Thursday, 19 June 2014

What is ...Film Lamination?

What is ...Number 6
Regular followers of this blog will know that in the middle of the month, I publish a "What is ....? post. The article covers various aspects of paper, printing and finishing in greater depth. However, many of these subjects are complex, so these posts are only intended to be a brief introduction to the topic.

What is ...Film Lamination?
Film lamination is frequently used in printed literature, but few people give much thought to exactly what it is and the process, so I shall try and tell you a little about it...

The terms "gloss lam" and "matt lam" are the terms most often used to describe film lamination. Basically the process involves gluing an extremely thin layer of transparent plastic to the surface of a sheet, most often used on the covers of brochures, leaflets and books. This thin layer of plastic provides an incredible amount of strength and protects the paper substrate from being damaged or scuffed.

The type of film usually used for this process is called OPP, which stands for Oriented Poly Propylene. The film thicknesses are generally between 12 to 30 microns, so really very,very thin. I have photographed a piece of this gossamer like material to give you an idea of how thin it is.
The film comes in a continuous roll, which is mounted on a laminating machine. Sheets pass through the machine and are covered with the plastic layer over the whole area of the sheet. There are different methods of applying the polypropelene, it can either be applied by a wet glue or by heat, which is called thermal film. Thermal films, already have the glue applied, held in microcapsules which are activated by heat. To the normal onlooker, there is no noticeable difference in the result between the two application methods.

Below is a picture of a laminating machine, where you can see the roll of laminating film and the sheets passing through under it:

Image courtesy of Autobond
So who actually does the lamination? There are a few printers who have their own laminating machines 'in-house' although most film lamination carried out in the design and corporate market is sent out by the printer to a 'trade laminator'. These are companies which just specialise in the area of lamination and 'print finishing', an example is a company called Reflections in London(

The vast majority of lamination is gloss lamination or matt lamination, although that is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what is actually available.

In transparent films there are a wide range of other finishes, such as Silk, Soft-Touch, Antiscuff, Embossed (leather, linen, pearl etc) as well as a range of biodegradeable and environmentally friendly options. Below is an image of the swatch from one of the suppliers of laminating films, so you can tell from this, just how many types of films are available:
There are also holographic films available and below is an example of an invitation which has been printed CMYK and then film laminated with a transparent holographic film. Very effective!
Printed by:
As well as transparent films, there are also metallised polyester films. These are essentially the same type of product but slightly thicker (30/40 microns) and not transparent. As well as different colours (matt and gloss) they can also incorporate holographic and iridescent finishes. The picture above shows a selection of different finishes that are available in these laminating films:

Film Lamination is an incredibly important process used in the print industry. Although it is often perceived negatively because you are effectively putting a piece (even though it is thin) of plastic (which however you look at it is manufactured from fossil fuels) onto a natural product (paper). However it should be remembered that if by applying the film, the publication lasts longer and is used for longer then the environmental impact is somewhat mitigated. Unfortunately it is far harder to recycle printed matter that has been film laminated as the paper and plastic needs to be separated.

Thanks to Graphic Image Films for providing me with samples which helped me write this piece.
Posted by Justin Hobson 19.06.2014

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