Laminating school materials is one of the best ways to ensure those materials stay protected and reusable for long periods of time. While the lamination process itself is simple and easy to do, finding a laminator that meets all the wants and needs of a teacher is another story. After comparing 19 laminators on things like size, efficiency, quality, and price, we think the best laminator for teachers is the Scotch TL901C-T. Not only does it work like a charm, laminating letter-sized paper in less than a minute, but it's also easily affordable for any budget. However, if you frequently need to laminate materials larger than 9" in width, we'd go with the Fellowes Saturn3i 125. Article Summary
Being a teacher is both one of the hardest, yet one of the most rewarding professions in the world. As one, you are literally shaping the future of the world by educating new generations. Teachers use a variety of tools and supplies for different aspects of class, from simple things like pens and pencils to more complex devices like projects and microscopes (although hopefully your school provides these for you, because those suckers aren’t cheap!). One thing that’s on the easier side of the cost spectrum, and something every classroom should have is a good laminator.
Whether you are making different types of passes for your students, or you just want to make a piece of learning material last longer, it’s hard to imagine doing it any other way than using lamination. Laminated materials can literally last for years, protected against most common classroom damage like markings or food and water.
Finding the best laminator for teachers really comes down to size and performance. You want something that can laminate materials fairly quickly and handle a large load without overheating, and you also want it to be able to handle all sorts of paper sizes from small to large. The only real issue with finding something like this is that a huge majority of them receive frequent complaints of poor quality and jamming, and on top of that there are very few models that can laminate beyond standard letter-sized paper.
We gathered details on 19 different laminators and began comparing them based on their size, performance, price, and whether they had a fairly good reputation among users. We specifically looked for issues of jamming, overheating, slow warm up time, or other reports of poor quality. After the process of elimination, we’ve settled on three highly-rated models that we think make excellent laminators for teachers.
The best laminator for teachers overall
Our top pick is not only one of the best laminators out there, but also one of the cheapest. The Scotch TL901C-T Thermal Laminator brings just the right number of features necessary to make it perfectly practical from most teachers’ points of view. The only small drawback is the sizing which is limited at 9” width, but as long as you won’t be needing to laminate oversized paper often (if so, check out the next model in our guide), we think it’s the best laminator for teachers overall.
First thing first, the TL901C-T warms up in just 3-4 minutes, quicker than 90% of the other laminators we considered. That means that you don’t have to turn it on at the beginning of the class, or as soon as you get to your office. Instead, you can just let it warm up whenever you actually need it.
In terms of raw performance, you are looking at one letter-sized paper being laminated within a minute. In other words, if you have 30 students, you can laminate a standard piece of paper for each one of them within half an hour. When compared to other models we looked at, that is pretty decent coming from a laminator that is as affordable as this one.
The maximum pouch size is 9” in width, but there are smaller ones available as well in case you’ve got smaller materials to laminate. The thickness of the pouches is also another metric worth mentioning; this laminator is capable of handling either 3 mil or 5 mil pouches. Because of that, you have two temperature settings to accommodate both. In the case of misfeeds, there is a lever you can pull to eject the pouch, which saves a ton of headaches trying to rip the jammed pouch out of the feed. Like most laminators, you will need to buy your own pouches, but having the ability to choose different sizes both in length/width and thickness is a great benefit.
When it comes to the build quality, you are looking at a very sturdy laminator that has been designed to withstand frequent use. The body is a bit chunky, but then again no one is really buying a laminator for looks, but rather performance (which we’ve explained is top notch). Once you are done with laminating your material, just unplug the laminator and you can store the power cord in a compartment that is built into the device itself.
The type of quality Scotch TL901C-T offers is very professional. The papers you laminate won’t peel apart even if the lamination is being exposed to frequent abuse in the classroom. This combination of a simple design, quality performance, and a generally affordable price is exactly why we have picked this Scotch model as the best laminator for teachers.
A larger, more featured-packed laminator
Compared to the Scotch model we have just talked about, Fellowes’ Saturn3i 125 has quite a few additional benefits to offer. However, we need to preface that by saying that this laminator is a bit on the expensive side. With that said, for the higher price, you get a laminator that is not only aesthetically better looking, but also has a faster warm-up time, larger paper feed, and automatic shut-off feature to help conserve energy and prevent overheating.
