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LAMINATORS

Jan 1, 2003 12:00 AM


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When most of us think about lamination, we think about the benefits it provides, such as image protection and preservation, rather than the process itself. According to David Goetter, director of Digital Graphics, a Pensacola, FL-based consultancy, this is a common and potentially costly misconception. “If lamination were looked at for what it really is — the bonding of different materials together — there's enormous opportunity for printers to take the images they're creating and expand their product offerings,” says the consultant. “Laminating gives you the ability to tailor products for specific customer needs without having to change your imaging technology.”

Successful lamination, according to the consultant, begins with two basic questions: What problem are you trying to solve for your customer? And, what demands will the application impose?

“Until you understand the application demands, you can't choose the best printing technology or laminating option that will hit the sweet spot of profitability for you and cost-effectiveness for your customer,” says Goetter. “Laminating jobs are often overbuilt, creating a poor ROI for the customer.”

10 APPLICATION DEMANDS

The consultant says the following application demands should be evaluated for all lamination jobs:

  1. Water/moisture
  2. Light/UV exposure
  3. Thermal exposure
  4. Handling/shipping
  5. Time (lifespan of the product)
  6. Resolution (image quality)
  7. Structural issues
  8. Chemical exposure
  9. Aesthetics
  10. Cost.

“Application demands are constant, but vary in severity,” explains Goetter. “They need to be analyzed one at a time to determine how important they are in relation to selecting the appropriate imaging technology and the possibility of bonding additional materials together.”

Popular one-sided laminating applications include report, book, publication and catalog covers, point-of-purchase (POP) displays, presentation folders, insurance and ID cards, and product labels. Two-sided applications also include POP displays and insurance and ID cards, as well as posters, write-on/wipe-off wall calendars, maps and charts, menus and sell sheets.

THERMAL AND COLD ADHESIVE FILMS

There are two main categories of laminate film adhesives: cold (pressure-sensitive adhesive) and thermal. Cold adhesive films are often used for inkjet jobs where inks are incompatible with thermal adhesives, as well as heat-sensitive images — for example, wax-based inks — and jobs printed on vinyl. For maximum flexibility, printers doing high-volume laminating work typically have both capabilities, either as separate or dual-purpose systems.

Thermal, generally the most popular and cheapest option, is offered in three film types: polyester (PET), oriented polypropylene (OPP) and nylon (see “Common thermal laminates” on p. 32).

Thermal films consist of a film base and heat-activated adhesive layer in varying proportions, depending on the chosen film. The base of a five-mil film, for example, may range from one mil to three mils of polyester, with the adhesive layer making up the difference. During the lamination process, extreme pressure bonds the melted adhesive to the printed sheet. Unfortunately, this process isn't always as easy as it sounds.

COMPARING FILMS

While the thermal process dominates the U.S. market, water-based lamination is another option. Unlike thermal films, water-based films don't come with the adhesive already applied. “Water- or aqueous-based film is applied to the stock on the laminator using an adhesive that smells and looks a bit like Elmer's glue,” explains John Gilmore, president of Autobond (Granby, CT), which offers both thermal and water-based laminators. “The process requires slightly more skill to ensure the correct temperature and flow rate of adhesive. The print range generally recommended for laminating is 60 lb. to 24 pt. for water-based film, vs. 80 lb. to 24 pt. for thermal film.”

Proponents of water-based film argue that it is cheaper than thermal. Dry-system vendors concede this may be true, but claim that thermal offers faster start-ups with less equipment cleaning and can handle more rigid films.

Laminator gurus urge potential buyers to thoroughly research their production requirements before shopping for new equipment. Buyers also shouldn't automatically assume that all high-end laminators have standard finishing capabilities.

We asked some key laminator vendors to update us on their latest thermal and water-based offerings.

AUTOBOND

Autobond has been supplying film laminating machines worldwide since 1978. Its new Compact thermal laminators are offered in 22-, 29- and 40-inch versions as either single-sided or two-sided models. “We've designed the Compact range specifically for sheetfed commercial printers that want to bring laminating in-house,” says Gilmore. “Many of the features will be familiar to offset-press operators, such as the Heidelberg feedheads, which are incorporated on all Autobond laminators.”

