The decisions to add a laminating film to a printed product has become much more than just protecting the piece from moisture or other outside elements. Today, there is a variety of choices to add specialty effects or special tactile surfaces with film lamination. PostPress sat down with Jeff Truan of Nobelus to ask a few questions on the current landscape for film laminations.    

Q. In the past, film laminating was used mostly for protection of a printed piece, but today, there are a lot of different types of laminates for decorative and “touch and feel” applications. What type of laminating films are really popular right now for both decorative and functional applications?

A. To be frank anything with a “tactile” surface is really getting noticed and requested.   For many years the lone tactile product has really been a smooth soft touch feel, but lately, with the linen, leather, and even gritty laminates now making their way to the market, it is obvious that the consumer wants more than just something soft.   The key of “differentiation” is what we hear from almost everyone.   No one wants to be a “me too” when it comes to their product or finished goods.   The entire point is to make the person touching the product stop and think about why it felt different and notice that it is unique.  At that point, the brand or marketer has disrupted the standard thought process and instantly stands out from its competitors. In addition, we continuously receive requests for matte finishes and standard matte isn’t good enough anymore. They are asking for a “ultra” matte film. Part of the reason for this is to help highlight further surface embellishments, such as specialty raised coatings or foils that will stand out even more visually when the consumer looks at the product/logo/brand on the finished piece.

It may seem odd in this e-commerce world that there is still a focus on touch and feel and visual impact, but actually it is growing for more than one reason.  First, there is massive competition for brands jostling for space and attention on store shelves to reach the consumer.  Second, in the e-commerce sector, brands find it very critical that the first impression be superb, and that when the product is unboxed and taken out, it meets or exceeds the consumer’s expectations.   This dawn of a new day in “fickle consumerism” is causing every brand to rethink their packaging look and feel due to the growing split between brick and mortar and online shopping.   The final but still critical piece to the puzzle, is how to portray that branding on a computer screen, which is all the more challenging.  With excellent photography and design, embellishments can be captured to increase the likelihood of a consumer connection – even through a computer monitor.

Q. And, what type of products are using these types of laminates?

A. Laminates are going on everything these days – from cosmetics and personal care products, to consumer electronics and even now on-demand flexible packaging. It seems that every vertical is pervaded by the need to “be different than the other brand”.  Just recently, I ran across a generic brand selling single use towels spending most likely four or five times the normal cost to have a unique look and feel on the thin BOPP wrap that is on their towel rags.  For many years, laminates have traditionally only been in commercial print, which continues to be a more and more demanding market.  The first uses of film laminates were more utilitarian, mostly to protect from dirt and grease or to add stiffness.  Now with the cultural shift and more demanding and fickle needs of the everyday person, coupled with a clamoring for uniqueness in the retail presence, it is almost more about the finish look and tactile feel rather than the robustness or protection.

Q. Of course, digital printing continues to grow. Are there any special precautions that need to be taken when film laminating digitally printed materials?

A. This is really answered by splitting “digital” into three categories – toner; electro-ink; and UV-inkjet.  Toner is still largely applied with a fuser oil, leaving a silicone residue which typically requires additional bonding agents on the adhesive of the laminating film to properly apply over the sheet when using toner-based digital print. In many cases, this type of specialty film carries an upcharge premium due to the additional pass in the extrusion coating process.  The additive allows penetration thru the fuser oils and lets the glue “lock on” to the toner beneath, creating the bond.  Electro-ink technology, most commonly found on HP Indigo digital presses – the leader in the digital market, is very close to traditional inks, thus much easier to bond to almost all laminates.   Laminating films used over this type of digital print includes an adhesive that “crosslinks” with the Indigo technology, therefore creating an instantaneous permanent “destruct” bond that requires tearing the fibers to pull it away from the ink/paper.  UV Inkjet, found on digital units such as the Komori K1 and Fuji J-Press is yet another hybrid ink technology, and although not as challenging as typical digital toners, it still has a fair amount of additive in the inkset in many cases that sometimes creates challenges in bonding.  One of the most useful ways to ensure the ability to utilize the lesser expensive laminates on the UV Inkjet technology is to consider lamination equipment that has an IR lamp set in the sheet feeding system – thus reducing the amount of effect the UV ink additives have during lamination and creating a much better instant bond of lamination to the sheet.

