By David Ferguson
In recent years, there has been an explosion of wide-format printing across the sign industry, the print-for-pay sector and even corporate offices. Once a graphic has been printed, however, there are many options for laminating or mounting it to turn it into a finished product, which should be part of any print service provider’s (PSP’s) marketing efforts.
With the right strategy for finishing graphics, sign shops can add further value to their printed output, differentiate their services from others’ to help get themselves noticed in the busy marketplace and increase their revenues and profits.
Mounting and lamination can yield many opportunities to sell new products to existing customers, adding extra ‘pop’ and ‘sizzle’ to a sign shop’s offerings. It is not only the larger shops that are profiting from these finishing processes. A lot of small shops do well with mounting and laminating, too.
Thermal lamination, which applies a heat-activated film to printed media, is the most common form of lamination and has been used for more than 50 years. Most schools, for example, have a tabletop thermal laminator. The same process is used for large-format graphics, just using a wider film. It is suitable for everything from maps and menus to trade show graphics and indoor signage.
Thermal lamination is also the least expensive way to laminate printed media. The laminating material is usually polyester and, because it is heat-activated, there is no need for a silicon release liner. Thermal laminates vary in thickness from 0.04 to 0.25 mm (1.7 to 10 mil) and will add rigidity to a print.
Cold lamination is a great entry-level option for print shops because the equipment is less expensive, but the supplies—including plastic films coated with adhesives and glossy backings—are more expensive. It has also been popular in the wide-format inkjet printing sector, as some inks and papers could be damaged by heat. There are also heat-assist laminators available, which work like a cold laminator, but add just enough heat along the top roller to enhance the appearance of cold laminates.
In the sign industry, lamination—either hot or cold—is generally used to create a decal of one form or another. This process involves applying an adhesive to the back of the printed media and, at the same time, an overlaminate on to the front. This process can be used for mouse pads, applying premask to cut vinyl, trade show displays, window and floor graphics, write-and-erase boards and indoor and outdoor signage.
Lamination makes printed materials better in three ways: protection, preservation and enhancement.
There are many ways in which lamination can protect printed materials. The most common is encapsulation, which involves the double-sided lamination of a print with at least 6.4 mm (0.25 in.) of ‘lip’ all around the edges. Once encapsulated, even a simple paper document can be immersed underwater without damaging the print on it.
Report covers, book covers and menus that are handled a lot indoors might only be finished with single-sided lamination, whereas encapsulation is commonly used to protect maps and other documents that need to be used outdoors in inclement weather conditions.
As for sunnier weather, a lot of laminates offer protection against the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. While any outdoor graphic can fade over time, a laminate with UV inhibitors will prolong the life of the graphic. At the very least, the graphic will be protected for the duration of a given promotion or event.
It is common for large-scale urban construction sites to be surrounded by decorated hoardings. These temporary walls often feature printed graphics promoting the office building, condominium or other structure being built. In high-traffic areas, however, signs and graphics are susceptible to graffiti, so the real estate developers may be keen on protecting their hoardings with an anti-graffiti overlaminate. Once this has been applied, any sprayed paint, lipstick or even permanent marker ink can simply be wiped off the surface without damaging the graphics.
Preserving a print involves adding longevity, i.e. prolonging the life of the document or graphic, whether for a month or for 30 years. There are many ways to accomplish this effect using lamination.
Priceless artifacts and old newspapers, for example, are often laminated to prevent them from yellowing due to oxidation and to protect them against humidity and moisture.
There are also many mounting methods for preservation purposes.
Glossy overlamination, for example, makes inkjet-printed colours appear more vibrant. Matte lamination, on the other hand, can make graphics easier to read, particularly in areas with glare, and provides a subtle tactile effect that adds to passersby’s perception of quality.
A thicker laminate can even add dimension to an image. Some of these offer a textured finish, such as sand, canvas or linen. Textured satin is a popular choice for trade show graphics, not only for its pebble finish, but also because it is scuff-resistant, adding to the protection of a graphic that must be handled frequently.