Lamination vs. Encapsulation: Which Do You Need?

Written By Allen King

I purchased my first machine back in 1982 and started protecting portfolio books for photographers. 30 years later, I’m proud to say Express Encapsulating is the largest encapsulating business in the UK, with the aim of protecting the nation’s print from damage, so print can look better, for longer, no matter where it ends up.

Published On January 25, 2022

There’s still confusion about the difference between lamination and encapsulation. In this article we clarify the distinction.

Although most people in the printing industry understand the basic difference between lamination and encapsulation, there is still a great deal of confusion, with many conflating the two.

But while lamination and encapsulation both fall under the encapsulation umbrella – they both, after all, involve using film to apply a surface to printed material – there are some key differences you should bear in mind during spec.

What is the difference between lamination and encapsulation?

Both processes involve adding film to paper to enhance the look, feel and overall quality of the product.

At the most basic level, the key difference between lamination and encapsulation is that lamination uses thin film and encapsulation uses thick, high-grade film.

Often there’s a lip around the end of the printed material, although there doesn’t have to be. (This whole distinction gets confusing because what people call laminating, for example in schools or using pouch laminators, is actually encapsulating.)

Because encapsulation uses higher grade film than lamination, it’s generally more durable.

Print materials like maps and in-store catalogues that need frequent handling or to withstand the elements should use encapsulation. Lamination, on the other hand, is more suitable for products that need to look good but won’t be subject to wear and tear. Glossy magazines, corporate brochures, display signs, business cards and mail-order catalogues are all usually laminated rather than encapsulated.

How do you know which process to spec?

Here’s a common scenario – a customer gets in touch with you and says: “I want this printed and laminated”. They say this because they want a film finish, and they’re more familiar with laminating. But do they actually want encapsulation? Here are 3 questions that will help you determine which process they actually need:

1. How long do you need your product to last?

Is it going to be used for one day and then never again (such as an event programme or a magazine), or does it need to last months or even a year? The longer you need a product to last, the more likely it is that encapsulation is the appropriate finishing process.

2. How durable does it need to be?

This is related to the first question but is subtly different. If the product will be used regularly, like an in-store catalogue or a customer loyalty card, then you’re better off encapsulating rather than laminating.

3. Will the product be outside?

Encapsulation can be waterproof (although it’s not always, so make sure you check with your finishing house) and so is ideal for products that need to withstand the elements.

For example, menus at outdoor restaurants and maps and timetables in bus shelters should be encapsulated to prevent moisture getting in and ruining the paper.

What else should you consider?

Once you’ve established whether you need lamination or encapsulation, you need to think about quality. Not all film is created equal, and the film you need depends on the job requirements. When buying laminating film and getting laminating and encapsulation quotes, be sure to ask about film grade and quality. What might look like a cost-effective deal could, in fact, turn out to be a false economy.

The wrong film choice can lead to waste and project delivery delays, plus it can reduce the effectiveness of the end product.

So my number 1 piece of advice for printers is ask your local print finishing expert for input. A short conversation can go a long way when it comes to customer satisfaction and margins.

For more information about lamination and encapsulation, and to find out how we can help you with your print finishing, please contact me on 01179 414 999 or email me on sales@expressencap.co.uk.

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