Everything You Need to Know About Laminating

Estimated Reading Time

  • 5 Minutes


Whether you are a seasoned pro at crafting documents or just starting out, lamination can elevate your project’s durability and appearance. However, properly shielding and preserving your important documents boils down to using the right laminator. In this guide, we will cover everything you need to know about laminating, from the basics of how laminators work to selecting the perfect machine and supplies for your needs.

Lamination is widely used across various industries to enhance the quality of documents. If your document is made of water-resistant, highly durable, or tear-resistant materials that are designed for use in environments where they will not be exposed to damaging conditions or heavily handled, you may not need to laminate them. However, in general, lamination is the key to protecting and preserving precious documents so they last for years to come. Consider how it does so and what you will need to make your lamination journey a success.

Spiral’s Guide to Laminating

When you think of laminating, you typically picture a machine with rollers that pull a paper for laminating and laminate in, heat it, and spit out a glossy, well-protected document. Understanding the basic components and useful features can help you choose the best laminator for your unique needs.

The Basic Components of a Laminator

Various types of laminators exist, but all laminators share some basic components:

  • Feed tray: This is where you place the document that will be laminated before it enters the laminator. This tray helps to align the document so it enters straight and evenly.
  • Nip rollers: All laminating machines have nip rollers, which are two rollers on top and bottom that apply pressure to stick the laminating film or pouch to the document.
  • Film rollers (for roll machines): Roll machines also typically have two film rollers – one on top and one on the bottom – to feed the film into the nip rollers.
  • Heating element: This is where the adhesive is heated in a thermal laminator. Rollers often serve as heating elements in pouch laminators. The heating elements are often separate in roll laminators, but they work together with the nip rollers to apply heat and pressure at the same time.
  • Pull rollers: These rollers are located at the back of a laminator near the exit. These pull the media through the feed tray to the exit. They also keep tension on the film as it cools and passes through the exit to prevent wrinkles and waves.
  • Media rewind: Many roll laminators have this feature, which rolls up the laminated material after the document has been laminated and exits the other side of the laminator. This is especially useful for long runs to keep laminated items neat and organized. You may also use it to collect the waste side of the laminate film to keep the work area clean and make disposing of the waste material easier.

Other Helpful Features

Once you get past the basics, many laminators have other features that can elevate the laminating process. The best laminators have a combination of the following features or even all of them to enhance project quality, safety, and efficiency. Some features include:

  • Ready indicator: A light or audible alert that indicates when the laminator reaches the desired temperature and is ready to use. This feature ensures that the machine is at the correct temperature for optimal adhesion every time, preventing issues like cloudy lamination and silvering.
  • Temperature control: This allows you to adjust the heat level according to the thickness of the laminating pouch or film and the material being laminated.
  • Speed control: This feature is mostly available in roll laminators. It allows you to adjust how fast the document passes through the laminator, which is an important part of quality lamination. Too fast, and your document might not heat enough or cool enough, leading to cloudy lamination and silvering.  
  • Cutting mechanism: Some laminators come with a built-in trimmer or cutter so you can trim excess film from the edges for a clean, professional finish. A cutter is especially useful for marketing materials, IDs and badges, educational materials like flashcards and study guides, and retail signage. 
  • Reverse function: This feature allows the rollers to run in reverse so you can remove or re-align jammed documents or laminating pouches. This reduces the risk of damaging the laminator or your project, prolonging the machine’s lifespan.
  • Auto shut-off: This safety feature turns the laminator off after a period of inactivity, preventing potential injuries and saving energy.

Our Top Laminators

Various laminators are available on the market, each with its unique features, advantages, and disadvantages. However, they do have a few things in common: items that should not be laminated and best practices for success.

While you should not laminate items such as thermal paper, original legal documents or certificates, and sensitive historical documents or photos, lamination can protect virtually any other document. No matter the type of laminator, the key to perfect lamination is to make sure your document is cleaned and aligned within the sheet or pouch, use the appropriate temperature and speed settings, and feed it smoothly into the laminator without forcing it.

At Spiral, we offer numerous high-quality laminating machines to protect virtually any project.

Pouch Laminators

Pouch laminators are the go-to choice for small to medium-sized documents and materials. This laminator uses pre-sized laminating pouches that encase your document, then seals the pouch with heat and pressure.

