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Question and Answer

Exploring Options with Thermal Film Laminating

by Bob Polanzi, Protect-all

November-December, 2007
Thermal film laminating can be precarious, to say the least. It often is said that thermal laminating is an art and not a science. I believe a trade laminator only can be successful when adopting a business model that relies on an open mind and a combination of art and science, along with a much sought after experienced production staff. An experienced laminator has seen just about everything over the years; however, as print technology evolves, new and often challenging situations arise. How you overcome new objections and challenges, and how you adapt and embrace the cutting-edge creativity that the print industry demands will help define your company as a leader in print finishing. The questions and answers that follow just might help you better serve your customers with their film laminating needs.

What do I do when my good customers keep sending me sheets for laminating that are out of spec, or cause me to deviate from my planned estimate?
Education – plain and simple! Use your sales staff to train and educate your customers. Many large printers have weekly production or sales meetings, where with good planning, you can attend and have the attention of a captive audience comprised of creative people and decision makers. Ask the sales manager or production manager to reserve 30 minutes at the end of these meetings for his team to learn about options in laminating films – and your company’s services. Produce a short but informational PowerPoint presentation showing your company’s capabilities. This also is a great time to introduce new products and services. Teach your customers the importance of reverse engineering by choosing a press or sheet size that fits available equipment. Teach them what your requirements are for each laminator in your shop, how much room you need on the edge of the sheet, what type of ink to use, and what type of aqueous coatings are compatible with thermal laminating.

Often, laminating and finishing is the most costly component of a turnkey print job. Suggest a different sheet size or layout that is more efficient for laminating, and it may save money in the long run, even if customers have to print additional sheets or make new plates. Help them understand that getting you involved during the planning stage of a laminating and finishing job can, and usually will, save them money. Become supportive of their sales, production, and estimating staff through this type of education, and you will win their confidence and ultimately their business.

Why won’t standard laminating film stick to my customers’ digital prints that were produced on a Xerox iGen or DocuColor?
Xerox, Canon, and other digital print engines often use toner and fuser oil technology. While this technology produces visually pleasing reproductions, the presence of fuser oil and other toner additives can cause adhesion problems for laminating film. There are now laminating films on the market that are specifically formulated for digital printing. Protect-all has developed an innovative solution called SureGrip™. This film provides the speed in lamination that customers require in the “Print-on-Demand” world, allowing them to print and laminate the same day with confidence.

Providing laminating services to the digital print world is a potential market that many print finishers do not tap into because the digital short-run work is not the typical print finishing customer. However, with this area of printing continuing to grow, it can open up a new market segment for short-run laminating. These types of jobs may not bill at a high total amount, but usually can be sold at high margins.

Are there laminating films that will bond better to conventional UV offset- or UV screen-printed sheets, particularly with heavy coverage?
Typically, a standard thermal laminating film will work better with conventional inks. As always, make sure your printer consults with his ink, press chemistry, and coating suppliers prior to printing. They can recommend inks and press chemistry that is compatible with thermal lamination. This information should be part of the printer education process mentioned earlier. Take time to explore all the options before printing to save you the costly expense of reprinting.

With UV-cured inks, the sheet is printed and must fully cure in-line during the printing process through the exposure to UV light. If the ink is not fully exposed to the UV light and does not fully cure, adhesion will initially look good with the laminating film. However, after 24 to 48 hours, the film can begin to delaminate. The reason for this is that within uncured UV inks, monomers are present that essentially rise to the surface if not fully cured, disrupting the bond of the laminated film and creating the delamination.

Always ask your customers what print method they are using for a particular job, so you can recommend the correct laminating film. If you are still unsure of the correct film to use, ask your customer for a few sheets for testing prior to accepting the order. A few simple bond tests can make the difference between losing a customer and building a stronger relationship.

Can I foil stamp over a laminated document, and if so, do I need a special film? Also, can a laminated sheet be embossed?
Yes, you can foil stamp over lamination provided you use a film designed for this application. You should use an acrylic coated or compatible type of coated laminating film. These films are typically referred to as Glueable/Stampable (GS), and are well-suited for foil stamping, printing, and gluing. These types of films have a higher dyne count (lower surface tension) than many standard films. When using this film for a folding/gluing application, you should consult with your adhesive supplier to match the correct glue with the GS film you choose.

If the sheet is to be embossed after laminating, it is recommended to wait 24 hours after the sheet has been laminated to avoid the potential of air bubbles. The key here is to make sure the embossing die is not so deep as to crack the film during the embossing process. A very deep embossing die is not usually recommended with a laminated application.

Can I thermal laminate over a foil stamped press sheet?
There are special hot stamp foils that are designed for over printing and over laminating. You should consult with your foil supplier to ensure you use a foil designed for this purpose. Foil stamping combined with film lamination is typically used on high-profile projects like annual reports and eye-catching point-of-purchase displays. These are usually value-added, high-margin jobs that produce award-winning pieces. Don’t shy away from the multi-pass work. Plan ahead, educate yourself and your production team, and soon your lobby showcase will overflow with award-winning work.

Can I offer more services to my customers by the way of new and creative laminating films, without purchasing additional equipment?
Yes, if you have laminating capabilities, there are a number of specialty film products on the market today you can run on your existing equipment. Most printers have converted to UV curable ink technology, which means they can print easily on the surface of print-treated polyester films. These films include Superbrite, Rainbow, formable PVC’s, security patterns, and numerous holographic patterns, just to name a few. These films are usually laminated to board or plastic sheet stock first, and then printed after laminating. This type of application is predominantly used for high-end folding cartons, point-of-purchase displays, or in the gift and loyalty card market. When used creatively by an experienced printer, specialty films are a great choice for high-profile printed documents for their eye-catching brilliance, depth, and motion.

The key is to understand that there is not one laminating film that can do everything. It is always best to work closely with your film supplier to determine the best film for the particular application. If there is upfront communication between the film supplier, laminator, and the printer, challenges and problems can be avoided.

Bob Polanzi is director of sales and marketing with Protect-all. For further information on Protect-all’s full line of standard and specialty laminating films, call (262) 724-3292 or visit www.protect-all.com.