Lamination vs. Encapsulation: Which Do You Need?

By Allen King on February 1, 2018

There’s still confusion about the difference between lamination and encapsulation. Here’s 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?

flat design paper swatch cards of different weights with blue 'approved stock' seal

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 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.)

flat design diagram of printed paper with round and square edges with or without clear borders on yellow background with set square and compass

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?

laminating film on blue background

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.

flat design tri-folded map with green islands and yellow location marker with blue cloud raining on black background

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 your 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.

flat design man in suit has question marks around his head with 4 rolls of Express film in front of him

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 0117 9414 999 or email me on