A thermal laminator is a device that is capable of sealing a laminated coating over a document to protect it. The protection is often against exterior elements like rain, but can also be to protect the document for longevity either with subsequent storage or when displaying the document as a poster for display. Examples of the information poster are safety instructions, rules during occupancy in a hotel room, and reordering instructions in the stock room.

For personal use, a laminator is useful in a home office to protect passports, licenses, luggage tags, protect takeout food menus, bookmarks, invitation cards, and gifts. Anything of a suitable size and thickness can be laminated, and the process takes a little time to finish.

A laminator uses thermal processes either with hot or cold temperatures to bind the lamination envelope to the paper inside it. A lamination pocket is bought separately in packs which a document is a slide into before the laminating process can begin. Sometimes a pocket packet is included with a laminator in a single package.

The majority of thermal equipment is capable of laminating letter and legal size papers, business cards, photos, and other documents. Depending the laminator, it is capable of laminator documents up to 9 to 12 inches wide. Thickness, including the laminating pocket, or either 3 millimeters or 5 millimeters is standard with this type of product. A few laminators used in professional environments support 7 millimeters and 10-millimeter thicknesses. In essence, the thermal process creates a secure layer from quick damage to the surface of any document that’s been laminated and as such, the thickness of the documents matters little.

The laminating speed up to 31 inches every minute. Touchpad controls let the user choose the thickness level of the paper and lamination pouch they are using. Hot or cold lamination process setting is also selectable from the control system. The cold setting is most often used with documents and photos that won’t hold up to a hot lamination process due to being pressure sensitive. Pockets just for cold lamination are a good idea when using this setting often.

Laminators typically need a one to five minutes warm-up time before using them. There is a jam alert on some models which will audibly beep when there is a jam in the machine. A release button lets the lamination pocket out of the device. An LED light to alert users when the laminator is ready to accept a new pocket to laminate.

To save power, some models have an automatic power down feature after a period of inactivity; often 30 minutes is the trigger point.

Some laminator equipment has a laminator pocket tray which is pulled out to hold the paper at the correct angle, much like an inkjet printer does with its paper trays. Quite often, the tray may be pushed back into position and folded up adjacent to the laminator to reduce the footprint of the device or to make the equipment ready for transportation to a secondary location.

Multiple rollers are used to pull the laminator pocket inside the laminator and to help it roll back out of the equipment when the lamination process is complete.

Many of the laminators weight only 5 pounds or so, which means they are easy to move to other positions when necessary.

The product warranty often runs five years with quality models.

What’s Included with The Best Laminator

The laminator, usually some sample laminating pockets are included (or a larger batch of them when they are bundle together), the attached feed trays, and the rollers which move the documents in and out.

Most laminators are set up to use 120-volt power, running at 60 Hz. For this reason, the laminator cannot be used internationally on 240-volt power unless both a voltage and plug adapter is used.

What to Know Before Making a Purchase

Decide on the thickness necessary for papers. Buying a model that only handled 3 millimeters of paper thickness won’t be much use if most documents are twice this size.

Some portable laminators have a cord that is used to carry the device from place to place.

Be sure to buy lamination pockets to go with the purchase of the laminator.

Other Considerations

The laminating process melts the pockets, so it is possible to trim the pocket later to cut it down to a more manageable size for smaller documents. Reducing the post-laminated pocket by trimming it down will not cut open the pocket in the process.

Best Brands

Scotch from 3M is a global brand that provides commercial solutions to everyday problems. The 3M company also invests heavily in research and development to remain on the leading edge.

Swingline, part of ACCO Brands Corporation, makes hole punches, staples, and laminators. They have been in business since 1925 and are based in New York City.

Thermal Laminating Corporation, founded in 1971, has made laminators to protect passports, documents, and posters for decades. The company uses the TLC brand.

What Consumers Say

Taking a look at consumers’ reviews, these are a few of the opinions most often voiced by buyers:

Card stock: Thicker cardstock can be laminated as long its size is not larger than the maximum thickness allowable with the laminator model.

Even lamination: Only flatbed laminators used in commercial settings, look a little bit like photocopies with a flip top lid, produce 100% even lamination. However, for everyday usage, a portable feed laminator is more than adequate.

Release lever or button: Make sure that there is a quick release option with the laminator to rescue documents that have gotten stuck inside the laminator.

Keep a copy: Before any document is put into a pocket and fed into a laminator, a copy should be made. Never use an original document that cannot be lost or destroyed as one never knows that the lamination will be successful. Furthermore, the thermal lamination process is not reversible, so the melted pocket cannot be removed later to return the document to its original form.