First thing first, compared to the Scotch’s maximum paper width of 9”, the Saturn3i extends that to 12.5”. If you need to laminate anything larger than standard letter-sized paper, this is the best laminator to do it, hands-down. In terms of pocket thickness, you are looking at the same 3 mil and 5 mil options as Scotch, with the addition of cold setting. Cold setting is used when you have self-adhesive pouches which require no melting in order to work. Whether or not a self-adhesive pouch is better than a standard one is up for debate, but it ultimately depends on your intended application.
One feature that really makes the Saturn3i a great choice for your average classroom is its warmup time. You are looking at one-minute warm-up before the device is ready for use – that is pretty impressive. On a similar note, as a teacher, you need to focus on your students all of the time, especially if they are younger kids. That kind of hectic environment can cause to forget about the laminator altogether. That is why Saturn3i comes with an auto shut-off function that will both save energy and also prevent it from overheating and causing an incident in the classroom.
The main reason why we chose the Fellowes Saturn3i 125 as our second pick instead of first was due to the cost. If it weren’t for the high price, we probably would’ve labeled this model as the best laminator for classroom usage. However, being three times more expensive than Scotch’s TL901C-T, this is not the best bang for your buck (which is ultimately what most teachers are looking for, after talking to several). With that said, if you value the larger feed size, quick warm-up time, and auto shut-off function, this laminator is the one you should go with.
One last thing about the price – unfortunately, models which claim to offer the same features as this one and are cheaper, are going to be less reliable. If you are already investing money into a piece of gear, you might as well get one that will work and last over time.
A good bang for your buck
If for some strange reason none of the above two picks worked for you, we’d recommend Swingline’s GBC Inspire as a third choice. The performance of the GBC Inspire is a little on the slower side, but it does get the job done nicely and consistently. It’s also fairly cheap, around the same price as the Scotch model.
The GBC Inspire is limited to a maximum width of 9″ in total, which puts it up there with the majority of models on the market. Now, Swingline markets this as a fast warm-up laminator, but we find that to be a bit misleading. It takes the Inspire some 7 minutes of warm up time before it can be used. That is a bit excessive even in this price range, especially when you’ve got the Scotch laminator which is ready to go in half the time.
This laminator is capable of using both 3 mil and 5 mil pouches just like the others, although the latter takes a little longer to process and is limited to a format of 4×6 inches. While it does take longer to warm up, Swingline states that it takes the GBC Inspire a minute to go through 10 Inches of material. This is about on par with the speed of both our other picks, making it a quick worker once it’s taken its sweet time to warm up.
The main reason the Swingline GBC Inspire made our top three was because of its low cost and reliability. It may be a little slow to warm up and somewhat limited, but it will work whenever you need it to, which is something that can’t be said about a lot of laminators. In a classroom environment, reliability is one of the most important characteristics, and you shouldn’t have to deal with something that jams every five minutes. However, as mentioned above, we would only recommend that you choose this model as a last ditch solution if you can’t work with our two previous picks.
How we picked our top three
Choosing the best laminator for teachers is a very different process than simply finding the best laminator in general. A classroom is the type of environment that brings its own set of requirements for any appliance you want to use there. Here are some of the most important factors that needed to be met by our picks.
While warm-up time is probably not that important when you are using a laminator at home, we think it plays a certain role in a classroom environment. Having the machine up and ready for use within 3-4 minutes is the sweet spot for our intended purposes. Any longer than that and you are already entering the territory of less feasible models. Our picks span throughout the entire spectrum of warm-up speeds, allowing you to pick the one you feel most comfortable with. Just be sure to let the laminator warm up properly, or you will end up with documents that are going to split pretty easily.
Commercial laminators, such as the ones intended for home use, aren’t really built for speed. Even so, some are definitely faster than the others. As a teacher, you might be asked to laminate material for your class, or even for an entire grade. If that happens to be the case, the speed with which your laminator is capable of pushing out finished product is going to be pretty important. Each of the models we chose are capable of laminating about a page a minute, making them fairly quick in comparison to most other models we looked at.
One thing to remember about the speed of lamination, though, is that faster is not always better. To be more specific, if the quality is compromised on account of speed, that is no good. Finding a balance between quality and speed is essential, which is precisely what we looked for when shooing the best laminators for teachers.
