The purchase of a laminator has been one of the strongest trends across all sectors of the industry in recent years. The main driver has been that as runs have become shorter and turnaround times sharper, there is neither the value in a job to send it to a trade supplier, nor the time to do so. It makes sense to produce in-house.
While for very long jobs, the trade finisher will remain the first choice, digital printing and declining litho runs coupled with the increasing simplicity of the laminator itself, justify the investment in a machine which is easy to operate, can be wheeled into position when needed and can earn its keep on relatively few jobs.
The product list has been a steady combination of magazine or book covers, folders, some packaging or business cards and menus. The films used have in the main been gloss or matt, tactile for book covers and perhaps microbial for the aforementioned menus. Function has come first ahead of creativity and innovation.
Digital foiling has changed this. At one step the justification for investment becomes about value added opportunities, not merely cost saving or retaining margin.
The credit for discovering that the heated rollers of a laminator will soften toner and enable it act as a glue to attach foil to a previously laminated sheet is disputed. But many have since used the technique on social stationery, packaging, greetings cards and so on.
It has become a standard option on the Foliant laminators that IFS sells in the UK. It became easier to order machines with the foiling head in place rather than have them supplied separately and fitted by the IFS engineers.
Technical director Jason Seaber says: “It was introduced a couple of years ago and at first we brought the machine without this option. Then, as we started to get very positive comments back from digital printers who were using the foiling option, we realised it’s not an expensive option and decided to order all machines with the option.
“Many book covers need foiling, or the use of a clear foil to give a spot UV effect, or printers can become more creative by laying down more than one foil. You can end up with a very very high quality value added sheet for just a few pence in materials.”
It is easier to foil when the job has been printed on a high quality digital press, though not all digitally printed sheets will work with all laminating films. Likewise the presence of excessive spray powder from a litho press will have an effect on the adhesion of the film as will the surface of the paper used. Apart from the smoothness of the finish from the higher quality digital presses, accurate registration can be an issue.
Pressure, speed and temperature control are equally important. This will affect the speed, particularly on longer runs. “You need all three,” says Seaber, “to deliver high quality lamination and foiling.” It is an arithmetical connection. The pressure roller on a Foliant will achieve 1.5 tonnes, that on a smaller machine may achieve half that pressure. And that will have an impact on throughput.”
It means also that many companies starting with a smaller machine, and Vivid’s Matrix is a favourite, move up as volumes of laminating work increase. Even within the Foliant range, a user can progress from an entry level Vega towards the Mercury and Taurus which can cope with B2 and B1 sheets.
Friedheim International has not yet had this degree of success with the Komfi laminator, manufactured only a few kilometres from Foliant in the Czech Republic. But it is coming. A recent installation at Imprint in Southampton was all about the creativity and flair that laminating and the application of foil can add to a printed sheet.
“The Amiga model is the most popular,” says Tom Baker. “It is versatile and easy to set up and will handle a litho or digitally printed sheet.” The Amiga 52 is positioned for the digital print market using controls to adjust settings for temperature and pressure according to the film, the substrate and the press technology used. “And within a few sheets the laminator well be up and running,” he adds.
The foiling module is opening up more creative options. There are the foils themselves. Gold and silver are the most popular followed by coloured foils, white heading the popularity list here. Then there are hologram effect foils, glitters and so on which can add a touch of panache or kitsch to a job.
It also paves the way for more creative approaches. By running the black toner on a first pass through the digital press, an area for silver foil is created. Once the foil is in place, digital print can be layered on top for different coloured effects, something that Vivid Laminating is promoting through a tie up with ColorLogic which has developed the software for colour printing over foil.
A plug in allows a designer to understand how to achieve the desired effects when printing over a silver of gold foil. Using the Aqua Aura foils that Vivid can provide, 250 new colours are possible. The drawback is that this kind of work demands multiple passes through the laminator and press.
