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How to select the right sheet protector

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If you have ever opened up an office products catalog to order a sheet protector, you may have been surprised to see how many varieties were available. C-Line, alone, offers over 65 different sheet protector products.

Here is a complete overview of the many sheet protectors available and how to select the right one for your needs. There are several key differences with sheet protectors including weight, material, finish, and loading style. Let’s talk a little about each one.  Other considerations when making your selection include sheet protector sizes, added benefit materials and reinforcing strips.  Finally, there are several special use sheet protectors to make storage easier and to make presentations stand out!


The first consideration when selecting a sheet protector is to determine the weight and durability that will fit your application. Sheet protectors come in a variety of weights including super heavyweight, heavyweight, standard weight, and economy weight. Each weight has different durability characteristics and uses. 

Heavyweight Sheet Protector Super Heavyweight Sheet Protectors offer maximum durability plus outstanding performance in preserving and protecting high-use presentation materials, letters and reports. 

Heavyweight Sheet Protectors offer extra durability for permanent storage of frequently used materials.

Standard Weight Sheet Protectors offer durable storage for documents and reference materials. 

Economy Weight Sheet Protectors are extra thin and are great for lengthy documents. 

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The second consideration for selecting your sheet protector is the material used to make the sheet protector. You need to select the material that will provide the performance you need. The two materials used most often today are polypropylene (PP) and vinyl. Both of these materials offers different benefits. A third material, Mylar® or Polyester, is super-tough and acid-free. Because of Mylar’s high cost, though, polyester sheet protectors are no longer widely available. They are typically used by conservationists and collectors. 

Polypropylene Sheet Protectors are the most widely used sheet protectors on the market today. The biggest benefit of polypropylene is that it produces “no copy transfer.” Polypropylene is a materials that offers acid-free, permanent storage. “No copy transfer” means that there is no danger of toners, colors, inks or other materials “lifting” off the stored pages and sticking to the sheet protector. Another benefit of polypropylene is that it is thinner and more durable—a polypropylene sheet protector can be constructed of a lighter gauge than vinyl while maintaining the same durability and toughness. 

Vinyl Sheet Protectors are the next most common and, prior to the availability of polypropylene, were the most common. People are attracted to vinyl because of its traditional look and heavy feel. Although vinyl is not as durable as polypropylene, its heavy feel gives a sense of “weight” to a presentation. Restaurants often use vinyl sheet protectors to hold menus for this reason. 

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There are three different finishes for sheet protectors: clear, non-glare and reduced-glare. Each finish offers different benefits. 

Clear sheet protectors are preferred by the majority of sheet protector users in the United States. A clear protector offers a sharp, transparent finish. It is perfect for showcasing your materials and makes presentations appear bold and bright. Each manufacturer may use their own term for clear. Common terms include clear, crystal clear, polished clear—all these terms generally refer to the same thing. 

Non-glare sheet protectors are designed to eliminate glare. In order to make a true non-glare sheet protector a manufacturer will use special resins combined with an embossing pattern to absorb reflected light and eliminate glare. These sheet protectors are great for harsh lighting conditions. Many people prefer these because they hide fingerprints. Some less reputable manufacturers substitute reduced-glare products (see below) for non-glare products in an attempt to save money. 

Reduced-glare sheet protectors are similar to non-glare sheet protectors and eliminate most glare. Unlike non-glare sheet protectors, reduced-glare sheet protectors do not use a special resin to manufacture the product; they simply use a special embossing pattern which helps knock down glare for materials being viewed under moderate or bright lights. Because they do not use the special resin, they are generally cheaper to manufacture than a true non-glare sheet protector. 

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Loading Style

When we hear someone talking about getting loaded our ears perk up because we love it when people talk about sheet protectors. The most popular loading style in use today is the top loading sheet protector. But, that was not always the case. Originally the “traditional” style sheet protector was all anyone used, but back in 1980 C-Line introduced the first top loading polypropylene sheet protector to the United States. Here are details on several loading styles in use today. 

Top Loading Sheet Protectors Top loading sheet protectors are loved for their great protection and ease of use. They are closed on the bottom and left and right sides. They feature a sealed binding edge that is punched for binders. This means that there is no need to punch holes in your documents. 

Side loading sheet protectors are my personal favorite. Unlike top loading protectors, they are sealed on the top and open on the edge that goes into the ring binder. This assures that the contents will never fall out, even if the binder is turned upside down. Like top loading protectors, they feature a sealed binding edge that is punched for binders. Again, this means that there is no need to punch holes in your documents. 

Center loading sheet protectors are less common. They are typically used for panoramic fold out pages. They are sealed on three sides like top loading, but documents are inserted from the center. This keeps documents from falling out. These, too, require no hole punching. 

