What is Laminating?
Laying a protective layer, usually plastic, over a flat material, usually paper; laminating in a nutshell. Easy right? Well kind of, but how do you know if you need to laminate something? Can you write on it? What will it feel like? What will the image look like after being laminated? These are all important questions, because it is great to have your project protected, but it also needs to function properly.
If you are thinking about a printing and you would like to add to its longevity, or if you need to protect it from the elements, you should consider lamination. Adding a laminate to the project will reduce ware, slow down fading, and add a nice finishing touch. All without distorting the image.
Different Types of Laminating
There are three types of laminate that are most commonly used. Polypropylene, is a very high gloss laminate, Nylon, which is very durable, and Polyester, which is the middle ground between the two. These are the three most popular, but by no means is this list exclusive. There are many other types(and more being made), some are color shifting, have metallics in them, there are even holographic laminates. For this discussion we are going to stick to the three that are most commonly used.
Polypropylene laminate is high gloss, and the thinnest of the three laminates. It gives your piece a very nice finished look without dulling the image. Polypropylene laminate is the weakest of these three laminates making it more susceptible to scuffing and scratching. You are essentially trading the high gloss look for a little bit lower durability. It is a laminate that is very easy to work with and as a result it has a lower price point than the other laminates. You will see this on a lot of book covers and jackets.
Nylon laminate is the thickest of the laminates. It is often used for paperback book covers. It is very flexible allowing it to be bent without cracking, and stand up to a lot of repeated use. Nylon is the most durable of the laminates. It is very resistant to heat, but because of this it also takes a lot of heat to apply it(good to keep in mind if you are printing something heat sensitive) . You will sometimes hear nylon referred to as soft touch laminate. It is called “soft touch” because of how it feels. You have certainly picked up a paperback book recently(or maybe not; we don’t judge), that has a soft almost satin feel, this is soft touch nylon laminate. Adding nylon laminate to your project can really make it stand out anytime someone picks it up. It offers the greatest amount of durability, along with a more difficult application process, which makes nylon the most costly of the three laminates.
Polyester laminate is kind of the Goldilocks of laminates(at least in terms of this discussion), it is right in the middle when talking about finished look and durability. It gives you more strength than polypropylene, but is easier to apply and less expensive than nylon. It doesn’t give you as much of a glossy finish as polypropylene, and it is not as flexible as nylon. If you are looking for everyday functionality, with a nice, but not over the top finish, polyester is your choice. In terms of price it is right in the middle also. It is really a nice product that covers a lot of different bases. For these reasons polyester is the most popular laminate used in the printing business(this is almost a default laminate unless otherwise specified).
How to Choose the Correct Laminate
You have a project that you think you would like to have laminated, how do you decide which type is best suited for you? For the most part polyester will be the first choice, but If it is going to be handled frequently and needs more protection, then nylon might be your answer. Maybe you are looking for a high gloss finish on something with a lower price point, polypropylene would be a good fit for you. Much of this will be determined by your design, and what you need the laminate to do. If you have questions about what type of laminate to use, or if you need to laminate at all, you can contact your local laminating professional.
Laminates add extra protection, they hold up to moisture, heat, dust, sunlight, and just about anything else you can throw at it. However, laminate is not necessarily for signage that will be outside for extended periods of time. If you would like a poster to hold up for a couple of days rain or shine, laminating works great, but if you need the poster to hold up for a couple of weeks or longer, the elements will eventually win out. For more permanent solutions there are better options.(Like synthetic paper, more on that later.)