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Varnish, Aqueous or UV Coating. What is the Difference? Which should I use?

Updated: Mar 1

In this blog we will discuss, how varnishes can be used in print, the differences between the types of varnishes available to us, when to use a varnish and also when you shouldn't use one.

What is a Varnish?

A Varnish is a coating that is applied to your printed piece during or after the printing process.

Varnishes are commonly used in print for two reasons:

1. To highlight a design element

2. To protect from scuffs or scratches.

How is a Varnish used in Print?

There are two different ways to in which you can use a varnish on printed material.

1. Spot Varnishing A Spot Varnish is a varnish method that is applied to a portion of the page, used to highlight or emphasize an image or heading by using a contrasting gloss and matt. It can also be used as a subtle design element. A Spot Varnish requires a special plate to be created for the printing press.

DESIGN TIP: When creating your design, treat a spot varnish like an additional colour. Use a solid piece of art and tag it with a spot colour named "Spot Varnish"

2. Flood Varnish or All Over Varnish A flood varnish covers the entire press sheet. Predominately this method is used as a sealer varnish to prevent scuffing. You do not need to include this in your design file, just let us know that you would like to add a varnish to protect your job.

Don’t worry if you forget! Our experienced and helpful staff will always suggest this option if we see that it will be beneficial for your project.

The Different Types Varnish.

Traditional Machine Varnish (available in gloss, matt and satin finish)

These varnishes are considered a bit “old-school" in today’s print world but do not knock the "oldie", it still has it's place and can be used effectively during the print process. Because a plate is used to apply this type of varnish, it can be applied with a high level of precision creating sharp contrast in your design. The bad news, these varnishes take longer to dry and they can be susceptible to yellowing over time. Additionally, due to the chemical base these varnishes are also not particularly eco friendly.

Aqueous Varnish

The most popular varnish for printed material today is an aqueous varnish. This varnish is applied during the printing process and is a fast-drying water-based coating. This varnish is a great sealer varnish, as when it comes off the printing press it is already dry, speeding up the production process!

Unlike spot varnishes, aqueous coatings are applied with a blanket and do not require a plate.

Aqueous varnish comes in a multitude of different finishes. The standard gloss, matt and satin are available, but you can also choose a soft touch finish which has a lovely "velvet" like feel. Being a water based product, this varnish is far more environmentally friendly.

Drip off Varnish

This process works in conjunction with two types of varnishes - special varnish and aqueous varnish.

Using a gloss paper stock, we print CMYK and a special Drip-Off matt Spot varnish is applied to all areas of the sheet requiring a matt finish.

The sheet then passes through the all-over Aqueous coating unit applying a High Gloss Aqueous varnish coating over the entire sheet.

The areas where the matt varnish was applied repel the gloss Aqueous (similar to the way water drips off a wax coated paper) giving a high contrast between the gloss and matt areas on the finished sheet.

UV Varnish

A UV Varnish is clear polymer coating that is cured by passing under an ultraviolet light which quickly dries and hardens the varnish, creating a super high gloss varnish. A UV varnish can be used as a Spot Varnish to make areas stand out and offers the highest protection and shine. Additionally, you can apply a Hi-Build UV Varnish to create a raised effect that you can feel. This is a fantastic option to make a big impression and is most often used on top of a Matt Celloglaze for maximum contrast!

When should you use Varnish?

Whenever a print project is being handled frequently, it is useful to varnish or coat the piece to protect it. High use items such as Bookmarks, Pocket folders, Business cards, and the like, are some examples of products which benefit from a varnish to extend their longevity.

As a design element a selective gloss varnish contrasting against a matt finish can be used to highlight certain elements and add wow factor.

If your end product needs to be written on with a pencil or pen, a varnish or coating will NOT be a good option. Varnishes and coatings generally cannot be written on, except perhaps with a permanent marker.... but even this can still smudge! For this reason, we recommend that greeting cards, postcards and other projects that need to be handwritten on, or have areas that need to be inkjet printed, should NOT be varnished or coated.

The Verdict

There are many different reasons for using different types of Print Varnishes. Which is best for your particular project depends on the end use and the effect you wish to achieve. Varnishing increases the perceived quality of the product, whilst also protecting the print. In addition, it is an economical and user-friendly process that can be easily applied by adding spot finishes or additional processes to the entire sheet. There are also new, more eco-friendly varnish options available these days, which is a big plus!

Remember, your customers get their first impression of your product or service from your Business Card, Brochure or Packaging. So, make sure to use this opportunity to grab their attention, by adding a Gloss Spot UV or a Spot Varnish to enhance your photos.

We’d love to hear from you to discuss how a Varnish or UV coating can enhance your project, and which is the best option for you. At Printcraft we highly encourage designers to speak with us during the design stage in order to achieve the best results possible and to suit your budget and timeline.

So give us a call or email us today - we're here to help!

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