Best Laminators of 2019 - Reviews of Thermal Laminating Machines
We've evaluated laminators for the past three years, researching each device's speed, size and film thickness capacity. In addition, we looked for features that make each machine easy to use, such as jam prevention technology and a cold-to-the-touch exterior. The Scotch TL1306 Thermal is our top pick because it is a decent size and is compatible with a variety of film thicknesses. It also has fast warm-up and laminating speeds.
This Scotch model is one of the fastest laminators, with its one-minute warm-up time and its ability to laminate 18 inches per minute. It is also compatible with three pouch thicknesses.
The AmazonBasics Thermal comes with a one-year warranty and works quickly to laminate documents up to 9.3 inches wide. It offers the most value considering its low cost.
GBC Pinnacle 27 EZload Thermal Roll
This laminator can handle documents that are up to 27 inches wide. It also has jam-prevention technology.
You can use the Scotch TL1306 Thermal with pouches that are 3 millimeters, 5 millimeters or 6 millimeters thick, which is a decent variety. It handles documents as wide as 12.3 inches, so it’s a good choice for midsize documents but not for larger ones like posters.
It has one of the fastest warm-up times of any thermal laminator we reviewed, taking only one minute to be ready for use. A light indicates when it is warmed and ready to go. The machine can laminate 18 inches per minute – the warm-up speed combined with this lamination speed makes this the fastest laminator we evaluated. To save energy, this device automatically shuts off if it sits idle for one hour.
This laminator is built to prevent misfeeding, which in turn helps you avoid damaging your documents with jams. It works by using four rollers: Two heated rollers bond the film to the documents and the last two rollers press the document and film together to permanentally seal them. This laminator features easy-to-use LED touch controls. Unfortunately, the manufacturer doesn't back it with a warranty.
The AmazonBasics is the least expensive laminator we evaluated, though it has helpful features and is very compatible. It is a small machine, weighing only 2.6 pounds, which makes it portable.
It takes four minutes to heat up, and the indicator light turns on when it is ready to go. The machine can only use 3-millimeter and 5-millimeter pouches, so it might not be the device for you if you want to make rigid laminations. The laminator is simple, and while it doesn't have a monitor, you can indicate if you are using 3-millimeter or 5-millimeter pouches by flipping a switch.
Amazon backs this laminator with a one-year warranty. It has a jam release lever to help you remove problematic documents from the rollers. While the lever makes it easy to resolve jams, it would be better if jam prevention technology were built into the machine itself. This laminator uses an electrical cord for power, so you need to find an outlet to plug it into.
Best for Larger Documents
The GBC Pinnacle 27 is one of the largest laminators we reviewed. With its maximum document width of 27 inches, it can handle large items like posters and large prints.
This device is built with EZload technology that prevents jams and ensures you load film into the machine correctly. As a backup, it also features a button to initiate a motorized reverse so you can remove jammed items. It can take anywhere from eight to ten minutes for the laminator to warm up, but once it is ready to go, it can laminate 10 inches per minute. The machine's buttons let you set the temperature of the heating element, which helps you tailor the settings to the item you're laminating and the type of film you’re using. The GBC Pinnacle 27 is compatible with film up to 3 millimeters thick. This means it doesn't produce thick laminations, so if that's what you need, this might not be the right machine for you. To help conserve electricity, this laminator automatically shuts off after several hours of inactivity. Its large size, decent laminating speed, jam prevention and simple loading feature make this an ideal device for an office or school setting.
Best Cold Laminator
The Fellowes Neptune 3 Advanced 4-roller laminator uses pressure technology to seal cold lamination pouches.
It also has thermal technology that uses heat to seal them as well. With the Fellowes Neptune 3, you get both laminating options, but this does up the price. The machine is also more expensive because it auto-detects the size of pouches that enter it. It doesn’t come with the jam-prevention technology we found in our best overall pick, the Scotch TL1306, but it does have a reverse feature that helps in case of a misfeed. The Fellowes Neptune 3 also comes with an auto-shutoff safety feature to prevent overheating or using unnecessary energy. It’s fast too, with a heat up time of about a minute.
Best Portable Laminator
The Business Source Document 4.4” & Photo Laminator has a few very specific uses. This is the best choice for portable laminating of photos or badges.
The machine can only seal documents four inches wide or less. Our best overall selections can handle standard sized document pages, and industrial machines can do posters or banner-sized projects. You also trade quality for the machine’s portability because the machine comes with only two rollers. Laminators with more rollers tend to make a smoother, cleaner final product. But despite its small size the machine is versatile enough to handle a few different pouch thicknesses, ranging from 3-5 millimeters. There isn’t jam prevention technology and you can’t reverse your documents if there’s a loading problem. But if you only need to laminate small documents efficiently, the Business Source 4.4 is a good choice.
