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A Look at Film and Liquid Laminators

(December 2013) posted on Wed Nov 20, 2013

Film and liquid laminators enhance the quality, appearance, and longevity of screen- and digitally printed graphic materials.


By Screen Printing's Solution Sourcebook

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Thermal films are made up of two parts: the face stock—most often polyester—and the low-melt adhesive. The construction of this type of film is usually described using a ratio of polyester to adhesive. For instance, a 3-mil film may be described as 1:2, meaning 1-mil polyester to 2-mil adhesive.
Temperature is an additional variable to control that, when combined with tension and pressure, increases the potential for user error. Still, many laminator operators who use thermal films are able to hone the process over time and ultimately experience very few errors.

Pressure-sensitive laminating films
Pressure-sensitive laminating films, or cold-roll films, are made up of three components: face stock, adhesive, and liner. These components affect the cost of the laminating film. Different grades of each are available to suit a variety of applications. One pressure-sensitive film may be ideal for top-quality UV protection and offer two to five years of durability, while another may be suitable only for three to six months of use.

Generally speaking, the smoother the liner, the smoother the adhesive. And the smoother the adhesive, the better the application of the adhesive during lamination, which results in a clearer finished graphic. In addition, high-quality liners provide improved stability during the laminating process, which yields more consistent results and allows for faster laminating speeds. You have several choices for face stocks, each of which has its advantages and drawbacks. They include vinyl, polycarbonate, polyester, and polypropylene.

Vinyl Vinyl is the most common face stock for pressure-sensitive laminating films. It’s relatively inexpensive, has excellent layflat and conformability characteristics, and is very durable. The gloss level of vinyl stock may easily be changed during manufacturing, which further drives cost down. Cast and calendared vinyls are used for laminating films. The choice of which type to employ depends on end use and the cost the customer is willing to bear.
Common applications and thicknesses for pressure-sensitive vinyl films include 2-mil cast for vehicle graphics, 3.0-3.5-mil for P-O-P graphics, and 5-mil matte for short-term floor graphics (consult the standards ASTM D2047 for more information).

Polycarbonate Polycarbonate is found in 5-, 10- and 15-mil thicknesses and used when stiffness and durability are critical. Two main applications for this material include trade-show graphics, for which 10- and 15 -mil products are typically used for walls. A 5-mil film is used for headers that require flexibility, as well as for floor graphics.


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