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What's the Difference Between an Overlay and a Laminate?

In addition to protecting your ID cards from fading, dye-migration, and regular wear from constant handling and swiping, overlays and laminate also add a layer of security to your badges by making counterfeiting, alteration, and duplication difficult and evident.

Overlays and laminates are often mentioned interchangeably. Although they offer mostly the same benefits, they are actually two distinct products.

So, what’s the difference? Continue reading to find out.


An overlay is the topcoat or the (O) panel in a printer ribbon like a YMCKO  or YMCKOK. It acts as a clear barrier, protecting the card against fading, friction, and scratches. Holographic overlays increase a card’s security with visible, light-reflecting watermarks or holograms, making the cards difficult to alter or imitate.

Overlays are applied to ID cards during the normal printing process.

Shop printer ribbons from top brands including AlphaCard, Fargo, Magicard, Evolis, Zebra, and Datacard.


A laminate is a clear protective layer of film that is thermally applied to the top of a printed card. Just like overlays, a laminate prolongs the life of a card by sealing the printed surface from elements and actions that could damage it including ultraviolet rays, constant swiping, or exposure to chemicals. In terms of enhancing a badge’s security, some laminates feature special holograms and designs that facilitate visual authentication of badges.

Laminates are applied to plastic ID badges by a special laminating module of ID card printers and require a laminate film in addition to the color or monochrome ribbon you use to print your card design.

Shop laminates from top brands including Fargo, Evolis, Zebra, and Datacard.


Simply put, an overlay is the topcoat in the print ribbon, while a laminate is the roll or film that is applied over the surface of a printed card.

Still confused? Call our friendly ID professionals for a more detailed explanation at 1-800-667-1772. You can also e-mail us through this page.

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