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What's the best laminator to use? That depends...
It all depends on what kind of papers you'll be foiling. Most all inexpensive laminators will work IF your papers are very lightweight. The problem comes in when the capacity of the laminator is not high enough and equally imporant, the amount of pressure from the rollers. The transport speed is also of concern, but if you have a high capacity unit, speed isn't the biggest issue.
Having a high capacity laminator of course makes all the difference when you're using textured and/or heavyweight paper stocks. The highest capacity for a "pouch laminator" is the 10mil capacity so we went hunting for the "best-bang-for-the-buck". It came down to 2 units in the USA (110v) with the lowest retail price. Here is the comparison.
APACHE 'AL13P' vs. TAMERICA 'SM-330' (Head-to-Head Comparison)
If you are going to be foiling heavy paper weights and/or textured paper stocks you'll definitely want a "10mil" type pouch laminator to deliver high capacity of heat and pressure to make foils fuse properly over a range of paper stocks.
In the "$150 and less price range, There are only two "10mil" laminators to choose from for great performance for all paper weights and textures... but there is a difference between them.
First of all, being "off brand" units saves you about $100 right off over comparable "name brand" 10mil laminators (like Fellows, GBC, Swingline and others.) In 2016 we did a head-to-head comparison of both units, and for basic performance they both work well as "10mil" type units. They will handle the heaviest of stock papers to give you perfect foil transfers. However, when it comes to what's 'under the hood' the Tamerica wins hands-down. We should point out that there is about $40 difference in "street price". For starters and one of the most important safety features, the Tamerica unit has a sensor to detect "temperature controller failure" and will shut down the unit... the Apache does not.
ADVANTAGES OF 'TAMERICA SM-330' ADVANTAGES OVER 'APACHE AL13P'
TAMERICA SM-330 INTERNAL CONSTRUCTION:
This is where the big differences lie with the "SM-330"...
Steel Drive Gears // Heavy Duty Reversible Motor & Overheat Sensor // uP Controller w/Overtemp // Pressure Regulating Roller Pressure
APACHE "AL13P" MODIFICATION REQUIRED
The 10mil Apache "AL13P" laminator must have the roller pressure increased from it's factory settings. First ensure the unit is cool and unplugged! Notice there are 8 screws on the base plate; 4 in the far corners of the unit, and 4 inset an inch circled in red.)
MODIFICATION OF ROLLER SPRING TENSIONING:
NOTE: Newer models (left photo) have the 4 adjustment screws reversed so adjustments are done from the inside of the chassis.
FINDING "220 VOLT" LAMINATORS OUTSIDE NORTH AMERICA
There are several units we've seen in UK, AU and Mainland Europe:
Here's the trick to find a good 10mil laminator. Go to "www.google.com/images" then enter the search term, "220 volt pouch laminator". This will present you with hundreds of laminator images. Now the hunt is on! When you find a prospective unit photo, by clicking on the "Visit Page" will take you to the particular vendor's website page for more info (country, cost, etc).
The most common generic "no-name" Chinese design is shown on the left. The next most common unit looks like this unit on the right.
Make sure the selected unit is wired for 220 volt. We're sure there are a lot of other units that look differently from these two so this is where you'll have to do some research on the specs. Some units are 6 roller and that's overkill. Two rollers are acceptable - most are 4. Dual heaters is normal on 1 pair of rollers. Note: Some "square" box looking units are the old "heater plates" which you do NOT want! We must have heat and pressure at the same time, so only heated roller designs will work. There are VERY FEW 'heater plate' designs still on the market.
NEVER LEAVE THE ROOM WHEN ANY LAMINATOR IS RUNNING!
All laminators run very hot upwards of 300ºF ~ 350ºF. Some pouch laminator manufacturers have 'auto-shutoff' after a period of time and some don't have overheat sensors to shut down the unit. Here are our two suggestions for good safety when using ANY hot laminator. Because these units run very quietly, it's easy to forget you have it running and leave the room where it's operating.
Pickup one of these very inexpensive battery-operated Smoke Detectors from your local hardware store. Place it above the area where you use this laminator.
Power Plug Timer:
We highly recommend using a "timer". For peace of mind we strongly suggest you to use an automatic shutoff device because you might forget and leave the area altogether. A unit that we like is the Belkin brand "Conserve Energy Saving Outlet" ($14~$19 on Amazon). These are both cheap insurance in the event there was a malfunction that could result in a fire.