Lamination 101: The Best Choices for Beginner Lamination Projects

Whether you’re a teacher planning out classroom materials or an office manager designing safety handouts, workers in all industries can benefit from lamination. Simply put, lamination is a way to protect documents behind a layer of plastic casing. Laminated documents are not only protected from rips and spills, but can also be easily cleaned and reused. 

However, knowing you want to laminate your documents and knowing where to start are two entirely different tasks — so today, we’re breaking down the basics of Lamination 101: the four types of laminator machine, how to use them, and how to choose the best laminator for you. 

The 4 best laminators for beginners (and how to use them!)

It’s time to talk about the laminators themselves! You don’t have to be an expert right away to find the best laminator for you. There are four main types of laminators — roll, pouch, cold, and wide format laminators.

Pouch Laminators

Pouch Laminators tend to be the most popular type of laminator machine out there. This is because of their relatively low price and compact size. Modern pouch laminators use heated silicon rollers to wrap documents in secure “pouches” that protect from grabby hands and messy spills alike. You’ll typically see pouch laminators in small businesses and home offices, used for small items like menus, photos, and classroom handouts. 

To use a pouch laminator, simply open a pouch (typically thermal laminating pouches or self-sealing laminating pouches) and slide your document in. Then, feed it carefully into the pouch laminator according to its settings. It’s as easy as that! 

Roll Laminators

Roll Laminators can be used to mount materials on foam board or accommodate larger graphics, like signs and larger wall decals. Roll laminators are typically used for higher “volume” processing (AKA, laminating many things very often, like a printing business or sticker-making business). 

Using these roll laminators is a little more involved, because we have to “thread” the roll before it can start laminating. To do this, we load in two laminating film rolls (one for the top roll and one for the bottom roll), then test out the placement by putting a threading card (or piece of cardboard) through the laminator. This allows us to test out the lamination settings, and then trim away any excess before feeding actual projects into the machine. 

Cold Laminators

Cold Laminators are designed for fragile items, like historical documents or professional photos with sensitive ink. These do the job of a “regular” laminator without the heat, relying instead on pressure to seal a document. Most of the time, you’ll see cold laminators used for one-sided laminating like rigid display graphics (think trade show signs or grocery store labels). While these machines don’t require electricity or a warm-up period, they are often more expensive than other types of laminator. 

To use a cold laminator, we place the document between two sheets of lamination with a pressure-sensitive adhesive. Then, we roll the document through the high-pressure rollers and trim off any excess lamination. Cold laminators are extremely easy to use, making them a popular choice for schools and classrooms! 

Wide Format Laminators:

Finally, Wide Format Laminators are used for — you guessed it! — laminating large items. Typically found in the trade show or printing industries, floor-standing wide format laminators are meant for daily, extensive use. Wide format laminators are the best choice for durable signs or other materials, up to an average maximum width of 65”. 

Wide format laminators are on the rarer side in this industry, simply because they require more setup and training than other kinds of laminator machines. Once a wide format laminator is set up, however, it works much the same as a cold laminator or roll laminator. Practice makes perfect! 

Okay, so which laminator machine is right for me? 

The nice thing about lamination is that once you get the hang of it, you can use just about any laminator machine. When you’re ready to buy, we recommend asking yourself a few questions to determine the best laminator for you: 

  • What kinds of things will you be laminating? 
  • What’s the largest size you’ll want to protect? 
  • How often and how many materials do you plan on laminating? 
  • How much space do you have to work with? 
  • And finally, do you need heat, or are your documents too fragile to risk in a heated laminator? 

The answers to these questions will help you pick the best laminator for your school, home office, or small business. 

Ready to try lamination for yourself? The team at Lamination Depot has everything you need to become a lamination expert: lamination supplies for beginners, workstations and stands, carriers, cleaning supplies, and laminating accessories. If you’re not sure where to start, check out our Product FAQs here, or get in touch with us at 800-925-0054. We’re here to help! 

TruLam TL-320B 12 in. Pouch Laminator Demo Video

The TruLam TL-320B 12″ Pouch Laminator is a compact, easy-to-use desktop laminator that is powerful enough for office use yet affordable enough to fit into almost any budget. This feature-packed laminator has a user-friendly digital display and electronic temperature controls, four silicone rollers, and a reverse switch to aid in jam clearing. The TL 320B is capable of laminating with pouches up to 10 mil in thickness, making it an ideal choice for all of your laminating projects. This versatile model has a durable metal housing and features a one-year warranty. The TL-320B is compatible with all major brands of laminating pouches, including GBC, Fellowes, Universal, Purple Cows, and Lamination Depot’s own high-quality laminating sheets.

In a Jam? Here’s How to Clear a Jammed Pouch Laminator

If an inserted pouch does not come out the other side of your pouch laminator, it may have jammed your machine. A quick resolution is to run the machine in reverse and hopefully roll the pouch back out of the front of the machine.

Why is my pouch laminator jammed?

