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Published Sep. 13, 2021

Whether you’re looking to save a favorite recipe, create ID cards, or preserve your child’s artwork, lamination can help. It’s a process in which paper or card stock is coated and sealed with a transparent plastic layer that adds rigidity and provides protection. Heat-assisted, thermal laminators operate with laminating pouches that feature sealed sides to form pockets. The adhesive in the laminating pouches melts when run between the hot rollers of the machine, and the resulting process forms a 360-degree, plastic seal on and around the paper documents. 

Some thermal laminators feature additional, cold operational settings that rely on pressure to affix adhesive-coated plastic to the surface of documents. When compared to cold laminating, the thermal method wins out by reducing the occurrence of air bubbles and imperfections in the final product. Additionally, the thermal method ensures an all-encompassing, waterproof barrier for protecting and preserving documents, photos, cards, artwork, and more. Read on to discover the best thermal laminator for your home and office projects.

How We Picked the Best Laminators

Methodology 

We examined the details in product descriptions for more than 15 thermal laminators, searching for those with the most versatile and reliable characteristics. 

Maximum Input Width: Realizing that people need to laminate paper and card stock in a variety of sizes, we looked for laminators that would accommodate not only standard, letter-size documents, but also larger and smaller items.

Thickness Capability: We selected laminators that accommodate both 3-mil-thick pouches for foldable documents and 5-mil-thick pouches for rigid, sturdy items. Additionally, we found a laminator that uses 10-mil and 30-mil thicknesses to transform paper cards and badges into stiff, durable, plastic cards. 

Brand: Products on our list of recommendations are manufactured by reputable companies. 

Included Supplies: Many manufacturers include supplies of laminating pouches as well as paper-project tools with their thermal laminators. We looked for value in these bundled products.

Functional Capabilities: Thermal laminators are subject to occasional paper jams, so we looked for those with paper-release mechanisms. Additionally, we examined warm-up times, run-times, and automatic shut-off systems that prevent overheating of the thermal machines.Price: Although large, heavy-duty laminators are available for purchase and frequently used in educational and professional settings, their cost runs into thousands of dollars. We looked for modestly priced laminators that might be useful for individuals in businesses, schools, and homes.

The Best Laminator: Reviews and Recommendations

Best Overall: Fellowes 5736606 Laminator Saturn 3i 95

High-Performing and Versatile

The Fellowes laminator provides dependable functioning capabilities in both hot and cold operating modes. Fellowes

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Why It Made The Cut: The Fellowes company has a long-standing reputation for manufacturing high-quality equipment, and this laminating machine offers hot-or-cold operating modes along with convenient features to ensure successful results.

Specs:

  • Maximum input width: 9.5 inches
  • Warm-up time: 1 minute
  • Machine weight: 4.3 pound

Pros:

  • Rapid warm-up
  • Handles 3-mil, 4-mil, and 5-mil thicknesses
  • Operates on a cold setting as well as using heat
  • Jam-release function

Cons:

  • Occasional curling edges

The Fellowes Laminator Saturn 3i 95  makes it easy to apply a permanent, protective coating to office documents, presentation materials, signs, school projects, and children’s artwork. With InstaHeat Technology, you’re warmed up and ready to go in only one minute. An audible beep along with a green light both indicate the machine’s readiness. When the project is finished, the automatic shut-off feature saves energy and prevents overheating. For added value, this laminator includes a pack of ten 3-mil, letter-size pouches.

With a 9.5-inch input width, this laminator handles most business and school documents. It accommodates 3-mil to 5-mil thicknesses to produce either foldable or rigid final products. In case of a jam, the Jam Release lever disengages the pouch, allowing the operator to re-center or remove the project. The laminated pages come out with a highly durable and professional-looking finish.  

More versatile than most thermal laminators, this machine by Fellowes is able to function as a cold laminator, transforming at the touch of a button. It handles self-adhesive laminating pouches when operating in the cold mode.

