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 important, the amount of pressure from the rollers. Having a high capacity laminator can make all the difference if you're using textured and/or heavyweight paper stocks. Pouch laminators come in 4 flavors, categorized as: 3mil, 5mil, 7mil and 10mil. These numbers refer to the laminator's capability or heat and pressure to be able to seal whatever is put in a plastic pouch. Inexpensive laminators you find at retail stores (under $150 price range) are normally the 3 and 5mil type units. The 7mil type units are hard to find, so the 10mil laminator is the only other option. This is as high as it goes before you get into "roll laminators" which are in the $1,000+ price range - so forget them.
When you're working with heavy-weight papers and even add into the formula, textured surfaces, the only real choice is the 10mil type units. These are also available at better office supply stores, however, their price tags are up in to the $250+ range. These units are all big-brand names like Fellows, Swingline, GBC, Royal, etc. There ARE inexpensive "no brand name" 10mil units found online in the USA in the $100 ~ $140 price range. There are exactly two: Apache and Tamerica.
We compared the two, giving them a full workout. Both work fine but there are several reasons to endorse the Tamerica "SM330" over the Apache "AL-13P". The Tamerica is superior in workmanship, mechanical design, serviceability and safety. The adage "You get what you pay for" couldn't be more true because the Tamerica is $40 more than the Apache is $100. Here's the inside scoop on a head-to-head comparison...
APACHE 'AL13P' vs. TAMERICA 'SM-330'
ADVANTAGES OF 'TAMERICA SM-330' OVER 'APACHE AL13P'
Works right out of the box with no modifications needed (the APACHE unit must be modified - see below)
Superior internal design to apply even roller pressures across the 12" width
Much higher quality manufacturing
Over-Temp Safety Shut-down Feature (not found on the Apache)
Tamerica SM-330 is South Korean designed vs. the Apache's basic Chinese design
USA Tamerica Importer based in Rancho Cucamonga, California vs several unknown importers for the Apache unit
Availability from us and other well-known laminator resellers on the web
We offer our own Tech Support direct as we know this unit inside and out. (APACHE offers no Tech Support)
APACHE "AL13P" - street price ranges from $90 ~ $120
TAMERICA "SM-330" very stable pricing at $140
COMPARING THE DIFFERENCES: Tamerica vs. Apache AL13P
(Hover over image (or tap on mobile device) for description of photo)
APACHE "AL13P" Modifications 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:
Remove the 4 'corner' screws (not the ones circled on the right.) to remove the beige cover.
Flip the unit right-side up and CAREFULLY lift off and rotate the cover out of the way.
Plug in the unit, insert the CarrierBoard and run it until the board about half-way.
Turn off and UNPLUG the unit.
NOTE: Newer models have the 4 adjustment screws reversed so adjustments are done from the inside of the chassis.
You may want to disconnect the ribbon cable from the top cover for better access.
Find the 4 springs that are captivated in these 4 long screws that connect to "J" hooks on top. Notice how there is a slight gap between the coil turns of the springs.
Tighten these 4 screws one at a time so that the spacing on the spring coils are just BARELY touching but not "bottoming out"!
Plug the top cover connector back into the circuit board (if removed earlier) and turn the unit on to pass the CarrierBoard out of the unit.
EUROPEAN CUSTOMERS: Finding a 220 volt laminator outside North America
There are several units we've seen in UK, AU and Mainland Europe:
Here's the trick to finding a good 10mil laminator. Go to "www.google.com/images" then enter the search term, "220 volt pouch laminator". This will present you with pages of laminator images. Look for a unit that resembles the beige unit here. When you find a unit's photo, click on the "Visit Page" link to take you to the vendor's website page for more info (respective country, cost, etc).
These two images are the most common generic "no-name" Chinese designs. Normally they will have a name on them from the reseller. 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 fine but a bit "overkill". Two rollers are acceptable, but most are 4 roller. Unit should have dual-heaters. Note: Some "square" box looking units are of the old "heater plate" design that do not heat the rollers - you do NOT want that type because you want heat and pressure at the same time, so only "heated roller" designs will work. (There are very few of this "heater plate" design type on the market.)
IMPORTANT! NEVER LEAVE THE ROOM WHEN ANY LAMINATOR IS RUNNING!
And, if using the Apache AL-13P... it is highly recommended to mount a smoke detector above your work area!
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 is there is a malfunction in the temperature sensor. 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 while it's running.
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.