A guide to using laminating film for Radio Controlled Model Aircraft

Modellers are a fairly thrifty bunch of people, where a dollar can be saved, it's usually done. Using laminating film in place of plastic covering films can result in a massive cost saving and provide equally good results.

Things to be immediately aware of

  • Laminating film is frosted in appearance from the roll
  • It has two distinct sides, a smooth glossy outer and a slightly opaque matt glue side
  • It is an iron on film
  • It will shrink and turn transparent when heated
  • It is extremely puncture resistant
  • It has very good tensile properties
  • It comes in a variety of thicknesses
  • It is resistant to glow fuel
  • No backing film to peel off
  • Will not adhere to itself like modelling films (glue is only active when hot)
  • It can be painted
  • ...it costs less than $1 a metre.

If you've used plastic covering films in the past, then using laminating film will require very little change in your routine. The only noticable changes that you will come across are -

  • Laminating film requires a higher temperature iron and heatgun (typ 300'C)
  • Laminating film isn't quite as stretchy as plastic films
Depending on how you view it, these two changes can either be a curse or a blessing. Having a higher temperature requirement means that you have a dramatically reduced chance of burning through the film with the iron or heat gun ( in fact, I've to date never been able to burn through the film with the iron, though I have with the heat-gun set at 500'C). The stiffer nature of laminating film makes it slightly harder to do compound curves, though they can still be done (best to tack down and use the heat gun). It is because of laminating film's vastly superior tensile strength that it's stiffer. Laminating film won't sag in the summer sun and it doesn't appear to lose that critcal washout or curvature that you spent time getting right.

Varieties of laminating film
Not all laminating films are made the same. Different brands use different glues/adhesive properties as well as plastic formulations. These changes can affect the tensile strength and bonding properties, however for the most part all laminating film works quite well. Recently there has been produced some varieties of highly flexible premium laminating films which trade the tensile strength of the film for the ability to be highly flexible, these varieties tend to cost twice as much as the standard varieties.
The most important property to be concerned about is the thickness of the film.

Thickness rangeTypical application
20~30 micron
1mil
Not frequently found in general laminating supplier catalogs. This film is quite light and rather flexible, despite being thinner it typically costs more per meter. This can be used for light weight gliders, indoor models and small parkflyers.
30~45 micron
1.5mil
The most commonly available light weight laminating film. Most often purchased in 150m / 500ft rolls. Average cost is about $50 AUD ($35 USD) per roll of 300mm (12") width. One roll of this film can last a very very long time. This film thickness works very well for models up to 1.2m (50") spans, making it great for all park models and light glow.
70~80 micron
3.0mil
Tough is one way to describe this thickness. A slipped screwdriver will merely indent the covering, which can be later removed by application of a heat-gun. The exceptional tensile strength of this thickness makes it ideal for medium level reinforcement where carbon fibre is excessive but some strength is still required, especially on solid balsa wings. Also makes a good replacement for tape on belly landers.

Applying laminating film
To make things easier, here's a short video demonstrating the application of laminating film on an open-frame 1.2m span glider wing.

Where to buy laminating film?
Most large office stores should carry laminating film in paired rolls. It's also available at NQRC (Online hobby store - based in Australia).