I recently got a chance to try out a device that’s usually something you’d find in offices or schools, but I’ve found it also has some pretty great uses for tabletop gamers like me. The GBC Foton30 Laminator is fully automated, allowing you to stack up to 30 documents, hit a button, and have everything laminated and trimmed.
Okay, the bad news first: the Foton30 doesn’t come cheap. It’s priced at $799.99, which includes a 50′ starter cartridge of the 3 mil film. Additional cartridges range from $49.99 to $74.49, depending on whether you use the 3 mil or 5 mil plastic, and the length of the roll (between 70′ and 185′). I was provided with a 185′ cartridge of the 3mil plastic as a backup, a $69.99 value.
With that out of the way, here are some of the features. First, the Foton30 uses a film cartridge that consists of two rolls of film. It’s easy to drop in the cartridge (which only fits into the machine in one direction), and you don’t have to fiddle with individual pouches for each document that you’re laminating. Instead, you just feed the documents in, and they get sandwiched between the two layers.
The feed tray allows you to stack up to 30 letter-sized documents, up to 11″ wide, so you can laminate some fairly large documents. The speed (according to the website) is 29.1″ per minute. One particularly nice feature, if you’re laminating many documents at once, is that it automatically trims between documents, leaving about a quarter-inch margin on the edges. (The margins on the sides will vary, since the film is 11.5″ wide.)
The Foton30 has an “auto-deskew” feature that is supposed to automatically align pages if they’re fed in crooked, though with the adjustable guides on the feeder, my papers were all fairly well aligned going into the machine anyway.
Depending on what you’re laminating, you may need to trim the sides. I did a test run using some sheets from Welcome To…, a flip-and-fill game where each player marks on their own sheet of paper. Typically these sheets are used up after you play, but laminating them allows you to use dry-erase markers and re-use them. I sent a batch of 20 sheets (2 different types) through the machine, which took about 7 minutes. Because these sheets are only 7.5″ wide, there’s some trimming needed on the sides.
Overall, the performance was great. The Foton30 needed a couple of minutes to warm up when I first turned it on, but then I stacked everything in and hit “start” and let it run. There were two sheets that came through with a bit of a wrinkle (as seen in the photo above), but for the most part everything was clean—no wrinkles, no bubbles.
The Foton30 came with a single-sheet quick start guide (laminated, naturally), but you can get the full manual and troubleshooting guide on the website. For the most part, though, this is pretty much all you’ll need.
Here’s a clip of the Foton30 in action. (My six-year-old was pleased with the “music” that the laminator made while doing its job.)
There isn’t a tray to catch all the documents when they come out the back. Since I’m just using this at home and didn’t have the desk or counter space for it, I just had it on the floor instead, but if you have it on a desk you may want to have some sort of tray to catch things as they’re trimmed.
The Foton30 is best for when you’re laminating a stack of documents at once, because it starts to feed the next sheet before the first one is all the way through, so that it can leave only a half-inch of lamination between the two documents. Because the trimmer is a couple inches from the cartridge, there’s about 5″ of wasted lamination each time you start a new batch, as it rolls the already-sealed portion forward to the trimmer. Laminating single sheets would result in a lot more waste.
The control panel is very simple. For the most part, you’ll probably just use the power and the run/stop buttons at the right. The mode button allows you to choose from auto-feed and auto-cut, manual feed and auto-cut, and manual feed and manual cut (with a cut button next to it). There are also indicators for when the door is open, when there’s a jam, and if there’s a problem with the cutter.
I did have a “jam” error that came up when the sample film cartridge ran out, though I wasn’t able to get the jam to clear even when the paper was gone. Looking up the troubleshooting manual, I found that I was able to clear it by holding the run/stop button for a few seconds to run some extra film through, and then I was ready to go.
The “low” film indicator lights up when you have about 30 pages’ worth of film left to go.
Near the end of the roll, there are some stickers that appear on the edges of the film—these must be what triggers the “empty” indicator on the laminator. Fortunately, the Welcome To… sheet I was laminating at the time was narrow enough (7.5″ wide) that it avoided the stickers, but otherwise you’d have to peel them off. They do come off the plastic, but you might need a little something to get rid of all the sticky residue.
For me, the laminator is a great appliance to go with the current trend of roll-and-write games, because I can laminate 5 to 10 copies of each sheet, and then use dry-erase markers when playing the games. I do end up trimming the sheets again (for instance, the Welcome To… sheets are sized to fit the box, so an extra 1/4″ margin on each side makes them too big).
Of course, it does take a significant amount of lamination before your investment in a Foton30 would be more economical than just laminating at a copy shop, even with the time saved by using the automated feed and cut features. My guess is that, unless you’re laminating a significant number of documents at home, this is really something more suited for an office, but it’s certainly been nice to try out.
For more information about the GBC Foton30 (or other laminators), visit the GBC website.
Disclosure: Sample unit and lamination cartridge provided by GBC for review purposes.