The Fellowes company was founded by Harry Fellowes in 1917, and their brand continues under the leadership of John Fellowes, a fourth-generation descendent. Currently, the company operates five manufacturing plants, all within the U.S., although they own subsidiary companies around the world.

Best Value: 3M Laminating Kit with Every Size Laminating Pouch

Well-Stocked Laminating Kit

Made by a leading brand, the 3M kit provides exceptional value for a variety of thermal laminating projects. 3M

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Why It Made The Cut: With a reputation for exceptional quality,  the 3M laminating kit offers a high-performing, thermal laminator along with ample supplies for a wide array of  laminating projects.

Specs:

  • Maximum input width: 9 inches
  • Warm-up time: 5 to 7 minutes
  • Machine weight: 4 pounds

Pros: 

  • Outstanding reputation of a leading office-supply company
  • Kit includes ample supplies for varied projects
  • Two heat settings
  • Rollers eliminate wrinkles and air bubbles

Cons: 

  • Project will be hot when it exits the machine

Since its inception in 1902, the 3M company has been known for high-quality and innovative office products. Not surprisingly, its thermal laminator is considered one of the optimal choices on today’s market. This 3M Laminating Kit includes not only the laminating machine but also an ample supply of laminating pouches in all sizes. 

The kit provides 20 pouches in each of six different sizes. Pouch sizes include 9 by 11 inches, 5.25 by 7.25 inches, 4.5 by 6 inches, 3.75 by 5.25 inches, 3 by 4 inches, and 2.25 by 3.75 inches. With this supply of materials, users can laminate office documents, photos, school projects, artwork, instructional materials, ID badges, recipe cards, and business cards. 

The maximum input width is 9 inches, and the laminating pouches will handle materials from 3 mil up to 5 mil thick. Two heat settings allow users to modify temperatures, using the low-heat setting for heat-sensitive documents and photos. Additionally, the two heated rollers function smoothly to eliminate air bubbles and wrinkles as documents run through the machine.

Best for Business Documents: Crenova A4 Thermal Laminator, 4 in 1

Professional Reliability

Create professional-looking, laminated documents with the Crenova thermal laminator.
Crenova

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Why It Made The Cut: For letter-size and legal-size documents, the Crenova thermal laminator creates a professional finish that protects important documents from moisture, dust, and aging.

Specs:

  • Maximum input width: 9 inches
  • Warm-up time: 3 to 5 minutes
  • Machine weight: 2.88 pounds

Pros:

  • Includes laminating pouches and paper-cutting tools
  • ABS lever releases jams
  • Lightweight and portable

Cons: 

  • Users must take care to feed the paper at a straight angle
  • Extra, included tools may not be the highest quality

The Crenova 4 in 1 Laminator pack includes a high-performing thermal laminator that protects and preserves business documents along with a paper trimmer, a corner rounder, and a pack of 20 laminating pouches in varying sizes. The pack of pouches includes five each of sizes A4 (8.75 by 12.25 inches) and A5 (6.06 by 8.5 inches) along with 10 pouches in size A6 (4.37 by 6.06 inches).

This machine heats up in approximately 3 to 5 minutes and operates for 30 minutes before needing to cool down. If a jam occurs, users may simply turn off the machine and press the handy anti-blocking system (ABS) lever to release the jam. Overall, this thermal laminator exhibits efficient operation.

With its sleek size and minimal weight, the Crenova thermal laminator is portable and easy to use and store. For the office, school classroom, and home, this laminator is a useful tool. Although it functions well for business documents, it may also be used to encase and protect instructional materials in schools, ID badges and cards, artworks and craft projects.

Best for Cards and Badges: EasyIDea Premium ID Card and Badge Laminator

Ideal for Small Items

The EasyIDea laminator forms a protective coating and seal around identification badges, business cards, and other small items. EasyIDea

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Why It Made The Cut: While other laminators claim to accommodate small-size items, the EasyIDea laminator is specially designed and constructed to produce durable, rigid, plastic encasements for card-size documents. 