Lamination width and thickness
The width of the feed and the capability of using multiple thicknesses were also two fairly important features to us. We know that most teachers will have a wide variety of materials to laminate, so it was important to find models that could handle anything from small notecards to normal letter-sized paper, as well as multiple thicknesses to offer different levels of material protection. Each of our picks can handle 3 mil or 5 mil lamination pouches. Two can handle up to 9″ paper width, which we figured was good enough for most teachers, but we also considered the fact that some teachers might require even larger-than-average paper sizes, which is why we included the Fellowes Saturn3i which is capable of laminating 12.5″ in width.
The unfortunate truth about the world we live in is that being a teacher is not a highly paid profession. For some reason, that seems to be a problem all across the world. Since there is no guarantee a school would agree to cover the expense of a laminator, we have put the price of the device as an important deciding factor. As a teacher, you definitely don’t want to spend too much money on a laminator, but you also don’t want to cheap out to a point where performance and longevity are put to risk. We feel that the models we have shown you here are priced very reasonably considering the features they bring to the table.
Things to consider before buying
When you are shopping for a laminator, whether you are a teacher or not, there are some things to consider before making a final choice. We are going to cover the most important ones, which should help you find the perfect model for your personal usage.
What size materials will you be laminating?
This is really the most important thing to consider before buying a laminator for classroom use. Like we’ve mentioned above, as a teacher, you’ll be dealing with a pretty wide variety of material sizes. The majority of those will probably be standard letter-sized paper, but consider whether you’ll have other material sizes to laminate too. If you’ll have larger paper sizes often, going with a larger laminator makes sense so that you have the ability to go big when you need to. However, if you don’t think you’ll go over standard letter paper, any 9″-width model will work as they are all capable of handling smaller materials too.
Will you use different lamination thicknesses?
The thickness of laminating pouches is another factor. Most of them claim to be able to work with both 3 mil and 5 mil pouches, which are the most standard choices out there. However, not all of them are capable of properly laminating a 5 mil pouch. Why would you use a 5 mil pouch at all? Well, there are numerous reasons to do so, but durability is by far one of the most obvious ones. If you are looking to protect your materials for as long as possible, putting it in a thicker pouch will definitely help. The standard 3 mil thickness is pretty decent for things you want to protect for a while, but it doesn’t react well to constant abuse. Since we know how kids can be sometimes, using a thicker pouch might be the way to go.
What kind of pouches will you use?
Laminating pouches come in various shapes and sizes. When you are figuring out the cost of the machine, it would be smart to factor in the cost of laminating pouches as well. That way you will know exactly how much the whole thing is going to cost you. Some laminating machines might require you to get special laminating pouches, while others work with just about anything. If you get a laminator that is capable of cold lamination, self-adhesive pouches become an option as well.
Why you should be using a laminator on your school materials
Do you absolutely need a laminator? No, but having one is seriously beneficial. Below are some of the key benefits in keeping your school materials laminated.
It makes learning material last longer
Let’s say you are running a class where you need to periodically give out learning material. If that material doesn’t change from year to year, having it laminated allows you to create a single batch and reuse it every year. Otherwise, if you were just handing out paper, it would probably last a couple of months before it becomes completely unusable. We aren’t only talking about the structure of the paper, which would probably get folded an infinite amount of times, but also the ink. On the other hand, if you laminate a piece of paper, not only is it hard to fold, but the ink on the paper is not exposed to wear.
It helps keep materials organized
If you are organizing your teaching material in various binders, having the pages laminated will make your life so much easier. One thing that happens often with binders is that pages get easily ripped out of them, mostly on accident. Now, picture all of your binders containing laminated pages. The amount of force necessary to rip a laminated piece of paper out of a binder is pretty high. In other words, lamination can single-handedly reduce the risk of your documents being ripped out of the binder by as much as 99%.
Your students will appreciate it
Some schools issue out a whole variety of passes and different cards to their students. Even if your students keep these cards in their wallets, if they are old enough to use one, chances are they won’t last too long. Laminating the cards will extend that lifetime to a point where students won’t have to worry too much about the state of the cards or passes. Not only that, but you won’t have to issue out new ones too often either.
Wrapping it up
At the end of the day, laminators are one of those unconventional tools that every teacher should have in their classrooms. This becomes even more true if your school isn’t too strict about the nature of the material you are allowed to use in your class. The truth is that all three of the laminators we chose will work great for a classroom. The only thing you need to do before making your final decision is to define what kind of application you have in mind. That way, you pick the model that will best fit all of your needs both now and in the future.