Let's face it - laminating posters, file folder games, and bulletin board pieces can get expensive. I wish I could offer up some great alternatives to laminating but all I can tell you is that in the long run, laminating produces the best results.
In the old days, I used clear contact paper to laminate my resources but this was a difficult task. If I wasn't sticking the contact paper to a table I was putting it on crooked or leaving huge wrinkles down the center of my pretty posters - ugh! So eventually I invested in my first laminator. I actually still have the same one today. It is about 20 years old and I have had to disassemble the whole thing a few times to make it work but it does still work!
My laminator is an Ibico PL - 260 IC. It is very heavy and can only laminate paper up to 8.5 inches wide. I have bought a few newer laminators over the years but they all broke down. This exact model may no longer be available but it is my old faithful.
I usually purchase my laminating pouches from an office supply store like Staples or Office Depot but there are suppliers online as well. There are also different thicknesses but I find the 3ml does just fine for my purposes.
The problem with a small laminator is that you can only laminate small projects. One of the schools I work with has a large laminator that handles posters and large displays but let me tell that the price of that baby is up there. The other option for large pieces is to go back to the office supply store or a school supply store and have them laminate for you.
When you go to laminate small pieces, cut the pieces out first. If you laminate first then cut, the seal around the edges gets broken and chances are your pieces will start to be exposed or just slide out. ALWAYS use the cardboard pouch cover when laminating small pieces and flimsy paper or the paper will get wrapped around the roller inside the laminator. That is what I discovered the hard way but I am now quite proficient at taking my laminator apart and putting it back together again. I rarely laminate just plain pieces of paper. I only use card stock or paper with a heavier weight for best results.
If you are getting big wrinkles or tiny bubbles then your heat may be set too high. If the laminating paper isn' sticking well to the paper, then your heat may be set too low. Read the directions that come with the laminator for more info. Always put the closed end of the laminating pouches through the laminator first!
Is it worth the investment?
I think it is in the long run. I still have many of those same games and bulletin board pieces I laminated back in the old days. I also think laminating makes everything so much more shiny and pretty. Avoid laminating photos though - especially ones you value the most. Better to try that out on ones you really don't care about.
What else can be laminated?
I laminate home-made books that my preschool students have made together as a class. Then I put the book in the reading center for the children to view at will. I also laminate journal covers and name cards for the kids to use all year long. When the children need to see their name card, they just whip it out and use it. Most crayon and some markers can be wiped (or scrubbed) off of a laminated piece of card stock but not all.
See what My Bilingual Boys thinks about contact paper:)
See when to laminate and when not to laminate by Kindergarten's 3 R's: Respect, Resources, and Rants