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Synthetic Substrates vs Lamination: Your Guide to Decision Making

Synthetic Substrates v Lamination-your guide to decision making-02

What’s one of the biggest staples inside every restaurant and bar across the country (aside from the food, drinks and service, of course)?

The menu.

Restaurateurs know the importance of the menu. It’s a direct representation of their establishment. Which is exactly why they spend copious amounts of time sweating over the details. How does it look? How does it feel? What type of impression does it create?

So when it comes to actually producing the menu, is it better to opt for lamination or choose a durable substrate from the get-go that can withstand demanding environment conditions?

Let’s evaluate the key considerations.

What is Lamination?

Lamination is a common and relatively effective method for protecting printed materials from elements and wear. This post-press process (after printing) involves applying a thin film of plastic to the document, making the printed material tear-proof and water resistant. In addition to menus, lamination is often used for items that are frequently handled, such as book covers, brochures, identification cards and more.


What is a Synthetic Substrate?

Whereas paper-based substrates contain wood pulp and natural fibers, synthetics are most commonly made of some type of polymer film like polyester, polypropylene or vinyl. The result is a quality so high that it can be difficult to distinguish a synthetic sheet from that of ‘real paper’. They are also known for their incredible strength and durability, as synthetics are tear-, water- and grease-resistant.  Mohawk Premium Polyester is even alcohol-resistant!



With lamination, two basic styles exist: a ‘sealed edge’ or ‘flush cut’ method.

sealed edge method is when the plastic laminate film extends past the edge of the printed piece, completely encapsulating the document in plastic. The plastic lip that hangs around the perimeter is typically 1/8” to 1/2”, creating a strong seal and ensuring dirt and fluids do not penetrate the document. While this method offers the strongest protection, it is also considered to be the most unsightly.

flush cut method is when the lamination is trimmed so that the film is even, or ‘flush’, with the edge of the printed piece. While more aesthetically pleasing than the sealed edge method, a flush cut does not provide optimum protection from moisture.

Whereas you must choose between aesthetics and durability with lamination, synthetic substrates provide a clean look while also protecting the entire document.

Winner: Synthetics


Look, Feel and Appeal

From afar, a laminated document may look very similar to one that was printed using a synthetic substrate. Look closely, however, and you’ll quickly notice a few key differences.

While lamination can leave an unattractive plastic film border around your printed piece, the look of a synthetic substrate is tight, professional and elegant.

Another telltale characteristic of a laminated piece is its stiff, unnatural feel and don’t forget distracting laminate glare. Synthetic substrates, meanwhile, are known for their exceptional opacity and smooth, paper-like feel.

Winner: Synthetics



Synthetics are known for their exceptional versatility, coming in a variety of colors, weights and film types. Most can also be folded, die-cut, embossed, hole punched and perforated. Many of these traits are not possible or would be very costly with laminated products. For instance, laminating a die-cut printed piece would require timely, manual trimming. Meanwhile, a laminated document that is hole-punched may become susceptible to moisture penetration.

Winner: Synthetics



A major benefit offered by synthetics is their ability to deliver quality and durability directly from the printer output tray, without requiring any post-press finishing. By removing added process steps, synthetics provide time and cost savings when compared with lamination. Synthetic prints are ready in minutes, not hours, and are up to 35% more cost effective than lamination.

Winner: Synthetics

Want to give Synthetics a try?

Mohawk offers one of the most comprehensive portfolios of synthetic products on the market, suitable for both dry toner and HP Indigo presses. Choose among a range of product lines, finishes, colors, sizes and weights. A variety of dimensional products are also available – from multi-up ID cards to wrist bands – reducing turnaround times by eliminating the need for die cutting. Check out these real-world examples of Mohawk Synthetics in action:

  • When a large convenience chain needed heavy-duty signage that could withstand the moisture and temperatures inside its refrigerators, they selected Mohawk’s Dimensional Premium Polyester Wobbler.
  • Premium Polyester is a perfect catch for the Goode Co. Seafood menu.
  • Mohawk Synthetic Paper is softer on bindery and converting equipment leading to a perfect solution for Tags 4 Less.

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