The key decisions you’ll need to make when choosing a suitable laminator for office use are what size to go for, and also how often you’ll likely be using it. Both A3 and A4 varieties can come at a wide range of prices and specs, but for the most part, the more expensive versions will offer one very key feature over more cost-effective models: speed.
While the initial investment in a top-of-the-line laminator can be much higher than for a budget brand, it may actually work out saving you money in the long run if you’re not constantly having to wait around for slower laminating processes and ramp-up times, or frequently having to re-run the process due to a higher incidence of misalignments and bubbling that you tend to get with very cheap laminators.
Many models intended for more intensive day-to-day school or office use come with handy time-saving features such as built-in memory functions, meaning you don’t have to reprogramme the machine each time you want to use it.
Again, the key decisions when looking to buy heavy duty or industrial laminators will generally come down to the degree of flexibility required, and the intensity of use you expect it to undergo. Heavy duty laminating machines can be built to withstand near-constant use, but you can expect to pay a premium for this sort of durability and consistency of performance.
If you’ll need to laminate multiple items on a daily basis, especially at a high rate per hour, certain higher-end or heavy-duty laminator machines are built to work faster and harder than others, producing superior quality laminations at a much quicker output rate.
Another key consideration will be how long you want your laminated items to last, as this will impact on the type of lamination pouches or films you should buy, and thus ultimately on what sort of machine you’ll need to meet your production demands.
Hot and cold
When it comes to choosing whether to buy a hot or a cold lamination machine, the key differences between the two (apart from the obvious!) really come down to the types of documents you’ll be working with.
Many people feel that, for short-run or occasional use, a cold lamination machine is sufficient for their needs - and in fact cold laminating can result in a nicer-looking document for certain types of ink or printed materials, as the lack of heat makes it far less likely that any running, blurring or colour variance will appear in the final product. Cold laminators also tend to rely on heavier pressure than heated roller versions, meaning that there can be less likelihood of bubbling in higher quality models.
Hot lamination, on the other hand, tends to be a better choice for consistency and durability over more frequent daily use, particularly in environments where speed and repeatability is more important than flawless finishes. The pouches intended for hot lamination use also tend to be considerably cheaper and more widely available than cold versions.
Provided you have a clear understanding of what material and document types are suitable for hot roller laminating, it’s a very straightforward and quick process to protect and embellish many documents in a short space of time with a heat-based machine. Higher-end models also offer numerous additional features for batch-processing, temperature adjustment, programmable memory functions and more.
A quick word on laminating photographs: it’s one of the more common intended uses for laminating machines generally, but one that many users tend to be (understandably!) worried about.
While photograph lamination is usually done to help preserve the picture for longer, there’s always a perceived element of risk when you can’t easily replace the photo should anything go wrong. The main point to note when laminating photographs is that, as with all laminating machines, higher roller counts will give you better and more consistent results, with far less chance of misfeed or bubbling.
The most budget-conscious laminators will generally come with two rollers, and these can be somewhat inconsistent - far better to go with four-roller models for documents that matter, and in the case of cherished photographs, six rollers or more is even better. These are generally the more expensive models, but as with so many things, high-end photo laminating machines do tend to confirm the old ‘get what you pay for’ adage.
Also be conscious of the film or pouch you’re using for the lamination on important photographs. For the best results, you’ll want to use high-quality film that’s relatively newly made and decide beforehand what’s the most appropriate trade-off for you between the thickness (and thus durability) and consistency/rigidity. Also be mindful of the finish you’re looking for - gloss pouches or matte, smooth or textured - and, for really cherished items, always do a practice run on a blank piece of paper first.