Q. Has there been any changes in recent years in machinery for applying laminating films that have helped with faster speeds and help eliminate waste?  

A. Recently, we have seen several adjustments from equipment manufacturers that include unique options catering to the changing needs of the print industry.  Quick reference measurement scales built into the paper load area that coordinate with where the laminate is loaded on the machine make the alignment of paper to the film a far faster process than in yesteryear.  Certain newer laminators include a pause/stop feature that allows the operator to stop the machine directly on the overlap of the stock feeding into the nip point, thus decreasing the changes of ruined sheets. This is more important than ever before with variable digital printed sheets – where every sheet can be unique.   Now there are inline sheetfed and roll laminators that can take output from the printing press as the sheets come out and adjust their speed on the fly – depending on the amount of material being pushed to them by the press.  Blowers that spew negative ions to reduce the static caused by digital presses, as well as full touchscreen control panels that speed setup, all point to the fact that the lamination equipment of today has to be nimble, simple, and carry the ability for a huge range of thicknesses and types of film laminates to be run.  One must go on record though, to clarify that in spite of claims that have been put out into the market, there is no one single machine that can effectively run one-sided thin laminates on press sheets and 2 sided encapsulation – simply due to the fact that operationally they are in separate worlds.

Q. What are some of the most common problems you see with printed materials that need to be laminated? What are some key tips to provide a printer to assure proper adhesion and to eliminate any challenges during the film laminating process?

A. Many times, we see sheets that are not properly humidified, or printed on too thin of stock which creates downstream problems of wrinkling – typically in the center of the tail of the sheet as they cannot manage the heat application.  Additionally, common problems include curling issues due to improper tension settings on the machine, wrinkling due to defective laminate rolls, or the application of coatings applied to help inks or toners dry, that effectively act as a barrier to any type of film lamination.

Companies that invest into certain types of toner-based digital presses many times do not realize that there is a significant upcharge for the laminating film.  As with any type of finishing, it is very important that printers and the film laminator communicate on the type of press (digital or offset) the printed piece will run on. Another tip is to let the printed sheets sit as long as possible before lamination (I know – good joke in an industry where yesterday is not fast enough!).   Proper training on the film lamination equipment is also very important to ensure that the operators have a complete grasp of the best way to run the machine on various iterations of product.    Lastly, try to let the laminated sheets sit for at least several hours after the lamination process to allow the glue to set up and cure as long as possible to maintain the best bond before cutting/folding/finishing/decorating.

Q. Foil “Sleeking” continues to be a popular addition to short-run digitally printed materials. Although it is not laminating film, the process is somewhat similar. Can you explain how sleeking works and where it best fits for foil decorating applications?

A. Sleeking (digital foil through a toner adhesive) is a very unique opportunity for additional margins for finishers or printers that have recently jumped onto center stage with the advent of personalization and greater decoration as requested from the customer.  It is essentially a perfect fit for those wanting to do short to medium run metallic foil projects and personalized foil projects as it requires no die and very little setup.  It is a “transfer foil” – originally designed around adhesion to the HP Indigo Electro-ink so that wherever there is HP Ink on the sheet, the foil will adhere.   The beauty of this technology is that it requires no dies, can do any design you wish in foil, and makes turnaround times incredibly fast.  It gives a very high value-add for short-run metallic foil and can be combined with film laminates like “soft touch” to create something that is both pleasant looking and tactile – as well as tailored specifically to the person that receives it. Sleeking also is excellent for creating prototypes to showcase how a carton or label would look with a metallic foil finish for potential larger runs on high-volume equipment.

We see the “Sleeking” technology being used for greeting cards, graduation announcements, book covers, and direct mail with personalized foil, driving efficiencies and response rates like never before.  Let’s face it – who would have guessed that 3 years ago you could order your wedding invitations and announcements in a tactile finish, with gold foil showing the name of each person invited – individual to the card?!