The image is printed and laminated for protection. Then the area to carry the foil is printed in a single colour and passed through the laminator for a second time. This time foil is pressed into position. Finally the job passes through the press for the fourth time. By its nature this means that the technique is suited to short run high value jobs. At the other end of the scale, a B1 press with a cold foil attachment is followed by printing and coating units at a cost of millions of pounds. It is horses for courses. And the printer must decide.
“It depends on how creative a customer wants to be,” says Baker. “Laminators are currently our most popular products, attracting the most inquiries we receive. Users like the robustness of the construction.” The range runs from the B3 Amiga to B1 machines for much higher volumes.
It is a case he explains that companies come to Komfi having outgrown a smaller machine that has been a first step into lamination, finding that they need to step up to higher speed machines. The Friedheim approach is built around an ROI model according to a user’s work profile.
The Matrix laminators that Vivid Laminating produces are probably the most popular entry level machine, sold through a number of channels to a wide range of printers. They began as handfed machines, suited to very short runs only, acquired a feeder to provide a level of automation and can be supplied with a deep pile feeder to run without intervention for a much longer time.
Vivid undoubtedly popularised the concept of foiling, using the process as a demonstration during the many exhibitions the company attends as part of its marketing strategy. Since a first appearance at Duplo's London Calling event in 2015, the value added that over-laminate foiling can deliver has become a major plank of its marketing.
The technique suits short runs. For anything above a couple of hundred sheets it can be more cost effective and faster to procure a die and foil either on a dedicated machine or an adapted windmill platen.
This is why Autobond, the UK’s leading producer of thermal laminators, is not promoting it. Its machines are industrial units whatever the format, cleverly positioning themselves alongside Heidelberg in terms of presentation. Each has a Heidelberg feeder, indicative of this approach.
Autobond has machines at book printers across the world handing covers for paperbacks or jackets for case bound books where the volumes dictate that conventional foiling be used. There is a digital model in the line up, but aimed at the higher volume users rather than printers producing a handful of book covers a week.
This does not mean that digital enhancement is not possible or not offered. It can add Xaar inkjet heads to offered a spot varnish, on top say of a matt laminate or a coloured film. It is even considering a four-colour inkjet array, says managing director John Gilmore.
“We have built a laminator for sheets coming off a KBA Rapida 205 for a customer in the US and we can go down for SRA3 sheets. It’s about adding value through a high build spot varnish to give an embossed effect for greetings cards. We have also adapted a Weko spray powder unit and Meech static eliminator to apply glitter using the laminator.
“We have an amazing number of people coming to our factory looking for solutions.”
Autobond used to supply its own films, but sold this operation last year to Graphic Imaging Films, the UK’s leading supplier and the only one able to sell the soft touch materials made by Derprosa. These are increasingly popular in book publishing and now in luxury packaging. Soft touch offers a measure of tactile engagement as well as the protective layer desired of a laminate film.
Nevertheless the majority of the volume GIF supplies is gloss, matt, and silk films. There are also the foils for over lamination in metallic and solid colours.
“We’re not entirely sure that the technology is absolutely there yet,” says Sandro Mosquera. “There are a few issues that people need to be aware of. It’s a little more complicated than pressing a button.”
But there is plenty of scope for different laminating films beyond the standard few. “We have added a few more since Ipex and are making some progress at introducing these. People are more open to ideas as they try to differentiate their products or themselves. This creates a gap for materials that have not been used extensively. Now we are asked for samples of these and more swatch books.”
Among the new materials are holographic films which have been available in polyester foil are now available in the BOPP films that thermal laminators prefer.
“It means that anyone can use these products,” he says. There is also a section of anti scuff films for digitally printed sheets and a growing range of soft touch films in different metallic and solid colours. The appeal of these is in luxury packaging where laminating can be added to other high impact effects. “There’s a lot more we can tap into,” he says, “and quite a few more products that we can bring on board.
“We are working closely with HP and Autobond to make sure that we test our films through their machines so that when we begin to sell them, we know we have proven the films in their machines. We do not like to sell things we are not 100% sure about.”
If GIF is the largest supplier, it is not the only one. D&K will offer films to users of its UK built laminators.
