Lamination was at one time the one service that every printer turned to a trade supplier for. Today it a service that is increasingly on the menu for every commercial printer.
The growth can be attributed to digital print leading to the design of a simpler machines, but also because trade suppliers have disliked digital. The runs are too short and demands for fast turnaround too onerous for trade suppliers set up for long runs to handle. A set up charge which can reach from £40-60 is not designed to attract digital work.
Consequently printers have been forced to invest in simple laminators for those jobs of 50 sheets that typify digital printing.
It has given them a taste for it, demystified the technology, and as much litho print has become a short run fast turnaround business, litho printers have invested in machines capable of taking on this work.
Trade finishers in contrast have suffered and where they have survived are often an hour or more from the litho printers that used to provide the meat and drink of their business.
Paul Davidson, sales director of Encore Machinery, observes: “I have never understood the attitude of many trade finishers. They seem not to want to make it easy for their customers. Those that provide pick ups and delivery to their customers seem to do well, and if it becomes effortless to use an outside supplier, why would a print company either change suppliers or invest to bring the service in-house?”
Many printers have taken the in-house route, finding that not only does an investment in a laminator pay for itself in a relatively short time, but that as they actively start to promote lamination as a service, sales increase as a consequence. There is now a noticeable effect that follows, with a search for greater impact using new types of films to achieve the stand out effect that customers are looking for.
The technology in a laminator is also changing. Some will offer spot UV varnishing, the ability to layer a gloss film on top of a matt film to enhance standout. And many are now including the ability to apply a metallic foil on top of a laminated film. Lamination is the least of it.
Autobond, as the leading UK manufacturer of laminating machinery, is among those producing machines with this capability. “We can add the foiling head for less than £5,000,” says managing director John Gilmore. “And we have ensured that it is capable of indexing, moving the reel of foil back slightly, so that users do not throw away huge amounts of expensive foil.
“The appeal is for short runs, because makeready on a purpose built foiling machine can be two hours or more for a job that takes just 20 minutes to run. We can make ready in two minutes. We think this is a big winner for book printers.”
There is a market too in packaging applications and in gift wrap. Gilmore refers to a customer in Manchester that produces high end wrapping paper with a combination of matt and soft touch laminate, spot UV and foiling. “It looks a million dollars,” says Gilmore. He is considering running this on the stand at Drupa where the foiling addition is formally introduced.
“Everybody that sees it is simply knocked out. It’s something that people would flock to see,” he adds. “Our machines offer the high speed, high productivity and are high value machines, designed and built in the UK.” They have always used the same feeders as Heidelberg as a stamp of quality.
If Autobond’s machines are used by printers looking for the most robust solutions, foiling is also available from those dipping their toes in the water. Vivid Laminating in Leicester can add a foiling option to its Matrix laminator with foils supplied by the UK developer.
After lamination, the sheet is printed with a latent image using a single-colour toner. When this is softened by the heated rollers on the laminator and the foil is pressed into position.
“We sent out an email about this linked to a short video and there was a vast response,” says marketing communications manager David Smith. “We had people coming to the stand to ask about it at the Print Show and it had enjoyed huge interest when we showed it at exhibitions in Germany and the US. It’s all about the added value that the Matrix can bring to print,” he says.
“The laminator becomes a multi-function machine. Printers can keep foiling and spot UV in house. We are constantly working on new modular features we can add to the machines.”
Some of these will be introduced at Drupa, though Smith is not discussing these yet in case final developments are delayed. One development that will be on show is an automated feeder module which takes the sheet from the base of the pile. This allows the feeder to be loaded while running and is indicative of a desire to offer more comprehensive machines, in particular to companies that have outgrown hand feeding.
This may be feasible if only a few sheets are to be laminated, but hand feeding can tie up too many hands to make sense for longer jobs. The addition of pneumatic pressure rollers, sourced from a UK supplier, is another step in this direction. What began as a simple machine is moving up market and into litho applications, while remaining a cost effective option for the short run market.
The modular approach is helping stir interest in overseas markets for both the small sheet and large format laminators as Vivid’s Easymount range is designed for wide format inkjet applications.
In the US these have helped it win two readers’ picks titles from trade magazines, while participating in Druck+Form, an exhibition in southern Germany, has helped central European distribution. Drupa will be a next step on this journey.
To some extent this is a coals-to-Newcastle exercise because two of the most successful laminators in recent years have come from the Czech Republic. Foliant is sold in the UK by IFS, Komfi by near neighbour Friedheim International.
“Companies that bring lamination in-house find they are easing a bottleneck,” says IFS technical sales manager Lee Fowler. “They can find that if they have to send someone to drive a job to a trade house and wait for it to be finished, they have tied up a member of staff for that time.
“In one recent instance the printer has bought lamination in house because the trade supplier they had been loyal to had become unreliable and to get the service they had to drive a lot further afield, which is not worth the while for a short run job.”
The Czech built machines offer a lot for the money, while scoring high on engineering (the Foliant plant is close to Skoda’s factory for example). And their success means the companies are pushing towards larger machines as the end users look for more productive machines. “Once we install a Komfi, we never hear any more about it,” says Friedheim International’s Stuart Bamford.
