The Best Toner Transfer Laminators

Written by dan eash
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The Best Toner Transfer Laminators
With the right laminator you can print your own circuit boards. (Printed Circuit Board image by Rob Hill from Fotolia.com)

Almost everyone uses laminators to protect important documents but it's not all they're good for. Electronics hobbyists have learnt that some laminators can transfer the toner from a wiring layout image to a blank circuit board. It's an effective and cheap way to print custom PCBs (printed circuit boards) before etching them to make a finished product. The best laminators for this purpose have heating elements inside their rollers but they cost thousands. These laminators can do the same thing for considerably less.

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LP-120 Laminator

The LP-120 is a generic, Chinese-made laminator that's distributed under a number of different brands but with the same model number. You can buy an LP-120 for about £32, which is much less than you'd expect. Its feed path handles thicknesses of up to 2 millimetres so you can run 1.5-millimetre PCBs through it with room to spare. The LP-120 also has a temperature control that adjusts from 100 to 160 degrees Celsius so you can set a temperature that works for you. It even accommodates widths of up to 12 centimetres but you get better results with PCBs that aren't wider than 10 centimetres. As long as you stay within the LP-120's limitations, its four-roller system, with two heat and two pressure rollers, will deliver excellent toner transfers to your circuit boards.

GBC "Personal" Laminator

The average budget laminator has two pressure rollers that sandwich everything together, followed by two heat plates that make a permanent bond. This works well for laminating documents with a plastic coating but it doesn't work at all for transferring circuit images to a PCB. To adequately fuse toner from these images onto a circuit board, you need to deliver heat and pressure at exactly the same time. The GBC "Personal" laminator accomplishes this by bending its heat plates and putting them directly above and below the pressure rollers. Instead of heating the material, its heat plates warm up the pressure rollers so the heat goes where it's needed. The GBC "Personal" also has a high-torque motor, a 9-inch wide feed path and two temperature settings. At the high setting, this laminator generates the 135 degrees Celsius required for good toner transfers. It's hard to believe that £45 can buy you a laminator that delivers results that until now were only possible with £1,621 and up "hot roll" laminators. That's a lot of bang for the buck.

GBC H-220 Laminator

The GBC H-220 has the same clever design and 9-nch feed path as the GBC "Personal" but in a more modern and attractive package. It also has a "Jam Release" lever to relieve roller pressure when there's a feeding problem and an electronic temperature control with status lights that let you know when it's ready. At £84, GBC's H-220 is less of a bargain than its "Personal" laminator but it's still a great buy if you want a stylish unit with some extra bells and whistles.

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