If you need to protect your piece from moisture, dust and other contaminates there are few better choices than lamination. Not only that, it can also add sheen and really make the colors pop on the page. (For this discussion it is assumed you already know what laminate is, if you would like more information about laminating, and why it is used, you can read one of our past blogs here.) Once you have decided to laminate now you need to know how thick should the laminate be. The different thicknesses of laminate can drastically change how your piece looks, feels and how it needs to be handled.
Laminate is measured by thousandths of an inch, or “mil”(this should not be confused with millimeter, or “mm”). A 3mil laminate is .003 inches thick. When you laminate something it is applied to both sides of the piece(at least typically, there are exceptions). That means a 3mil laminate will actually make your piece .006 inches thicker. The thicker your laminate is the more rigid your printed piece becomes, the more rigid the laminate gets the more protection it offers, but it also becomes harder to fold.
But how thick should the laminate be? The first thing you need to know is what you are protecting your piece from. Sun light, water, dust, smoke, spills; the more protection you need the thicker the laminate needs to be. You also need to know how it is going to be used. If you would like to laminate a menu for instance it may need to be folded. Then you would need a thinner laminate to allow for that. There are 4 common thicknesses of laminate used by commercial printers.
Different Thicknesses of Laminate
1.7mil- This is one of the thinnest laminates that commercial printers use. It will not add much rigidity to your piece allowing your piece to be folded and bent without much trouble. This is often used on book covers, and temporary signs.
3mil- This is a very commonly used laminate. It offers more protection than the 1.7mil, but is still pliable enough to allow the piece to be bent. You will often see this laminate on restaurant menus, and wall posters.
5mil- This is the next level of laminate. It can still be folded or bent, but it will need to be scored first, and will still tend to reopen or expand when not being held in place. This laminate offers a substantial level of protection, and is typically used on flat pieces like charts, bookmarks, and diagrams.
10mil- This is a very heavy-duty laminate, getting to the point of essentially encasing your piece in hard plastic. Because of how rigid 10mil is the corners can be sharp and may need to be rounded(this could be true for the 5mil as well depending on how thick the paper is you are using). The 1omil laminate is often used on security and identification cards. Things that get handled frequently, and are not meant to be folded.
Things to Remember
The thickness of the laminate you choose will mostly depend on the environment your piece will be in, and how it will be used while in said environment. The thicker the laminate the more protection, but you give up flexibility. Things that are folded like restaurant menus are commonly made with 1.7 or 3mil laminate. Items that are not being folded and require more protection are good fits for 5 or 10mil laminate.
If you do plan on using a thicker laminate know that the corners can become sharp. Because of how rigid the laminate makes it the corners are difficult to bend, and if they are square they can make a sharp point. If it is something that will be handled frequently, especially by children, it might be a good idea to round the corners.
If you have questions about laminate thickness, or what types of laminate would work best for your printing project, take a look at Big Fish Print Solutions. They have decades of experience dealing with laminating.