These include nylon films that are, it says, becoming popular for book covers where Europe is beginning to follow the example of the US, polyester films used on packaging and OPP films used for other specialist applications.
The latest film is scuff resistant, non reflective polyester film it sells as Diamond Hard Velvet Matt, replacing its Ultra Matt films with improved consistency to the coating layer. This is produced at D&K’s US operation and is beginning to reach Europe in versions suited to different product and process types, including one with the super stick backing for laminating HP Indigo printed sheets.
Chinese company KDX was also at Ipex, giving most visitors their first sight of a range of films that is popular in Asia. In China the company produces films for 50% of the flat screen televisions made in that country, says Jonathan Collett. The automobile sector is another strong customer with demanding requirements.
“We are trying to offer something a little different,” he says. “We know that the market is very price driven and we know we need to be competitive and we are doing so by ensuring that our films carry a little more adhesive and more coating than our competitors.
“This results in a choice of thicknesses across standard films to match the requirements of the laminators or products. The evenness of the film is a further attribute.
“Our mainstay is a 25 micron gloss or 26 micron matt films with a little more adhesive than normal. This is important when laminating digital print to prevent cracking when creasing and folding. There is less risk of the film delaminating.”
The tactile film is described as Silky Matt with the same characteristics and suited to both digital and litho printing. Other speciality films cover silver, gold and copper metallics, holographic, textured and white, one of the films that is intended to be printed on after lamination.
The company will also offer sample quantities of these materials to encourage companies to test them. “It creates an interest and give users wider knowledge that they can market to their customers,” he says.
D&K, however, is not going to be a specialist film provider to supply the multitude of machines and applications available.
At Ipex the interest in laminating was equally addressed by D&K which launched a double-sided machine for the photobook sector, IFS did likewise with the Foliant Taurus 4x4, while Friedheim quickly sold the two Komfi laminators it had on show. Vivid demonstrated its portfolio with Watkiss showing two models.
Morgana used the show to preview the two models of the Laminator 450, one a handfed machine, the other the Pro version with an automatic feeder that, says marketing manager Wendy Baker, customers have been looking for.
These are now officially part of the portfolio and the first installed at Newprint in Newmarket.
It is produced to Morgana’s specification by a company with long experience in producing laminators. “We had been selling another laminator, but we wanted one with a pile feeder because our customers have been asking for this,” she says.
It can be supplied with an optional foiling kit as well as handling a full range of thermal films.
“The fact that you can print on a digital press, laminate then print over the top where you want foil, is a cheap way to achieve a high impact foiled effect.”
With a long sheet feeder, this technique is ideal for book jackets, something that was part of the Taking Print Further event with Kodak. Print was on the Nexpress, Morgana laminated, decorated and PUR bound it.
Terry Cooper Services offers the Spanish built Bagel laminators where engineers work closely with the film producers at Derprosa. Various models are available from those aimed at digital print to the Falcon B1 sheet laminator.
The most popular model is the DigiFav, a B2 machine designed to cope with short run digital or litho print, yet robust enough for a trade house.
Watkiss supplies a number of laminators in the Mamo range from a table top model to one with a suction feed and automation to allow it to run unattended.
An important part of the appeal, says Jo Watkiss, is the simplicity of operation, from setting the feeder to threading the laminating film with automatic bursting to minimise further interventions.
“Most people we sell to are bringing lamination in house for the first time,” she says. “This is because the costs of sending short runs out have become prohibitive.
“It’s no longer scary to run a laminator, no longer complicated to operate, the Mamo machine is deigned to be easy to use. A laminate is something that every printer needs to have in his arsenal.”
Southampton printer Inprint Litho has taken delivery of the UK’s first Komfi Amiga 52 with Over Toner Foiling, to open up new value add opportunities for customers using different styles of foiling on personalised and short run jobs.
The service will be offered to customers of the traditional litho business, to customers through its BetterPrint.com website and through a new website built to promote the capabilities of the thermal laminator.