These laminators are compact, easy to use, and affordable, making them ideal for laminating for office use, small businesses, and classrooms. They are especially beneficial for quickly laminating items like:

  • IDs
  • Menus
  • Photos
  • Certificates and awards
  • Classroom signs

They often include features like adjustable temperature controls, which are perfect for sectors that often use sensitive materials like inkjet prints and photographs, such as graphic design and photography. They can also handle various pouch thicknesses between 3 to 10 mil, allowing them to be used in virtually any industry from hospitality to education to the corporate sector. Machines like the SpeedyLam and QuickLam are the top quality options on the market today.

Roll Laminators

Roll laminators – also known as school laminators – are designed for high-volume, larger-format documents and materials. They feed documents through two rolls of laminating film, which are heated and pressed together to apply the laminate. They can also apply single-sided laminating film for applications like book covers and packaging. 

Roll laminators are commonly used in educational settings due to their ability to handle large volumes of materials from 1.5 to 10 mil thick and accommodate wider documents. They are great for laminating posters and photos, long rolls of paper, and even mounting boards, which are useful for creating durable educational aids, signage for events, and instructional materials that require frequent use.

Roll laminators come with speed and temperature adjustments so you can customize the project based on the material being laminated. They are also exceptionally efficient for bulk projects because they can handle continuous lamination. This makes them perfect for other sectors that produce large quantities of promotional materials, posters, and educational resources, such as:

  • Print and copy shops: Posters, signs, banners, and marketing materials
  • Graphic design and advertising: Outdoor advertisements, point-of-sale displays, and graphic prints
  • Photography studios: Photos in exhibitions and galleries
  • Corporate businesses: Large training manuals, presentations, and legal documents
  • Healthcare and medical facilities: Instructions, signage, and informational posters that are hygienic and easy to clean
  • Trade shows and exhibitions: Backdrops, large banners, and informational materials
  • Government: Notices, informational and regulatory signs, and frequently used educational materials 

Automatic Laminators

Automatic laminators provide high-speed performance for high-volume production runs. They use automation to eliminate hand-feeding, laminating, and trimming. Gone are the days of multiple operators standing at machines to manually feed in and trim documents! All you have to do is press a button and walk away as they create fully trimmed and laminated sheets.

They also come equipped with sensors and adjustable settings to accommodate different material types and thicknesses for a perfect finish every time. With these features, they save labor costs, improve workflow, and maintain a consistent output quality. This makes them ideal for industries like publishing or manufacturing, where the quality and durability of thousands of book covers, packaging, safety labels, and instructions are crucial. 

Wide Format Laminators

Wide-format laminators are perfect for industries that need to laminate large-scale documents and materials where the standard 25” size is not adequate. They handle large rolls of laminating film between 38” to 80” wide and up to 10mil thick, making them perfect for:

  • Banners
  • Signs/posters
  • Architectural plans
  • Large photographs

They are ideal for industries such as engineering, architecture, advertising, and signage, where businesses regularly create large, durable, visually appealing materials. 

Features like adjustable temperature and speed settings ensure optimal results by allowing for customization according to the specific material being laminated. You also do not have to choose between heat vs. cold laminating methods since they are available as both options. This makes them adaptable to any business looking to produce large-format displays and protect large documents from wear, tear, and environmental factors.

Cold Laminators

Unlike most other laminators, cold laminators use pressure instead of heat to laminate documents. This method is essential for materials that are sensitive to high temperatures, such as vinyl, photographs, and digital prints. The industries that most commonly use cold laminators are:

  • Graphic design studios
  • Photography businesses
  • Digital print shops
  • The signage industry for outdoor durable graphics that resist weathering

Cold laminators have the advantage of providing a durable, protective finish while preserving the integrity and visual quality of the work, making them very versatile.

Foil Laminators 

Foil laminators add a layer of sophistication to printed materials to make them stand out and demand attention. The process involves placing a foil sheet over the material and running it through the laminator. Heat and pressure adhere the foil to the inked sections of the project, making them shine.

