Print Coatings - What are they?

Print Coatings - What are they?

Liquid print coatings are finishes used on printed pieces to not only enhance a design and create interesting visual effects, but also to protect your piece from scuffs, scratches and sometimes finger prints. There are 3 typical coatings used in printing to accomplish this. They are varnish, aqueous, and UV coating. There are different advantages/disadvantages to using each one, and your particular project will most likely dictate which is the best one to use.


Varnish is a petroleum-based ink which is applied on press as a separate color to your piece. It comes in gloss, satin or matte finishes. You can apply it as a flood, which is simply a full protective coat, or as a spot with great accuracy to highlight and create interesting effects. Varnish is slower to dry than other coatings. Because of this they sometimes use a powder spray to help it dry faster and to keep pages from sticking together. This can be a drawback because the powder can sometimes cause a dulling effect to images on the print – also varnish can yellow over time. Since it is petroleum-based, there are some environmental concerns about its use; however, all that being said, varnish is still in demand because it is the least expensive of all the coating methods.


Aqueous coatings were introduced in the 1970s. They do exactly what varnishes can do without using a petroleum-based product. This water-based polymer also got an upgrade in the 1980s to a new quick-dry formula which reduces the need for powder on press. Over time, Aqueous also resists yellowing – all of which makes it a superior product, but it comes with a price tag to match. It is almost double what varnish costs. However, its versatility, durability, environmental friendliness, and quick-dry capabilities can make it worth investing in for high-end and long run projects.

UV Coatings

UV coating is a thick liquid coating that after it is applied gets cured and dried instantly by running it under a UV light. It can be applied as a flood or a spot just like vanish and aqueous; however, it is thicker and is prone to crack when folded or scored. It has by far the highest shine quality of all of the coatings. This makes it optimal for interesting spot applications where a high degree of “step-off” or contrast is required. Some people consider its shine too severe but there are a large variety of sheens UV is available in. UV can be the most expensive of the coatings, but it is the most durable and provides a large amount of protection to your project. Its instant drying time enables jobs to be delivered faster and its high clarity - which enhances details - makes it highly desirable. It can be finicky about what inks you can use with it, so ask your printing professional if UV is right for your project.

Jul 28, 2014

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There are 1 comments for this entry. Leave a comment below »

Interesting you left out Film Lamination? And what about thermography effects - where powder coating is applied and treated with heat to make it "puff up". Not to mention there are plenty of options for each of the coatings you mentioned. A good blog but you left me wanting more....

Jul 28, 2014

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