Another recent introduction, the Sheetmaster 74 AT, is available as an aqueous or aqueous/thermal machine. “It's a laminator for companies that want the flexibility of using a range of film substrates, such as water-based film, acetate or metallized polypropylene,” Gilmore explains. “A water-based film can be used for applications where cost is an issue, or a biodegradable film can be used where there are environmental factors.”

During Q1, Autobond will launch the Sheetmaster CTP, which offers a combination of water-based laminating on one side, plus thermal laminating on the other, or two sides in one pass, in sizes up to 40 inches.

ADVANCED GRIEG LAMINATORS

Advanced Grieg Laminators (AGL) (Madison, WI) introduced its first sheetfed laminator in the 1950s for the industrial market. Today, AGL offers digital imaging laminators with 44-inch to 80-inch roll faces.

Vice president Brian Buisker says that the company's new 64i thermal laminator will help operators contend with top laminating variables: speed, time, temperature and tension.

A repeatable tensioning system (RTS) lets operators measure the amount of braking resistance being applied to the film unwind shafts. Once the operator has identified the optimum tension setting for any film combination, it can be recorded and duplicated for future jobs.

The 64i also features an “Easy Web-Feed Table” said to virtually web the laminator by itself by pivoting backward 90 degrees, giving the operator full access to the lower supply shaft. The laminator's “Curl Cam” feature reportedly eliminates the excessive brake tension that can result in post delamination. Film can be formed during the bonding cycle, enabling the operator to avoid print curl as well as process-unique film combinations.

BILLHOFER MASCHINENFABRIK

Billhöfer Maschinenfabrik GmbH, distributed in the U.S. by Dean Machinery International (Alpharetta, GA), has teamed with adhesive manufacturer H.B. Fuller and nozzle specialist Inatec (inatec-gmbh.de) to develop a high-speed, hot-melt adhesive laminator: KC Coat hot-melt system. The laminator is said to achieve high gloss with low application quantities. It features a special nozzle that automatically controls the volume of adhesive being dispensed, even at high production speeds. The nozzle doesn't require any advanced setup or postproduction cleaning. Adhesive is supplied in a solid-bar form. The KC Coat's adhesive quality, minimal thermal stress and flat output are said to make it suitable for digital-printing applications.

D&K INTERNATIONAL

To celebrate its 25th anniversary, D&K International (Elk Grove Village, IL), a supplier of one- and two-sided laminating systems and related film products, is introducing some new laminator designs. “We've updated System Jr., one of our most popular machines for Xerox, Indigo and Xeikon users and those with shorter runs,” reports Gene Gajos, product manager.

System Jr., which the company has offered for 20 years, has a new look and compact footprint. The modular system consists of an automatic sheet feeder, one-sided laminator and an automatic sheet separator.

D&K also offers SuperKote EZ, an on-demand thermal laminator that can be used with the company's SuperStick film, as well as a one-sided, inline laminator for use with Xeikon's DCP-500 SP printer. It also has two new wide-format laminators, the Expression 32 and 42. The low-temperature machines feature variable speed and heated turning rollers.

In 2002, D&K launched SuperStick, a thermal film specifically designed for the digital marketplace. It laminates at temperatures between 260°F and 290°F with minimal temperature adjustments. SuperStick is said to have less static and adhesive transfer and better handibility during laminating than other aggressive films. According to Gajos, the film's resin configuration ensures that SuperStick doesn't stick to itself or leave adhesive residue on the laminator rail.

The film was originally designed for digital-press output, but D&K is now offering several variations that will stick to PVC, styrenes and different inks. “There are many other potential applications,” says Gajos, citing the wide-format market and gift, membership and ID cards.

The exec notes that, unlike some films, SuperStick enables users to produce full-bleed cards. “A lot of cards have a white border around the outside because the film doesn't stick to the ink very well — when you diecut the card, the film will pop off unless you have that border. But SuperStick eliminates this problem because it will stick to the ink.”

GBC FILMS GROUP

“Without a doubt, the biggest laminating growth opportunity is in the digital marketplace,” says Christian Webel, marketing manager at GBC Films Group (Addison, IL), a manufacturer of thermal and pressure-sensitive laminating films and equipment. “When digital-color output is laminated, it pops off the page. Also, because toner could otherwise rub off a page, preserving the image adds value.”