This technique is often used to create a luxurious customized feel on a variety of projects, including: 

  • Business cards
  • Invitations
  • Certificates
  • Report covers

Features like adjustable temperature control and variable speed settings make these perfect for industries that use a variety of paper stocks and ink, such as graphic design and printing, marketing and advertising, publishing, and wedding and event planning. For example, a small business can use high-quality foil laminators and laminating foil to make stunning personalized holiday cards for their team members, partners, and customers. Teachers can also use it to help their students create beautiful cards for their parents.

The Laminating Supplies You’ll Need

The right laminating supplies are crucial for a successful project. The supplies you use depend on your project size, type of material, and production volume.

Laminating Film

Laminating film is used with a roll laminator and is available in various sizes and thicknesses between 1.5 to 10 mil. 1.5mil is the thinnest and often called “school film” because it is primarily used by schools. 5mil is a medium weight that is popular with businesses, while 10mil is the most rigid option suitable for items like security badges, outdoor signage, and medical and laboratory instructions.

Laminating film offers several advantages, including:

  • Long-lasting and durable protective layer perfect for items like maps or posters
  • Allows items to be wiped clean and sanitized, which is great for environments like schools or hospitals
  • Provides a beautiful soft matte or glossy transparent finish that makes artwork and photographs stand out
  • Versatile applications, including books, magazines, posters, and more
  • Numerous options, including standard school film, ultra-clear, UV thermal, low-temperature, wide-format, digital, and soft-touch film

Laminating Pouches

Laminating pouches are used with pouch laminators. They are pre-sealed on one side and encapsulate documents and cards. They come in a variety of sizes with thicknesses ranging from 3 mil to 10 mil. The thicker the pouch, the more rigid the document is. Therefore, thicker pouches are ideal for creating ID cards, certificates, and awards. 

Various types of pouches are available, including:

  • Anti-microbial: Ideal for shared resources like communal learning aids and library books, particularly in school and hospital environments.
  • UV protective: Ideal for storefronts where laminate may be exposed to the sun, such as signage. Low-temperature adhesive makes them useful for heat-sensitive inks and papers like inkjet and digital prints.
  • Cold self-laminating: Ideal for anyone who does not have a laminating machine, including teachers, students, businesses, and individuals. 
  • Large format: These pouches are larger than normal, with sizes ranging from standard letter size to large 15” x 18” chart sizes. These are great for anyone who prefers laminating pouches to protect their projects.
  • Adhesive back: These pouches feature heat-activated adhesive on the inside with a pressure-sensitive adhesive and release liner on the back so you can stick your encapsulated project on any surface you desire.
  • 1-sided laminating sheets: Perfect for projects where you only need to laminate the front side. No laminator is needed, so these are ideal for teachers, schools, businesses, and individuals.

Pouch carriers are a useful additional accessory when your laminating pouches are smaller than your laminator’s maximum width.  They encapsulate the pouch with your document inside, keeping your laminator rollers from becoming sticky from the adhesive that may seep out of the pouch.

Pro Tip: You can add multiple documents inside one pouch depending on the size, which can save money if you are laminating multiple cards and badges or small documents of different sizes. 

Fusing Foil

Also known as toner adhesion foiling, fusing foil is used with a foil laminator to add brilliant colored accents to virtually any document printed with dry toner. They are available in a variety of styles, including:

  • Metallic
  • Matte/Satin
  • Holographic 
  • Iridescent
  • Gloss Pigment

Fusing foil is easy to use. It does not require any type of die, and you do not have to have any special skills to produce foil fusing. You can also cut costs by cutting the foil so it is only slightly wider than the image area and choosing either portrait or landscape orientation depending on your project.

Protecting Documents with Lamination

When done correctly, lamination can enhance the appearance, durability, and longevity of your projects. It is a smart investment to protect and preserve your documents for years to come.

If you are ready to safeguard your important documents, Spiral provides a wide variety of laminating machines and supplies to elevate your laminating processes. 

Have questions? Contact us at 800-631-3572.

About Lexi Williams

Alexis Williams leverages 6+ years of writing experience and manufacturer insights into the binding industry to create content that is helpful, accurate, and straightforward. She aims to provide customers with the information they need to make the best, most informed decision. With her past working experience in the office space industry and robust research skills, she provides a fresh perspective to meet the needs of Spiral customers.