Specs:

  • Maximum input width: 4.5 inches
  • Warm-up time: 3 minutes
  • Machine weight: 1.9 pounds

Pros:

  • Lightweight and portable
  • Small size, takes up little space
  • Produces thick lamination for card rigidity
  • Targeted functioning for cards and badges

Cons:

  • Not suitable for letter-size documents
  • Not for heavy-duty use
  • May need to run projects through the machine more than once

This small, lightweight, thermal laminator by EasyIDea yields sturdy, durable results on card-size projects. Use it to seal and protect luggage tags, business cards, ID badges for work or conferences, and small instructional materials in schools.

With a maximum input width of 4.5 inches, this laminator handles jobs ranging from 10-mil up to 30-mil thickness. The thickness of lamination means that cards laminated on this machine exhibit strong rigidity to last a long time. Paper cards emerge from this laminator looking and feeling like standard, plastic cards. 

The EasyIDea laminator has been tested on the full line of Teslin paper to ensure its capability to produce a durable and professional-looking laminated card. Teslin is a synthetic material used for producing rigid, waterproof, printed items. After running the synthetic Teslin paper through the laminator with a butterfly pouch, the sturdy, plastic card emerges, ready for long-term use. 

After warming up for 3 minutes, the machine will operate for 2 hours before needing a cool-down period. Weighing in at less than 2 pounds and measuring less than 10 inches long, this laminator is easily portable for multiple applications in places of business, schools, and homes. 

Best for Posters: 13 Inches Laminator Machine by UALAU

For Menus and Posters

This laminator by UALAU handles printed materials up to 13 inches wide.
UALAU

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Why It Made The Cut: While this thermal laminator from UALAU will handle documents, posters, and photos up to 13 inches wide, it will also laminate items as small as business cards.

Specs:

  • Maximum input width: 13 inches
  • Warm-up time: 3 to 5 minutes
  • Machine weight: 6.04 pounds

Pros:

  • Laminates documents wider than standard letter size
  • Laminates small items like cards as well as larger items
  • Includes tools and laminating pouches
  • Jam-release button

Cons:

  • Occasional issues with paper jamming

Use the UALAU thermal laminator to form a waterproof, protective seal on posters, large photos, artwork, presentation materials, restaurant menus, and instructional items. Demonstrating desirable versatility, the machine laminates materials ranging in size from business cards up to 13-inch-wide posters. 

Along with the laminating machine, UALAU includes 20 laminating pouches suitable for paper sizes A3 (11.7 by 16.5 inches), A4 (8.75 by 12.25 inches), and A6 (4.37 by 6.06 inches). Additionally, the package includes a built-in paper trimmer, a corner rounder, three photo frames, a hole puncher, and binder rings.

After warming up for 3 to 5 minutes, the laminator will operate for 30 minutes before needing to cool down. It works with 3-mil-thick laminating pouches to yield foldable, protected items. Alternatively, the machine works with 5-mil-thick pouches to produce sturdy, rigid results. If paper jams occur during operation, users can simply pull the paper release button to resolve the problems. For best results, UALAU recommends inserting items on the edge of the laminating pouch and laminating the sealed edge first.

Although it handles large laminating jobs, this machine is lightweight and portable enough for transport to various workstations in offices, schools, and homes. It measures 16.6 by 6.3 3.9 inches and weighs 6.04 pounds.

Best Added Features: Sinopuren 9-Inch Thermal Laminator

Built-in Tools

The Sinopuren laminator features built-in tools and extra supplies for laminating projects Sinopuren

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Why It Made The Cut: This all-purpose thermal laminator features built-in tools as well as extra laminating supplies including a paper trimmer and hole punch.

Specs:

  • Maximum input width: 9 inches
  • Warm-up time: 4 minutes
  • Machine weight: 2.42 pounds

Pros:

  • Built-in paper trimmer
  • Built-in hole punch
  • Included corner rounder and extra laminating pouches
  • Anti-blocking system (ABS) resolves paper jams

Cons:

  • Small items may jam in the machine

Protect and preserve photos, artwork, and documents with the Sinopuren thermal laminator. For added value, the machine offers built-in tools, including a paper trimmer and 2-hole punch. Use these features to make quick work of laminating projects. Along with built-in tools and an extra corner rounder, the package includes 10 laminating pouches in 3-mil thickness, measuring 8.26 by 11.69 inches in size.