Why Trust Us
We have reviewed laminators for the past three years. During our research, we combed through user ratings, which helped us determine which devices work the best and deliver on their claims. We compared features and capabilities and read user reviews to ferret out any known problems or perks that come with each product. The laminators we chose vary in size and price, and they laminate in a variety of thicknesses.
How We Evaluated
To narrow our search to the top products, we found laminators that had the most positive consumer reviews. We made a list of each machine's features and capabilities so we could compare them. Then, we whittled down that list to 10 devices.
As we compared, we considered which models are easiest to use by looking for helpful features. For instance, some laminators included jam release buttons or motorized reverse buttons to make it easy to resolve jamming. Laminators with built-in jam prevention scored high.
For all laminators that use heat to seal, we looked at how long it takes the heating element to warm up. We also checked to see which machine laminates the fastest. We combined the warm-up time and the laminating speed, and the fastest models scored the highest.
The size of the device determines which types of documents you can laminate. Machines that can laminate larger documents ranked higher because they accommodate a wider variety of projects. We also preferred machines that accommodate a variety of pouch thicknesses because they are more versatile.
How Much Do Laminators Cost?
An industrial laminator, like those at schools, cost thousands of dollars. We evaluated some during testing, like the GBC Pinnacle 27 EZload Thermal Roll Laminator, which is priced at $1,547 on sale. These giants also come with high maintenance costs and are impossible to store due to their large size. However, when we did our testing, we found plenty of laminators that can handle standard sheet sizes for less than $500. Our best value pick, the AmazonBasics Thermal costs just over $20. At that price, you forego the best features, like an auto sensor that picks up on the laminating pouch size that you’re using or cool touch that keeps your laminator getting too warm. But Laminators between $100 and $200 often come with a handful of these fancy features, and we recommend this price point.
Things to Consider Before Choosing a Laminator
You can find both thermal and cold laminators on the market, and some devices offer both sealing methods. Thermal laminators use heat to seal film and documents together. Cold lamination, also called pressure lamination, applies pressure to sticky transparent sheets to laminate papers, not unlike using clear tape. Both are commonly used, but thermal laminating is more popular. All our top picks are thermal laminators because we think they create better results with less hassle than cold laminators. Thermal machines are typically more expensive, but the film costs less. Even though cold laminators are less expensive upfront, the film costs more, so you could end up spending more over time.
The type of machine you need partially depends on the items you’re laminating. If a document is temperature-sensitive, like carbon paper, it is a good idea to use a cold laminator.
Warm-Up Time & Laminating Speed
Thermal machines need time to warm their rollers to do their job. Depending on the machine, this warm-up period can range from one to 20 minutes. Once the machine is ready, the actual laminating speed varies. Some can laminate as much as 18 inches per minute. If you think you'll typically need to make laminations in a hurry, consider purchasing a machine that warms up quickly and laminates at a faster speed.
Laminators are built to be compatible with specific film and pouch thicknesses. A 10-millimeter film or pouch is the most protective and is difficult to bend. On the other hand, a 3-millimeter film gives the document a protective coating but allows it to bend easily. The thickness you need depends on the project. Most laminators are compatible with a maximum of three film thicknesses.
Number of Rollers
The number of rollers and their functions in the machine determine the quality of laminated documents. In the most basic machines, two rollers press your document and the film together to seal them. It is best to feed documents slowly into these machines.
In more complex machines, two rollers heat or apply pressure to the film, while an additional pair seal the film and the document together. This second pair of rollers typically remove any wrinkles and imperfections. Documents should be fed slowly into these machines.
How to Clean a Laminator
Cleaning a thermal laminator for home use is simple: Buy a pack of laminator cleaning sheets, which are designed to remove lamination residue. You run these cleaning sheets through the machine just as you would a document. A 10-pack costs less than $10, and with a normal workload, thermal laminators need to be cleaned only about once a year. If you frequently notice wrinkles or unwanted residue on documents, it’s probably time to clean the rollers.
Cleaning a roll laminator, like the GBC Pinnacle 27, is a bit more involved. Every time you laminate a document with a roll laminator, a small bit of adhesive leaks out and sticks to the rollers. Most service technicians suggest cleaning the adhesive off the roller every three to six months, depending on how frequently it’s used. To remove the adhesive from the roller, close the rollers and heat the glue without a document threaded through the laminator. Then, use mineral spirits and a clean cloth to remove the adhesive from the top roller, and repeat the process for the bottom roller.
If paper is stuck to the roller, use a sponge and water to soak the paper. Then, gently rub the roller with a scrub pad (such as Scotch-Brite) to remove the wet paper. The most important tip we gleaned from laminator service technicians was to avoid using sharp objects, such as X-ACTO knives or razor blades, to clean paper, adhesive and film off the rollers.
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