A few common ways an operator can jam a laminating machine include:

  • Running a laminating pouch at too high of a temperature, causing it to melt and wrap around the machine roller(s)
  • Inserting a laminating pouch with the end opposite the sealed edge first

If the pouch will not come out either end of the machine and you start to smell a burning plastic odor or see smoke, immediately turn off and unplug the machine. Wait for the machine to cool down completely before attempting to remove the jammed pouch or clean the machine interior.

How do I remove a jammed pouch that won’t come out when I press the reverse button?

Pouch jams are not often covered by machine manufacturer warranties. In the event a pouch is certainly jammed in the machine, you may be able to remove it yourself and clean the adhesive off the rollers.

Most models of office grade or professional pouch laminators have a removable hood, allowing you to access the rollers. If you cannot remove the jammed pouch from this angle, you may need to disassemble the machine to access the culprit under the bottom set of machine rollers.

How do I clean my laminator’s machine rollers?

Once the blockage is cleared, there will likely be an adhesive mess on the rollers. The adhesive can be cleaned by gently rubbing the rollers with a soft cotton cloth (like an old t-shirt scrap) dampened with odorless mineral spirits. Be careful: silicone rollers can tear easily.

Once you’ve cleaned and reassembled the machine, you may smell the remainder of the adhesive melting off the rollers for a while.

If your machine rollers have melted and the machine cannot be repaired, you may need to purchase a whole new machine.

How do I prevent pouch laminator jams?

Here are some helpful tips to lengthen the life of your pouch laminator:

  1. Referring to your machine’s operating manual, match the correct temperature to your pouch thickness.
  2. Use a pouch carrier to evenly distribute heat across the pouch and provide structure to thinner pouches (like 3 Mil & 5 Mil). Note: In some cases, you may need to increase the temperature by about 10 deg F.
  3. Always insert a laminating pouch into the pouch laminator with the sealed edge first! This way, the air is properly pushed out of the pouch as it goes through the machine, making sure the pouch doesn’t buckle during the process.

Finding a Replacement for an Existing School or Office Roll Laminator

If you’re looking to replace a broken roll laminator in a hurry and it is either no longer under manufacturer warranty or repair costs are too steep, here are some starting points before beginning your research and making a purchase:

“How frequently am I laminating?” Budget weighs heavily on decision-making, but it is also important to evaluate the return on investment: a roll laminating machine‘s price may initially be attractive, but not after it is replaced yet again in a short period of time due to heavy usage or high-volume workload. If your needs exceed your existing laminator’s capabilities, you might need to consider an upgrade – in some cases, maybe even a commercial-grade laminating machine.

“What kind of film am I used to purchasing?” If you have a large supply of previously-purchased roll laminating film and want to use it with your replacement machine, gather the film’s specifications to ensure future compatibility. In summary, you need film thickness, width, and core size of your existing film. Some machines can only laminate up to 3 mil, whereas others can handle 5 or 10 mil. Though the most popular widths for a school or office roll laminator are either 25″ or 27″ and most machines in this category have a 1″ core, there are exceptions. If you’re not sure what your machine’s specifications are, try referring to the manual; otherwise, we can absolutely help you!

For an even quicker shortcut, ask us within the comment section which machine is a suitable replacement for you, and we can provide you with a specific recommendation.

Laminating Multiple Documents at Once

Trying to cut down both production time and expenses? Consider laminating multiple documents at once by sharing supply surface area.

Laminated Cards

If you have a pouch laminator with a throat measuring at least 9”, you can load multiple pouches side by side in a letter-sized carrier sheet and laminate them together in a single pass. This method is especially convenient when laminating small documents like business cards or luggage tags, since you can easily fit a number of pouches into a carrier sheet. Because you are inserting each document into its own pre-cut laminating pouch, every finished piece will look polished and professional, with identical dimensions and rounded corners.

Placing Multiple Documents in One Pouch

If you have something like a custom-sized strip-shaped document, you may be able to lay the printed material side by side in one larger pouch, then trim them after laminating. However, loading too many documents into one enormous pouch could lead to some problems. Pouch laminating machines are only so capable of pushing air out of a pouch while laminating – if the machine “leap frogs” over too many items in a pouch, a pocket of air can get trapped within the pouch and not all items will get laminated. Placing multiple documents in one pouch can technically save material cost; however, we strongly recommend perusing our wide selection of laminating pouch sizes since one that is pre-cut to the dimensions you need will save you time with clean up later and may in fact be cheaper to purchase than ones with larger dimensions.

Roll Laminating

Roll laminators have rollers with a much larger diameter than those of pouch laminators, which means that they can apply a greater amount of pressure during lamination and can overcome the above mentioned issue. Some roll laminating machines also have the option of a slitter attachment that separates documents as they exit the machine. While the laminator is running, you can insert your documents using the feed table and built-in guides (if present) to ensure consistent placement for easy trimming after lamination.

If you have any technical questions about laminating, ask us within the comment section – we’re happy to answer them for you!

