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When and Why You Use an Overlaminate

We all know that the overlaminate serves two important functions: it protects the graphic, and it can add aesthetic qualities. In terms of protection, it can ensure that the graphic remains intact for the life of the application. The overlaminate can also extend the life of the graphic by shielding it from a number of environmental factors. In terms of appearances, it can add a gloss, matte, or textured finish to the final product.

With this said, determining when and why you would use an overlaminate is not a difficult process. You need to start by asking five basic questions:

  • What is the end-use application?
  • What substrate are you overlaminating?
  • What environment will the end-use application be subjected to?
  • What are your durability requirements?
  • What printing technology will be used?

By answering these questions you'll be able to decide if you should overlaminate or not. In addition, you’ll be able to determine which overlaminate will work best for your application — polyester, vinyl, polycarbonate, polypropylene or fluoropolymer.

Let’s review the reason behind each question.

Overlaminates are a key component in protecting labels that convey crucial information and must remain legible for the life of the product.

What is the end-use application?

It is essential to understand every aspect of the end-use application before an overlaminate can be suggested. Where is the application going to be used? What conditions might it face? How long will the application need to survive, and what constitutes success in this regard? An overlaminate that might work well for a three-month floor graphic promotion may not be sufficient for a two-year outdoor advertising campaign.

At the same time, such questions allow an experienced supplier to offer the right balance of cost and performance. Although it is vital to provide a product that meets all specifications, an over-engineered product can lead to unnecessary expense. That is why it is crucial to work with a trusted supplier who can offer a wide array of standard and custom products, but who will also not sell you a product you do not need.

What type of substrate are you overlaminating?

Just as you must match the right adhesive/liner combination to an overlaminate, so, too, must you pair the right overlaminate to a specific substrate. The “sandwich” (film, topcoat, adhesive, and liner) only works when all of the individual components work together. Thus, nothing can be designed in a vacuum. An overlaminate that may be ideal when paired with a vinyl film may work with a polyester substrate, or it may not. Again, the end use of the application may also need to be taken into account.

Special consideration should be given when identifying possible overlaminating limitations. For example, using a polyester overlaminate with a paper substrate could result in problems. A similar issue could arise if a polyester overlaminate were used with a vinyl substrate. Ideally, you should use an overlaminating film that corresponds with the substrate film. For example, if you are using a polyester substrate, a polyester overlaminate would usually be preferable. This is partly because the use of similar films ensures that they expand and contract at similar rates, reducing the likelihood of the overlaminate lifting and separating from the base film.

What type of environment will the end-use application be subjected to?

Will the application be indoors or outdoors? Does the ambient temperature remain consistent, or does it fluctuate between extremes? Must the overlaminate protect against wind, rain, snow, and UV light, or will it face the grueling conditions of the under-the-hood environment? Different overlaminates are better suited for different situations.

Indoor applications such as personal care labels are typically UV varnished versus overlaminated. A varnish is much more cost-effective as the product is typically disposed of in three to six months.

For outdoor applications, the overlaminate must protect graphics from temperature fluctuations, abrasion, chemicals, and exposure to UV light, as well as the wear and tear associated with regular use. The overlaminate must, in this example, also utilize a UV-resistant pressure-sensitive adhesive. Overlaminates used to resist UV exposure may have UV absorbing additives formulated into the film, or may have an adhesive with a UV-absorbing additive, or both. In short, the printer needs to be fully aware of the end-use application and the environmental conditions the product will face so that he can work with a supplier to find an overlaminate that will fully protect the application.

What are your durability requirements?

Similar to the question of environmental exposure, durability touches on the endurance requirements. Must the application remain legible for the lifetime of the product? If so, what is that lifetime? If you are creating a personal care label, the product may face the humidity of the bathroom environment and require non-slip characteristics, all while remaining graphically appealing. In such cases, the product may only be expected to last a few months. This stands in contrast to a piece of outdoor equipment, whose safety labeling may be expected to remain legible for years.

A good example would be a safety and hazard warning label used in conjunction with outdoor power equipment, such as a lawnmower. Here, the overlaminate must protect the graphic from exposure to oil, gasoline, UV light, and moisture, as well as the wear and tear associated with regular use. As previously noted, the overlaminate must, in this example, also utilize a UV-resistant pressure-sensitive adhesive.

Personal care labels are typically UV varnished versus overlaminated. These products may face a host of potentially damaging environmental conditions, such as fluctuations in temperature and humidity, exposure to product contents, and constant handling and squeezing by the consumer.

What printing technology will be used?

Different printing technologies are associated with different levels of rigor. Flexo and HP Indigo may not withstand challenging environments without the use of a durable overlaminate. Another consideration is the potential use of variable imaging. If there is an expectation that the end user will use variable imaging, the overlaminate will need to be receptive to that particular print technology.

Overlaminates can help counter this issue by providing a protective layer that seals the graphic against abrasion, helping to ensure that physical contact will not wear the image or text away. Thus, overlaminates can be a defensive barrier that protects the application from catastrophic failure.

Aesthetic value of overlaminates.

