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Laminated Printing: Choosing a Laminate Thickness to Fit Your Project

Laminated printing refers to printed pieces that have a clear plastic film bonded to them. Printing is laminated to protect it from stains and moisture, to increase its strength and durability, and to add sheen and vibrancy to its ink colors. Lamination makes printed documents look more finished and professional.

The clear plastic film used to laminate printed matter is available in a variety of thicknesses. Some are thin and flexible, others are quite rigid. By the way, if you need a printed piece to be rigid, one tip that can generally save you money is to use a heavy cardstock to print on and then apply a thinner laminate film…as opposed to printing on thinner paper and using a thicker laminate film. If in doubt, tell your printer what your desired thickness result is and then he/she can price it out with the method most economical for you.

How is Lamination Film Measured?

Lamination film is measured in mil thicknesses. One mil is equal to .001" or 1/1000ths of an inch (a mil is not the same as a millimeter). Hence, a lamination film measuring 1.5mil would be .0015" thick. Likewise, a film measuring 10mil would be .010" thick. Also, because your printing will be sandwiched between two pieces of laminate, a 1.5mil laminate will increase the overall thickness of your printed piece by 3 mil (.003"). Likewise, a 10mil laminate will increase the overall thickness by 20 mil (.020").

Basically, the more sturdy you would like your finished printed piece to be, the thicker the laminate you would choose. However, if your printed piece is to be folded, it is usually best to use a laminate film thickness of 3mil or less. As you would expect, folding becomes more difficult as the laminate thickness increases.

Below is a list of common laminating film thicknesses as well as some examples of popular uses for each size:

  • 1.5 MIL (.0015") - This is a relatively thin laminate, so it does not add much rigidity to the printed piece. However, the 1.5mil thickness is an economical choice when applying laminate to print materials that are constructed of heavy paper or cardstock, such as business cards, flash card sets, presentation folders, and book or manual covers. Also, because 1.5mil is the least expensive laminate choice, it is also a great fit for laminated print projects that serve a temporary purpose, such as a route map for a walk-a-thon or a limited-time holiday menu for a restaurant. The flexible 1.5mil thickness is also perfect for laminating labels and decals.
  • 3 MIL (.003") - This film thickness provides adequate protection yet is still thin and flexible enough to allow the printed piece to be folded. For this reason, 3mil laminate is frequently used for restaurant menus that require folding, such as the popular bi-fold or tri-fold menu. A 3mil laminate is also a good choice for wall posters, maps, or the pages of a manual or flip book.
  • 5 MIL (.005") - This laminate size adds moderate sturdiness to print materials and holds up to frequent usage. In some cases, it can be scored and folded, but the thickness of this laminate may yield a "spring open" effect on some folded pieces. However, this thickness is an ideal choice for flat pieces that get handled often. This includes instructional materials, charts and diagrams, bookmarks, event passes, dry/wet erase memo boards, and some restaurant or bar menus.
  • 10 MIL (.010") - This is a serious laminate. It offers tremendous rigidity and protection. Pieces laminated with 10mil film cannot be bent or creased easily. As such, a 10mil laminate is often used on identification cards and badges, reusable tags, and reference sheets, as well as indoor/outdoor restaurant and bar menus that do not fold. Also, because of its superior toughness, a 10mil laminate is recommended for any printed pieces that are to be used in dirty, damp, greasy, or otherwise rugged environments.

As you choose a laminate size, please keep in mind that the combination of a heavy substrate and/or thicker laminates can cause a printed piece to become extremely stiff, resulting in sharp corners. In these cases, we recommend having the corners rounded off to prevent any injury while the pieces are being handled. As a rule of thumb, the corners can generally remain square (un-rounded) if the finished piece is thin enough to remain pliable at its edge. However, if the laminated pieces will be handled by children, such as flash cards or other educational materials, it is a good practice to round the corners regardless of the thickness.

Related article: Laminated Printing: Sealed Edge or Flush Cut?

If you have any questions about lamination or have an upcoming project that requires printing and laminating, give Formax Printing Solutions a call at 866-367-6221 or send us an email. Or, if you already know the specs of your project, simply click here to access our quote request form. We not only offer excellent pricing on laminated printing, we can also offer you helpful guidance and advice!

Take care! Keith

About the Author

Keith Beaty is the owner of Formax Printing Solutions in St. Louis, MO. Formax provides a complete array of offset and digital printing services. Specialty areas include book printing, full-color printing, laminated printing, map printing, plus mailing services. If you ever have a printing question or project you would like to discuss, Keith is always happy to help. He can be reached at 866-367-6221. Keith and Formax have been providing worry-free printing and related services since 1985.

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