Using a Take-Up Assembly for Pressure-Sensitive Lamination

The take-up assembly on a laminator is used when laminating with pressure sensitive film (also called “cold-process film”). Because pressure-sensitive lamination has a sticky adhesive layer that backs the film, a paper-based release liner is applied to cover the layer of glue and prevent it from adhering prematurely. The supply rollers on the laminator hold the roll film itself, but that release liner has to go somewhere once it is peeled away from the film; keep the discarded liner off the floor (or off your project!) by using a take-up assembly. A take-up roller helps to pull the paper liner away from the film during laminating and neatly collects it for easy disposal.

Take up assemblies either come pre-mounted on a roll laminating machine or are sold separately for installation after purchase. If your firm plans on performing cold-process laminating, be sure to look for a roll laminator that includes a release liner take-up assembly.

If you have any questions about this or another type of laminating machine or process, please ask us within the comment section – we’re happy to help you!

What is the “Throat” of a Laminator?

The opening on both pouch and roll laminators into which documents are inserted is called a “throat.” A laminator’s throat size indicates its maximum laminating width – the larger the throat size, the wider the sheet that can be accommodated.

Pouch laminators most frequently have either a 9″ or 12″ throat, both of which easily accommodate letter-sized documents. Laminating machines like the Akiles Pro-Lam 100 that are designed for laminating ID cards, business cards, and luggage tags have throats as small as 4″ wide. Premium or professional pouch laminator models often have 13″ throats or larger. In addition to being able to laminate wider documents, laminators with large throats also increase laminating productivity when used with small documents, since you can run multiple pouches side-by-side.

Roll laminators have throats as small as 12″ wide or upwards of 60″ wide (in which case they are referred to as “wide-format laminators”). Roll laminating machines with 27″ throats are often used in school settings or small print shops, because they allow two letter-sized documents to be laminated simultaneously with ease (in addition to laminating larger documents such as signs and posters).

If you have any questions about laminating machines, leave them for us in the comment section – we’ll give you an answer!

Projects on a Roll: A Comparison Between Pouch and Roll Laminating

The mental image that is frequently associated with laminating involves a large machine loaded with rolls of laminating film, into which a project is loaded and exits encapsulated. These roll laminating machines are commonly found in schools and commercial print shops. However, laminating can also be done on a much smaller scale using what are called laminating pouches: pre-cut sheets of laminating film that are sealed on one edge that are then run through a small machine about the size of a household toaster.

When it comes to projects with 13″ as the shorter dimension, one must decide to use either a pouch or roll laminator. Here is how project aspects of laminating using either pouches or rolls compare:

Machine Investment

Pouch laminating is convenient and portable. Pouch laminators often accommodate projects as small as an ID badge or as large as 11″ x 17″, so long as the shorter dimension can fit within the throat of the machine; pouch laminator prices range within hundreds of dollars. Roll laminators can be as small as 12″ or as large as 60″; their prices range within thousands of dollars.

Material Cost

For a project with a minimum dimension of 13″, pouches with the closest shorter dimension would either be too small (12″) or too big (15″). Pouches can be custom made, but do cost a bit more than popular pre-made sizes. Roll laminating film, however, is sold in 27″ widths, which fit two 13″ projects side by side. The total project cost would fluctuate depending on the number of items being laminated at a time and which thickness or texture of film is chosen.

Laminating Speed

Due to their compact nature, pouch laminators have smaller rollers. In order to increase laminating speed, one must select a machine with multiple sets of rollers. For example, a 6-roller machine is much faster than a 2-roller machine. The diameter of a roll laminator’s rollers is much larger than that of a pouch laminator and can laminate feet per minute as opposed to inches.

The Final Touches

Laminating sheets are precisely cut to desired dimensions and the corners are rounded; the only trimming necessary for a project is for whatever is inserted into the pouches; once an item is laminated, it’s finished. Roll film projects not only require trimming, but they also require the corners to be rounded if desired.

If you would still like more information to help you decide which process is more suitable for your project needs, please ask us within the comment section.

Create Your Own “Splatterproof” Recipe Cards!

Do you have cookbooks or notecards covered in whatever recipe is printed on them – literally?

Laminating recipe cards allows printed recipes to be used many times over without becoming as messy as a busy kitchen. Not only is it an excellent way for restaurants to preserve frequently-used recipes, but this method can be used at home, too! Recipes can be printed, handwritten, or clipped from a magazine or newspaper. After use, they can be easily wiped clean with a damp cloth and stored away for future use. Laminating your recipes also makes them far more durable so that they can be cherished for years to come.

The best way to laminate recipes is using Recipe Card Laminating Pouches (measuring 3-3/16” x 4-3/8”). If you prefer something larger, Letter Laminating Pouches (measuring 9″ x 11-1/2″) allow you to go from printer to pouch in no time at all. Home pouch laminators that are capable of laminating pouches 3 – 5 mil thick are available for less than $100; office pouch laminating machines are designed for use with pouches up to 10 mil and can accommodate considerably higher volumes of use.

For an even more professional and durable finish, combine a stack of laminated recipes with a single screw post or bind them together using a plastic binding comb or spiral binding coil to create a highly-customized mini cookbook!