Lamination serves two purposes: it makes sheets of printed paper sturdier and it protects paper from spills and the elements of weather. Lamination can be cumbersome -- requiring a heat method or an expensive lamination machine, and it will occasionally come apart at the seams. There are several alternatives to lamination; some protect the paper, others stabilize it and some do both. All have different cost points and methods of application.
If your project requires that the paper be sturdier but doesn't necessarily require the protection that lamination offers, card stock offers an easy-to-use, inexpensive alternative. You can usually find card stock at office supplies stores, and it is usually bendable enough to fit into your printer, though you may have to adjust paper settings on the print window. Card stock doesn't bend easily in hand, helping to avoid inadvertent bends and kinks. But it doesn't offer the water protection of lamination, and it will absorb water and other spills like regular printer paper.
If you need to protect your paper from the elements, but you don't necessarily need the sturdiness of lamination, you could use plastic sheet protectors. These can also be found at most office supply stores. They are essentially a sleeve of plastic open at one end, which allows you to slide paper in and out. They are reusable and will keep paper pristine as long as a spill doesn't seep through the top.
If your print job is large enough, and you have the money to send the work to a professional printer, you can have your paper coated with a protective spray that is cured with ultraviolet light. The coating offers some resistance from liquids, and it is also scuff-resistant. It comes in a range of finishes, from dull, matte finishes that minimize unwanted reflection to high-gloss finishes that make colors pop. While it doesn't provide much sturdiness, it is often sprayed onto card stock to give it added strength.
Coated Paper Stock
Buying paper stock that is pre-coated is a way to get many of the benefits of lamination or UV coating for small-scale jobs. You can buy coated paper stock in a range of finishes, from matte to glossy. It is also available in a wide variety of colors, thicknesses and textures. You can often use the special stocks in a laserjet printer. This makes them great for print jobs that are small-scale but need a protective, professional cover, such as business cards, resumes and invitations.
Michael Roberts has been writing professionally since 2010. He's written on a wide range of topics for different websites. His eHow articles cover topics in motorcycles, bicycles and other modes of alternative transportation. Michael received a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Michigan in 2009.