The range extends from the Junior and Amiga machines suited to digital printing to the Sagitta and Sirius for B2 and larger formats and longer run commercial print applications. There is a subsidiary in the Netherlands which has no doubt helped the company become the leading supplier to printers in Benelux and a massive market share, says Bamford.
As a result, Komfi is doubling the size of its factory and continuing to announce enhanced models and capabilities. Adding a gloss film over a matt provides a spot varnish like finish, while there is also a separate range of spot varnishing machines.
“The small footprint of the machine compared to similar equipment has definite appeal for customers,” says Bamford. “It is also very simple to use and they like the robustness of the machine and its build quality. There is a slight premium on price, perhaps 5-10% more expensive than another B2 machine, but the Komfi will last a lot longer.”
Teflon coated rollers can be fitted in place of polyurethane to eliminate the risk of glue accumulating on rollers, should there be a gap between sheets. This avoids a lot of the cleaning and regular maintenance that users have associated with running laminators in-house.
The Foliant machines will also include this option as well as being fitted with a Heidelberg back edge feeder to take away concerns about feeding. This can be an issue as users move from manually fed laminators, which are good for a few hundred copies at a time to more automated machines that need to run unattended.
“We are seeing companies upgrade as they realise that having brought laminating in house they are increasing the amount of work that is laminated because printers go and sell the capability,” says Fowler.
Alternately, he says, companies will be able to retrofit components to the machines. “We have upgraded machines where people opted for the affordable entry level machine unaware of how much lamination they would do. Once they get it and start to push the capability, they discover they should have gone for the next step up.”
The non stick pressure roller option opens the way for the Foliants to be used for window patches on packaging work. Combined film laminates replicate spot UV coating. Application of spot foils adds a further dimension.
“It is becoming more than just lamination, but more about how to add extra value with a multi-function finishing unit,” he says. Additional versatility can be expected with features to be added this year with Drupa as the focus.
It is something that Autobond is driving towards with the ability to add spot UV using inkjet to create a raised image as well as foil and standard range of laminating films.
“We can score where runs are too short to justify making dies or makeready times out of balance with run lengths,” says Gilmore. Could the laminator replace the Heidelberg platen as the most versatile piece of finishing equipment in a printer’s armoury?
Spanish manufacturer Bagel Systems added a double film carrier on its DigiFav machines, sold in the UK by Terry Cooper Services. This is aimed at an operation where there is a need for frequent changes between film types, typically a short run digital print environment. A reel can be left in place until it is exhausted rather than be lifted in and out of position, an action which can restrict creativity.
“The Bagel range from a laminating point of view offers different films to achieve different quality finishes: matt, gloss, soft touch, anti scratch,” says TCS managing director Chris Cooper. “A foiling attachment is under development for the Bagel.”
It works closely with film producer Deprosa (both are Spanish) to optimise the handling of the films. Last year it introduced the XEHT technology (extreme efficient heat transfer) which increased the contact area between roller surface and film by 130% to improve the transfer of the film to achieve a better quality finish. This is available on the DigiFav B2 Pro. It means that working temperature can be reduced and that speed of operation can be increased from 22m/min to 30m/min.
The choice of films to achieve a wide range of effects is increasing exponentially and can add real value to a product cover. There are linen effect, sand grain and leather effect films alongside the gloss, matt and silk films that are considered standard.
Graphic Imaging Films, Thame, is recognised as among the leaders in offering creative film options handling Deprosa’s products. It sells a still growing amount of soft touch film, says marketing director Sandro Mosquera. This is a product where there have been a number of imitators who are gradually being pursued for patent infringement.
“We are seeing sales of special films increase,” he says, “though for short run products at the moment.” There is a popular metallised film that can be laminated to create a mirrored board effect because this is an established style of product.
“A metallised soft touch film is also selling well,” he adds. This is in silver or gold finishes. “And we sold a lot of blue and red soft touch in the run up to Christmas for luxury wrapping papers which can retail for £3 a sheet. These are also popular for bags and tags.”
The rise in shorter run brochures, book covers and high end property brochures needing a high impact finish is behind the increasing interest in what lamination can do to help.
“These are not run of the mill jobs,” says Mosquera. It depends on the creativity of the printer to understand the effects that can be produced using what might seem a standard piece of finishing equipment suited to adding a protective film on a printed menu or manual.
The growth in luxury packaging is an obvious driver of added value lamination as food, drinks, cosmetics and jewellery companies seek to reflect the quality of the product in the style of packaging.
He explains: “People are becoming aware of the existence of of these films, have seen jobs that use them and that is increasing inquiries. We were promoting soft touch for a while before demand reached the point where it is now and we are hoping that the same happens with other creative films we offer.”
The demand for protective films runs alongside the creative products. A matt anti-scuff film has been added to the range. “And we will add a further two or three new products during the year,” he says. “We are getting requests for a gloss anti-scuff material as well as a soft touch film that is resistant to marking by clammy handed people.
“Where we are getting the best interest is from people looking for something different. We are the people trying to bring something new to this market.”
Vivid demonstrated how its Matrix laminator can print foils at Duplo's London Calling event in 2015.
An image is printed using black toner on top of a laminating film. The heated laminator rollers then softens the toner for the foil to adhere to.
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Terry Cooper Services sells the Bagel DigiFav in the UK, and is suited to situations where there is a frequent need to change film types.
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