Not All Laminating Film is the Same: How to Determine What Type You Need

By Allen King on January 29, 2019

Not sure what type of laminating film to buy? Worried you’re not achieving the right balance between cost and quality? Read this blog for advice and tips.

There’s a common misconception that all laminating films are created equal. In fact, they vary in terms of type, quality and cost.

Whether you need to encapsulate with gloss, laminate after litho or obtain a premium finish for digital, your project’s success (and profitability) require you to use the right film at the right price.

In this post, I outline the different types of laminating film, giving tips on balancing cost and quality to help you get the best overall value.

Laminating films – Let’s breakdown the different types

The first thing to decide is whether your customer is looking for lamination or encapsulation. These are easily confused. While both processes work in the same way, encapsulation uses higher-grade, thicker and heavier film – and is consequently more durable and weather-proof. (Check out this blog post for more details on the differences between lamination and encapsulation.)

thickness gauge tool measures thickness of laminating film roll on red background

If encapsulation is best for the project, you can choose your finish – gloss, matte or ultra-matte – all of which are available in different gauges and weights.

encapsulating film roll comes in 3 film finishes and 4 film thicknesses
Encapsulating film is available in Gloss, Matt and Ultra Matt in varying film weights

If lamination is best, film choice depends on whether you’re printing digital or litho.

  • For litho, there’s 1 type of film in 7 finishes: gloss, matte, velvet, anti-scuff, linen, leather and pearl.
litho machines print litho print which can only be laminated with litho film which comes in gloss, matte, velvet, anti-scuff, linen, leather and pearl finishes
For best results, litho print should only be laminated with litho film
  • For digital, you have the 4 finish options across 4 different film types, in ascending quality and cost: Digital Trade Lite, Digital Lite, Super Digital and Super Digital Plus. (See more laminating film product details here)
Digital print machines print digital print which can only be laminated with digital film that comes in gloss, matte, velvet and anti-scuff
For best results use digital lamination film on digital print

These films work on all machine types. This is important. I often here printers say, ‘The laminating machine manufacturer recommends we use their film.’ That’s just a sales ploy. After all, you wouldn’t buy your petrol from your car dealer!

Which laminating films work for different job types?

I’ve been in the print finishing business for longer than I care to admit. So I know the reality of running a print house means you want to buy one film and use it for every job. Whether or not this is realistic depends on your customer requirements, your toner, stock, machine type and operators, among other factors.

  • For example, if you use an oil-based toner or are printing full-bleed solid colours, you need an aggressive sticking film like Super Digital Plus in order to get the film to adhere effectively
  • However, if a project involves printing a large amount of text with little colour, then Digital Lite is a cost-effective option
Different types of digital lamination film according to print type
Digital lamination film comes in different types according to the type of digital print

Remember – the film isn’t the only factor when it comes to a quality result. If you’re experiencing issues with film not sticking, with bubbling, orange peel or the like, it may be down to machine operation. The golden rules are: turn the machine on early so it’s hot, and ensure it’s not run too quickly.

When I talk with printers about troubleshooting laminating, a common issue is that they’re using cheap stock – assuming the finishing will deliver the end quality. However, cheaper stocks like recycled board tend to absorb the laminate, creating a wrinkled look. Start with a smooth, silk paper, and you’re much more likely to get a pristine finish the first time.

laminating film on blue background

How to resolve the cost vs quality conundrum

We all know that there’s immense pressure on margins in printing, and I always recommend taking a broad view when it comes to maximising profitability. That means considering a wide range of costs that affect jobs (not just material unit costs).

Using the wrong film can lead to waste and project delays – all of which affect profit. Choosing a more expensive film can actually be more cost-effective overall because you’re more likely to get it right the first time. It can mitigate the risk of issues caused by the way the film interacts with the ink and stock – as well as operator ease and speed of use.

Consult a laminating expert to get the best project result (and margin)

My top tip for choosing laminating film is consult an expert. Don’t just keep on buying the same thing you’ve used for years – ask us (advice is free, and there’s no obligation). We’re often able to help printers boost both efficiency and profitability by changing laminating film.

We have 35 years’ experience and are the second biggest laminating company in the UK. We use the same film that we sell – and know the ins and outs of how each one works.

Get in touch for our advice on how to increase your profitability by getting the right film for the job (rather than focusing on cheap unit costs). You can contact me directly on 0117 9414 999 or sales@expressencap.co.uk.