Mylar and other types of plastic sheets have been used to laminate documents and signs for decades. This system of protecting paper and thin board stock has become a popular way to protect items that are frequently handled or exposed to the environment, preventing them from damage and deterioration. With the right materials and equipment, lamination is fast and easy.

How Lamination Works

Document lamination is the application of clear sheets of plastic to the front and back of an item. These plastic sheets adhere directly to the surface of the paper or board stock, creating a permanent bond. There are two basic types of lamination materials, pouches and rolls, and two methods of creating the laminate: heat-activated and cold-rolled. The finish of laminating material is available in clear (with a sheen-like finish) and de-lustered (which has a non-glare, matte finish). Clear laminates help to enhance the colors of photographs and illustrations, while de-lustered materials are a good choice for printed material.

How to Laminate Materials

Pouch lamination is a very fast and easy method that allows standard size documents to be placed inside before being heat-sealed. Alternatively, especially for larger or smaller pieces, rolls of laminating material can be used. Some types have heat-activated adhesive on one side, which binds quickly to the paper or stock. Cold lamination uses another type of adhesive, often with a backing that can be peeled off, to attach to the document. This type of material is preferred when laminating documents that have been printed with a laser printer; the “ink” on such documents is actually a heat-activated plastic powder, so cold lamination does not blur, smear or otherwise disturb the printed image. The laminating materials and equipment used to perform the tasks are readily available from such sources as, and make the process fast and easy.

What Can Be Laminated

Many types of documents can be laminated for long-term use and display. Most users choose to laminate items that are handled frequently, such as menus, to prevent them from becoming worn. Some physicians’ offices use laminated questionnaires to be filled out before seeing the doctor; the patient marks the answers with a soft marking pen. After use, the lamination can be wiped clean and re-used, reducing the amount of paper waste in the office. In short, any document that is intended to be used frequently, but not kept, makes a very good candidate for lamination.

Signs, including descriptions, instructions and directions, can be laminated. This allows a company or office to produce these signs faster and cheaper than by contacting with a professional sign company. This is particularly effective when temporary signage needs to be created; laminated signs do not become tattered or worn as quickly and provide a clean, professional appearance.

There are many other applications for lamination. Identity cards and badges can be laminated for extended durability and security. Since lamination is difficult to reverse, it helps protect such identification from tampering. Business cards can also be laminated, a hole punched in a corner and threaded with a cord to create a durable, easily identifiable and inexpensive luggage identification tag.

After lamination, materials can be further modified. They can be scored to allow them to be folded, again like menus, to provide additional design choices. Holes can be punched in them to allow the document to be placed inside a three-ring binder or be attached to an item with a bead chain. Double-sided tape can be attached to the back of a laminated sign to allow it to be displayed on a door or wall.

What Should Not Be Laminated

As stated before, lamination is difficult to reverse. Therefore, rare and original materials such as an historical letter, document or photograph, should not be laminated. Archivists and others concerned with the preservation of historic materials recommend that any rare item that needs to be preserved, while still allowing it to be displayed and/or handled with any frequency be encapsulated rather than laminated. (Encapsulation is a method in which only the edges of the covering film are sealed, creating a clear envelope, and does not involve the actual document itself.)

Certain legal documents, such a U.S. Social Security card should not be laminated; this makes it impossible to check certain security devices embedded in the card. A laminated Social Security card will be rejected by government officials as invalid. Other documents, such as original birth certificates and some types of contracts, should also not be laminated.

For most office and household uses, however, lamination helps to keep documents, signage and other items looking fresh and attractive. There are many laminating machines and materials to allow even the novice to produce professional-looking materials, simply and inexpensively.

Mia Elliott is a clerical worker. She enjoys writing about her experiences online. Her articles are posted on many business websites.