The company saw the product on the Friedheim International stand at Ipex last year, leading to a deal and installation of the laminator in a factory alongside two five-colour Sakurai presses, Xerox and Konica Minolta digital and large format printers.
“We were outsourcing lamination to a local company, but for shorter runs the cost and speed of outsourcing became prohibitive,” says sales director Gary Makin. “It made sense to bring low print run lamination in house to improve service to our customers. And we have combined that with over film foiling.”
The technique, available on many laminators, is an increasingly popular offering as the cost of conventional foiling becomes out of kilter with demands for short runs or even personalised foiling which is impossible using conventional foiling die technology.
Inprint will offer metallics, coloured foils and clear foils to create spot UV varnish effects, another process that is prohibitively expensive for short runs, says Makin. And managing director Damien Sweeney adds: “We’ve started to see a lot more of this type of work in recent months. The purchase of the Komfi has brought much of the outsourcing in house.”
He reckons that longer run jobs, amounting to 50% of the volume is still sent out. The process not only increases the value of a sheet, it helps prevent cracking and marking that can occur on digitally printed sheets, particularly as the company has been able to crease and fold immediately following lamination to increase speed of turnaround.
As online printing becomes more important to the business, speed of turnaround will be an increasingly important factor.
Makin says that around half of sales are generated through the BetterPrint.com and MarketingBuilder.co.uk websites. It has created another, Strutcards.co.uk to promote the lamination and foiling service.
This shows the range of laminate films that can be used and effects that can be generated through application of spot UV effects, metallic and coloured foils to enhance the point of sale display products.
Swiftprint has a Matrix with the foiling option, after realising that it needed something more robust than its table top laminator. And managing director Phil Earle has not regretted the move. “It has opened a few doors for us,” he says.
“Now we are experimenting with white and colour foils. We are always trying to push what we can do with it.”
The company has found foiling very effective on wedding stationery sold through its Wedding Angels sister company. Many of its customers like the idea of foiling their invitations but are discouraged by the £150 set up charge, says Earle. With the digital application of foil, this is no longer an issue.
The machine was bought purely for its laminating capabilities. Now the creative opportunities have been to the fore. There is a learning curve says Earle, “and it still amazes us how it works.
“Once we learned how it works, how to work with different papers because it does prefer smooth papers, and you understand the different pressures and temperatures, it does exactly what it says on the tin.”
And for Swiftprint it works on business cards, greetings cards on short print runs. Similarly short run packaging is an avenue for the business to explore. It has also attracted work that the company would previously have had to send away. More importantly it has allowed Swiftprint to retain work that might otherwise have been attracted away by the lower prices the online giants can offer. “We find that people will pay for very, very good quality at the end of the job,” says Earle.
Central Foiling, a Birmingham trade house, has installed a straight laminator without additional foiling option.
Owner Jamie Boland explains: “We have die-less method for variable data foiling that does not involve lamination, which keeps costs under control for customers and is far more effective when someone wants a name picking out on a certificate for example.”
The company has installed a Bagel DigiFav-B2 from Terry Cooper Services. “We have dealt with TCS for 30 years, so we know we will be looked after,” says Boland. “We liked the DigiFav because it was a substantially built system with a compact footprint. It has been very positive so far. We have had no problems with it. In fact, we recently put a 1,000 run job on it which was then foiled. This took five hours whereas previously it would have taken at least three days.
“We didn’t make the investment with any kind of return in mind but it has allowed us to add another regular process that we can complete in-house. We can now offer our existing customers a wider range of service choices. We are also going to look at what else it can do to expand what we offer.”
The company has extended its factory will a mezzanine floor to cope with WIP as jobs can be stacked for some while as they undergoes the various processes on offer, from multiple foiling options, die cutting embossing and now lamination which saves on having to send work out.
IFS says that the Foliants it supplies will have the over foiling options.
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Komfi’s Amiga model is the most popular, says Friedheim.
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Autobond says that its users are using different materials and looking for additional impacts.
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Lamination can add a tactile result to packaging for a luxury product.
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High impact effects can be produced for short runs, says Jo Watkiss.
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