Thursday, June 30, 2005

Sheet protectors and choice of material.

This is one question we keep received at: www.keepfiling.com : What are your sheet protectors made of what choice do I have ???

In the industry there is several different choices for raw material when manufacturing sheet protectors, page protectors, file folders, photo pages, etc. Historical wise PVC or Polyvinylchloride was the first and only material available on a large scale. This is also know as vinyl. However as the chemistry industry found new ways to develop new plastics by connecting the different molecules in the laboratories they also found a way to implement it into plastic film for sheet protectors. Today several different types of plastic film are used for the manufacturing of sheet protectors. The most know are:

  • Polyvinylchloride (PVC) also known as: vinyl
  • Polypropylene (PP)
  • Polyethylene (PE)
  • Polyester (PE)

This is the 4 major groups and each material starts out as nothing more than small plastic pellets that are then melted down to a thin film. This can be done by extrusion which means that the film are rolled out between one roll after another until it becomes the desired thickness and in some case it will be embossed with a texture in the surface to provide an "orange peel surface" or simply no texture and a complete smooth surface is made which provide a "glass clear look". Another option is to blow the film into big tubes, it is a less expensive manufacturing process but it does not provide the same quality film. A typical blown film can be detected as there are pollution in the surface of the material which often can be seen as small white dots.

Vinyl Sheet Protectors

As mentioned vinyl (PVC) use to be the preferred choice for sheet protectors. Unfortunately vinyl has a few problems. As time goes by vinyl has a tendency to stick to the content of the sheet protector and with time even copy, smear or lift off the print of the photo or document stored in the sheet protector. It also has a tendency to be come stiff and stick to the other pages if multiple pages are stored together as in a binder. But not at least it got a special odor to it specially when new. Part of the reason for this is that vinyl release a softener (plasticizers) which is added to the material in the production process to make the vinyl soft. It is the same softener that slowly get released from the material with time which may attach the content of the sheet protectors or surrounding materials when in contact. Vinyl has one great advantage. It is an easy material to work with and the machine set up process is short which means that small runs of page protectors or file jackets can easily be custom made with name in-print for restaurant menus, advertisement or similar.

Polypropylene Sheet Protectors

A good substitute material for PVC is polypropylene. It is also the most widely used material today for sheet protectors, page protectors, file jackets, cd holders and photo pages. It has a lot of advantages over vinyl. It does not stick, copy or transfer to other materials. It does not release any softener. It does not give off any odor. It is strong and ridged even when supplied as very thin film. It is even more economical compared to vinyl. Only draw back it is not possible to run small production runs of polypropylene sheet protectors. The production setup time and welding dies are simply more costly.

Different types of polypropylene film texture is available today. In general there is 3 terms when talking about polypropylene film for sheet protectors:

  • Orange peel. -This film has the surface of an orange with tiny small "hills and valleys" when looked upon close.
  • Glass clear film. -This film has a completely smooth surface which makes it very clear.
  • Non glare film. -This film has a surface that resembles a frosted mug or a sand blasted windows glass. However the surface is still smooth as with glass clear polypropylene.

Non glare and orange peel film are often "sold" as the same type of material even though it is completely different. There are companies that do this more or less on purpose so be aware specially with some of the privet label products being offered by some wholesalers and super stores as non-glare but in reality it is orange peel film which is less costly and do not look the same. It should also be added that the glass clear film exist in different types some being more glass clear than others. This has to do with the way the plastic pellets are mixed and the quality to them but obviously the more clear and transparent the material is the more expensive it becomes. One thing all 3 textures got in common they are made in polypropylene which makes them archival safe.

Polyester Sheet Protectors

Polyester is another material which I will not go into debt with but I like to highlight it for two reason mainly. It is very transparent it is as good as it gets and no doubt about it one of the best materials when very high quality sheet protectors are needed. Only one major draw back. It is extremely expensive. Polyester sheet protectors that cost $ 2.00 or more a piece is not unusually with polyester page protectors.

Polyethylene Sheet Protectors

Polyethylene is another material that is used for sheet protectors but not very often for one simple reason. The quality of the film is just not good enough when it come to clarity or transparency which after all is pretty important when storing documents in a binder or similar. The quality has improved the last couple of years but still not as good in my opinion this material is also more often a blown film. Blown into tubes which makes it good when manufacturing plastic shopping bags with color print often multi color print.

Ken's suggestion

When purchasing sheet protectors I would clearly suggest polypropylene to be the best material choice. It is economical, ridged, strong, archival safe and provides real good value for the dollar. There is a few companies that specialize in the production of polypropylene sheet protectors one is SSC Corporation who provides real good quality. They are even capable of supplying custom made pages in smaller quantities in the area of 30,000 pieces or so. For retailers I would of cause suggest our own web store at: keepfiling web store this is after all what's on focus: Archival safe binder accessories.

I hope you will read along with interest. Should you have any questions or concerns you would like to have answered you are very welcome to contact me by e-mail or or go to http://www.keepfiling.com/ and contact me directly this way. You are also very welcome to sign up for our news letter that are published 5 - 7 times every year.

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