Although overlaminates are often best known for their protective qualities, they can also be used to enhance the graphic in ways that neither films nor inks can accomplish on their own. Customers who work closely with their pressure-sensitive films supplier can realize visually-stunning characteristics that can transform an application from good to amazing.

Take for example the range of potential color and texture options available. An application featuring a glossy overlaminate may help the graphic stand out from other images. A frosty clear or clear velvet overlaminate may offer a more muted approach, which could be appropriate for certain applications. In fact, the range of options includes everything from clear and clear gloss to clear matte, frosty clear, and clear velvet.

These considerations can be especially important when it comes to advertising graphics. Window, transit, and floor graphics, including carpet graphics, may need to meet a host of aesthetic and regulatory requirements that can be achieved with the proper overlaminate.

Overlaminates can offer slip resistance, an extremely important factor when it comes to floor and carpet graphic advertising systems.

Selecting the right overlaminate may mean the difference between success and failure for your application.

– Peter Codner, Technical Service Representative, FLEXcon

Practical considerations and regulatory requirements.

Although appearance and protection are often the primary considerations when it comes to overlaminates, this component can also offer physical attributes that can be of value. Consider the integration of an overlaminate that has a textured surface. This sort of overlaminate can offer slip resistance, an extremely important factor when it comes to floor and carpet graphic advertising systems. In fact, such systems must feature approved base films and overlaminates to meet stringent UL 410 non-slip standards.

Customers may also need to meet regulatory requirements, including Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and Canadian Underwriters Laboratories (cUL) standards. Experienced suppliers, such as FLEXcon, can provide a wide selection of recognized products so that you can easily meet these standards as you develop your applications, saving time and money as a result of a streamlined approval process. We can offer this guarantee because we have already exhaustively tested and qualified our overlaminates, substrates, and adhesives through UL and cUL. For example, you may have a labeling opportunity involving the production of UL labels. FLEXcon can provide you with a product where each of the components has already been tested and recognized for use with one another.

An overlaminate can extend the life of a label by shielding it from any one of a number of environmental factors.

Choosing the right overlaminate.

There are a multitude of overlaminating options to choose from based on your application requirements. The most common overlaminating films include polyester (OM), vinyl (OV), polycarbonate (OL), polypropylene (OP), and fluoropolymer (OF). Specific end-use requirements dictate which product is used. For example, a polyester laminate could be ideal in terms of providing abrasion resistance or when the application will face high temperatures. FLEXcon® DURApro OF 120 C, in contrast, offers good UV and graffiti resistance. A vinyl overlaminate is prized for its flexibility, especially when used over another vinyl film. Polycarbonate overlaminates can offer a velvet-textured look, while polypropylene provides good chemical resistance, particularly when it comes to acids.

Specialty products are also available to meet specific needs. For example, FLEXcon’s DPM® UVCG, a highly resilient overlaminate, offers excellent extended outdoor durability. This product is renowned for both its UV-absorbing ability as well as its ability to resist abrasion and higher temperatures. A five-year outdoor rated film in its own right, UVCG greatly extends the outdoor life of many products, including less-durable graphics printed via HP Indigo and Flexo.

Customers should also weigh the use of cast overlaminates against the use of calendared overlaminates. Each offers unique values. For example, cast overlaminates are generally more conformable and will adhere to compound curves. For instance, FLEXcon’s BUSart OV5055 overlaminate provides seven year expected outdoor life, making it an ideal choice for premium life end-use applications such as vehicle wraps and architectural applications. Calendared overlaminates, in contrast, offer one to two years of expected outdoor life. They are ideal for applications on flat surfaces and simple curves.

Certain overlaminates work best when paired with certain adhesives and liners. For example, the liner can dictate the level of clarity. A paper liner offers different wet out and smoothness characteristics than a clay-coated liner or film liner. For example, the smoothness of a polyester liner provides superior wet out when compared with a paper liner. Therefore, an overlaminate featuring a polyester liner may offer superior clarity when adhered to the graphic.

The substrate also plays a role in the selection process. Dark color substrates and metallic films, for example, may require different overlaminates than lighter and non-reflective films because they are less forgiving in terms of adhesives. Insufficient wet out can, in these cases, lead to compromised graphic quality. An overlaminate backed with a polyester liner can help minimize these concerns.

Work with a proven leader.

With so many options and potential questions, it is vital to partner with a supplier who has both the technical knowledge and range of products to help you select the best possible overlaminate for your application.

FLEXcon is uniquely positioned to help you with your overlaminate questions. Our history as a custom house means that we have the background and expertise to match your application needs with the right product or, if necessary, develop the right product with you. We offer the largest selection of films, adhesives, and liners to put together the best overlaminate construction to meet your specific needs.

Selecting the right overlaminate may mean the difference between success and failure for your application. Trust FLEXcon to help you make the best decision. Call us today for more information.

For outdoor applications, the overlaminate must protect graphics from temperature fluctuations, abrasion, chemicals and exposure to UV light, as well as wear and tear associated with regular use.

Want to start a conversation?

Contact Jim Joyce for more information or to uncover what's possible for your company.