With its 2.42-pound weight and compact size of 13.89 by 5.16 by 2.86 inches, the Sinopuren laminator is easily portable to relocate wherever a laminating project is needed. After a 3 to 4 minute warm-up period, the machine functions at a speed of 400 mm per minute. The two heated rollers are constructed of industrial-grade stainless steel to provide efficient coating and sealing of laminated items. 

Press a toggle switch on the side of this machine to alternate between 3-mil-thick and 5-mil-thick laminating projects. The 3-mil thickness produces foldable items, and 5-mil-thick laminating yields a durable and rigid, finished product. 

In case of paper jams, users can turn off the machine and press a button to activate the quick-release, anti-blocking system (ABS). This releases the project and allows users to restart the machine. With a maximum working temperature of 257°F, this laminator is equipped with an automatic shut-off system to avoid overheating.

Things to Consider Before Buying a Thermal Laminator

Hot or Cold Laminating Processes

First, decide if a cold process or a heat-assisted process will yield the most desirable results for your projects. Cold laminating uses pressure to adhere adhesive-coated plastic onto the surface of documents. Alternatively, heat-assisted lamination involves melting the adhesive in plastic pouches to form a more all-encompassing, protective coating all over the document.

Pouch Input Width

Letter-size and legal-size documents as well as general-purpose copier paper is generally 8.5 inches wide. Laminators with a maximum input width of 9 inches work well for standard documents, presentation materials, children’s artwork, and recipe cards. For posters, larger artwork, restaurant menus, and other wide documents, a laminator with a larger input width will be necessary. On the other hand, a specialized laminator designed for business cards and ID badges creates durable, rigid, plastic cards for long-term use.

Pouch Film Thickness

To accommodate multiple laminating projects, look for a laminator that functions with pouches of varying thicknesses. Those with 3-mil thickness will yield laminated objects that are flexible enough to be folded. For more rigid results, 5-mil-thick pouches are preferable. To produce hard-sided, durable identification badges and cards, use a specialized laminator that accommodates 10-mil to 30mil pouches.

Jam Release

Items occasionally jam as they pass between the heated rollers and run through thermal laminators. Many manufacturers provide anti-blocking systems (ABS) with push-button levers that cause the machines to release the jammed material.

Maximum Run Time and Automatic Shut-Off

Thermal laminators run at approximately 230° to 270°F. For safety, manufacturers recommend maximum time periods (ranging from 30 minutes to 2 hours) before the machines should be shut off and allowed to cool down. Additionally, many thermal laminators feature automatic shut-off systems that prevent the machines from overheating.

FAQs

Q: What is the difference between thermal and cold lamination?

The thermal laminating process causes an adhesive in a plastic pouch to melt, sealing it around the paper documents. Alternatively, the cold laminating process utilizes a pressure-activated adhesive to seal the document in plastic.

Q: How hot is a thermal laminator?

Thermal laminating pouches generally have a melting point between 230 and 270°F.

Q: What is the difference between thermal laminating sheets and pouches?

A laminating pouch features a sealed side that creates a pocket, resulting in formation of a 360-degree barrier around the laminated object. A laminating sheet does not offer as much protection as it coats only one side of the object.

Q: What does 3 mil and 5 mil mean on a laminator?

A 3-mil pouch is .003-inch thick, and paper laminated with a 3-mil pouch may be folded. Alternatively, a 5-mil pouch is .005-inch thick and produces a laminated piece that is too rigid for folding.

Final Thoughts on the Best Thermal Laminator

Although we live in the digital age, people frequently need to protect and preserve paper documents, photos, cards, artworks, and other items. Thermal laminating fills this need. These thermal laminators can help you create protective, plastic encasements in a variety of sizes and thicknesses to meet your needs.

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