Rapid or quick loading sheet protectors are sealed on two sides. While offering less protection, this construction allows you to insert and remove a document in seconds. 

Traditional Sheet ProtectorsTraditional sheet protectors (sometimes called folded or side loading sheet protectors) were once the reigning style of sheet protector. They are no longer commonly used. These sheet protectors feature a sheet of black mounting paper that helps give documents a professional look. They are open on the top and bottom and feature a folded flap on the binding edge. These went out of style because the insert pages you are trying to store first need to have holes punched in them to fit in the binder. 

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Things like loading style, finish and material don’t matter if your documents don’t fit nicely in their holders. The top selling sheet protectors in the United States are typically made to hold inserts that are 11 x 8.5 or letter size. Legal Size Sheet Protectors But, that is not the only size. Law offices typically use legal size paper that is 14 x  8.5. To store these documents look for sheet protectors that are punched to fit both three ring and four ring binders because there is no standard among binder manufacturers. International documents are often A4 size or 297mm x 210mm (11.75 x 8.25). You can find holders to fit these documents that are 11-hole punched to fit international binders. Another popular size is the mini sheet protector which holds 8.5 x 5.5 documents (an 11 x 8.5 sheet of paper cut in half). These fit mini binders or executive binders. 

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Added Benefit Materials

In addition to the polypropylene and vinyl material options, some sheet protectors feature added benefits within the material, itself, which may help in your selection of protector.

Recycled sheet protectors are perfect for those wanting to make a difference in the environment. Recycled sheet protectors are made from 70% pre-consumer recycled content. 

Biodegradable sheet protectors are made from acid-free polypropylene which contains an additional additive that allows it to biodegrade when tested according to the ASTM D5511. ASTM testing indicates this product will biodegrade in two to five years when buried in an anaerobic landfill. Because of the wide variation in landfill systems, actual timing may vary. Click to learn more about biodegradable sheet protectors

Antimicrobial protected sheet protectors are great for preserving and protecting high-use materials. These sheet protectors feature a special additive that helps prevent the growth of bacteria, yeasts, molds and fungi. If you have projects that are handled by lots of people, antimicrobial sheet protectors might be a good option for your project. 

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Reinforcing Strips

When you are shopping you may see a reference to a “reinforcing strip.” The reinforcing strip is an additional layer of material (often super-strong polyester) that adds extra strength to a sheet protector to keep the holes from tearing due to heavy use. The strip is most often white, but can be any color. For some applications, like scrapbooking, users prefer no reinforcing strip because it detracts from the designs that have been created and are being stored in the album. 

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Special Use Sheet Protectors

The characteristics above help you select a sheet protector, but in addition to the basic holders there are several special use sheet protectors that will make your project shine. Here are a few special use sheet protectors to consider when making your selection. 

Colored sheet protectors Colored Sheet Protectorsare great for organizing different sections in a binder. Each sheet protector is a different color. Color coding makes finding materials fast and easy. Additionally, some find certain colors like blue enhance readability, especially for those with reading difficulties. 

Sheet protectors with colored edges are another great way to divide and organize your materials. With these sheet protectors the outside binder edge is colored for fast recognition. In addition to the obvious organizational benefits, these have the benefit of maintaining readability and clarity over full color sheet protectors. 

Sheet protectors with index tabs are a combination of sheet protector and index all in one! These are great for binder organization and work in conjunction with regular top loading sheet protectors. You can get clear index tabs or colored index tabs that coordinate with colored sheet protectors or sheet protectors with colored edges. 

High capacity and super capacity sheet protectors Super Capacity Sheet Protectorare perfect for storing catalogs, magazines, presentations and more in a three ring binder. These holders allow you to store up to 200 pages in a single sheet protector. You can find a variety of sizes and configurations including top loading, side loading, polypropylene and vinyl. Some even feature Hook and Loop closures to lock materials inside. 

Panoramic fold out sheet protectors are double-wide. A single sheet protector opens to display TWO 11 x 8.5 pages or one 11 x 17 sheet. These are great for displaying fold out charts, graphs, advertisements and more. 

Pink Ribbon Sheet Protector Pink Ribbon sheet protectors are just the thing to show your support for breast cancer awareness.  Each sheet protector features a pink reinforcing strip with a pink ribbon. 

Bound sheet protector books present your report, project or artwork in style. The book features bound-in clear top-loading polypropylene sheet protectors that lie flat while the book is open.  

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Whether you are making an important presentation, setting up a complete storage and indexing system, or simply organizing your office, selecting the right sheet protectors can make a big difference.  By using the guide above you can make your work look better while working more efficiently!

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