Familiarizing yourself with the laminator’s main components and methods of operation is a solid way to start the hunt for the best unit for your business. An overview of both concerns follows.

Cold vs. thermal Choosing between thermal and cold film-laminating units is an important decision. A thermal unit can process both cold laminates—those that adhere to the graphic substrate with a pressure-sensitive adhesive—and thermal laminates, which feature a heat-activated adhesive. A cold unit can only apply pressure-sensitive laminating materials. Because of the heating systems and related controls used in thermal units, the prices for these systems are typically much higher than for cold units. Even though heat is not required to process pressure-sensitive adhesives, a small amount of heat will aid in flowing out the adhesives found in cold-laminating materials and accelerate the bonding process.

Liquid laminating This article focuses on film units, but liquid laminators deserve a mention. Liquid laminators are available in lots of configurations and format sizes. You can select manually operated or automated units, as well as flatbed and roll-fed types. UV laminators are typically reverse-roll, three-roll systems. Water-based laminators generally flood-coat the substrate and then employ a wire-wound metering rod to reduce the coating’s thickness to the appropriate level. A squeegee or similar device then removes the coating from the back side of the substrate. Water-based liquid laminators generally represent a lower cost of entry into the technology, while some UV liquid laminators can process substrates at high speeds—sometime at more than 100 ft/min. For more information about liquid laminators, consult the article “Liquid Courage: Coating Technology for Print Protection,” Screen Printing, Feb. 2008, p. 38.

Industrial Those who concentrate on highly demanding work, such as tags, cards, medical products, auto-motive components, and other indus-trial and specialty applications, may find themselves in need of a custom laminating solution (Figure 2) that can process the materials they use and with the precision and control required for end-use aesthetics or functionality. These industrial systems typically can accommodate roll-to-roll, sheet-to-roll, and sheet-to-sheet operation, as well as over- and underlaminating. They also may be equipped to offer multispindle operation for inline unwinding, rewinding, and lamination. Outfitting such a laminator with precise, digital temperature controls further enhances its ability to manage very delicate substrates.


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