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Laminator Love

What is my favorite Montessori home schooling office supply?  My laminator!  At least once a week you will find my laminator out and in use making various cards for the classroom.  Since I started tracking I am about to order my 7th set of laminator sheets from Amazon.  That means I have gone through 600 in the last 18 months or so!  When you consider most cards are 4-6 per page you quickly realize that I have made a lot of cards.  Since I knew my usage would be exceptionally high I was very cautious about my machine of choice.

Here are some of the key features I looked for:

High Heat with Precise Temperature Control – It’s difficult for a one or two temperature laminator to get your material hot enough, especially if you print on card stock and use 5 mil pouches as I do.  When items aren’t laminated at a high enough temperature you will not get a crystal clear result.  The sheet will remain slightly cloudy or have streaks.  For my beast I’ve found that 290 is the perfect temp.

Larger Size – I wanted something that was large enough to take a letter sized pouch both portrait and landscape.  Obviously, it’s much faster when you can insert the pouches in landscape orientation.  Although I've yet to have a need to laminate with larger pouches, I could if I wanted.

Silicone Rollers – Silicone rollers tend to grip better, distribute heat evenly and make a machine much, much easier to repair if something does get stuck.  Yes I have had that happen once and my machine made a complete recovery.  No, I don’t have to use carrier pouches.

4 Rollers – A four roller system uses separate rollers for entry and exit of the laminator pouch.  It makes it easier to feed since the two rollers in the front take control of the pouch much quicker.  It also prevents buckling of the pouch.

I chose the Apache AL18P.  It met every one of my criteria.  Not only that, I was able to get it for $60 from Amazon.  Unfortunately, it is much more expensive now.  If you're looking for something a bit less robust, I hear the Scotch Thermal Laminator is great as well.

Now let’s talk pouches…
My criteria was much easier in that department. Truthfully, most laminator pouch quality doesn’t vary that much.  In almost every single case a cloudy or streaky result is an issue with the laminator itself not being hot enough.  While, 3 mil seems to be the standard pouch size of choice.  I prefer 5 mil and use it exclusively.  When paired with cardstock, a 5 mil pouch results in a wonderfully strong card.  Given that the cost between 3 mil and 5 mil isn’t substantial, I would highly recommend going with the thicker option… provided your laminator can handle it.

These are the pouches I commonly use from Amazon.  And in case you’re curious I use this card stock.  It frequently drops to $6.

And finally the cutting stage…
Cutting cards has become a therapeutic activity.  It’s something I’ll often do late on the weekends when my husband and I are watching a movie.  And yes, I realize that means I’m not intently watching the moving but that’s just the kind of high-strung person I am.

For a long time I struggled with Cut-Laminate-Cut vs. Laminate-Cut.  Here is when I use each one.

Cutting the cards before laminating gives the advantage of making cards watertight.  The key is that when cutting the laminated cards, you must ensure that there is enough border on each side to keep the seal intact.  This produces a larger card.  I also find that the lamination only edges are a bit sharper.  This process is much more time consuming and laminate-cut.  I only use it when making cards that will get treated rough (toddler usage) or will be near water.

For this approach you simply laminate a full printed sheet of cards and only cut them once they have been laminated.  It's an easy way to get the job done.  Since most of the cards I make are for primary (3-6) work, I use this method most.  As long as you use a quality pouch and high enough heat, the laminating material should not come off.  I find I can get card sets more evenly sized when I’m not trying to guess at how much edging to leave.  The downside is that it does not produce a true seal around the edges.  If they get wet, they will still run (if using an inkjet printer).  A resourceful child could also pull them apart if they really wanted to, although they would have to try pretty hard.  I have only had 2-3 cards destroyed with water so far and they were easy to recreate.

Next I’ll have to talk about how to store them… once I figure out a good method myself!  I've tried a number of things and I hope I'm getting close to a winner.

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