GBC's Hi-Tac film tackles a common digital-printing laminating issue: sticking to a surface with fuser oil on it. Webel notes that GBC developed Hi-Tac about seven years ago when Xerox launched its DocuColor line. Today it's also used with Canon CLC output.

Recent GBC introductions include Aquila, an entry-level thermal laminator; Mercury, a tabletop system with a semi-automatic feeder and automatic separator; and Polaris, a one-sided, high-speed system.

Targeting mid-volume applications, Mercury laminates at speeds up to nine fpm, depending on the application, and finishes sheets from 5½ inches to 18 inches wide and lengths from 8½ inches to the entire roll length. It can finish paper weights from 18-lb. bond up to 14-pt. board. A synchronized feeder automatically sets overlap and feeds the sheets into the laminator.

The 50-fpm Polaris features a high-speed automatic feeder designed for easy operation, with an 18-inch paper-pile height for large-capacity long runs, along with leading-edge paper feeding that utilizes vacuum-feed technology with multiple suction cups. The synchronized sheet separator uses a precision knife that separates sheets while the web is moving, and an adjustable decurling bar ensures product flatness. Polaris can laminate sheet sizes from 8½ inches × 5½ inches up to 20 inches x 25 inches and paper weights from 18-lb. bond to 14-pt. board with various types of films.

SEAL GRAPHICS

Seal Graphics' (Elkridge, MD) recent introductions include the 62 Ultra, 62 Pro and Image 600md for mounting and laminating 60-inch digital prints for indoor and outdoor graphics, signage and displays.

The Seal 62 Ultra can mount, laminate and encapsulate prints up to 61 inches wide. It also can be used with cold, pressure-sensitive films and with heat-activated materials.

The Seal 62 Pro can laminate media up to 62 inches wide and at speeds up to 20 fpm. It also has cold-processing capability, with 14.28-lbf/inch line pressure for good cold lamination.

The Image 600md, slated to be released soon, is a dual-heated finishing system that processes materials at temperatures up to 275°F and can mount, laminate and encapsulate materials up to 62 inches wide.

TRANSILWRAP

Recent introductions from Transilwrap (Franklin Park, IL), a 70-year-old manufacturer of printable plastics and thermal laminating films, include DigiDirect materials for Indigo-press output as well as Trans-Kote Nylon/MR laminating film for book jackets. Said to prevent curling, Trans-Kote can be embossed or printed. It is available in 1.2 mil and 1.7 mil in gloss and matte finishes.

Sidebar: LAMINATING HELP ON CD

David Goetter, director, Digital Graphics (Pensacola, FL), is a man on a mission. The consultant is determined to dispel graphic-arts professionals' misconceptions about laminating.

“A lot of people don't really understand what laminating is,” says Goetter. “That may sound funny, but when I ask most people, the first thing they mention is image protection. But that's really a benefit film can provide.”

Goetter says that laminating refers to bonding material together. “Outside the graphic arts, it might be something as simple as a kitchen countertop in which Formica and particle board are put together to create a new product.”

Some of the consultant's passion may stem from his past experiences as a screen and digital printer. Goetter went on to develop the wet-transfer process in wide-format electrostatic printing and recently worked with Advanced Grieg Laminators' (Madison, WI) engineering group on the design of its new 64i laminator.

Several years ago, with the sponsorship of a handful of vendors, Goetter produced a CD-ROM: “I Could Just Scream: Troubleshooting the Top 5 Laminating Mistakes.” A limited number of these free CDs are still available. To request one, send an e-mail with “Laminating CD” in the subject line to APeditor@primediabusiness.com.

Goetter also frequently speaks at Screenprinting and Graphic Imaging International Assn. (SGIA) (Fairfax, VA) events. See sgia.org for more details.

Sidebar: COMMON THERMAL LAMINATES

  • Clear polyester: High gloss, durability and scratch resistance

  • Satin polyester: Medium gloss; excellent color consistency

  • Matte-finish polyester: Low gloss; good durability and readability

  • Nylon-based: Counteracts moisture that causes paper curl

  • Polypropylene: High-gloss film folds easily but is prone to scratching, and lacks rigidity for two-sided laminating.