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Creating the Wow with Varnishes and Coatings

Everything that glitters is not gold. Sometimes it’s varnish or UV coating. Due to its physical nature, print marketing offers an opportunity to engage with an audience like no other media. And, with great opportunity comes great creativity.

Printed media has a long history, almost as long as the story itself. It is a well-trusted form of media because of its historic use in communication, physical attributes, and the ability to be retained and recalled. Print is known; it is comfortable and expected. Print does not interject itself in our busy schedules. It can be enjoyed at one’s leisure. Print can be touched, held, folded and interacted with. Print can be saved, read and reread. All of these features create an environment that is real and offers communication at one’s own pace. This creates trust; trust in the message and trust in the brand.

Even with its remarkable track record of being a trusted form of communication, print media sometimes needs a little more to cut through the crowd, something more than just ink on paper. One option for taking print to another level is to add finishing techniques like varnishes and UV coatings.

Though ink on paper can be beautiful in itself, a varnish or UV coating can add that wow factor. There is a difference between varnishes and UV coatings. A varnish is applied with the same press that prints the image; one of the printing units contains the varnish and applies it to the sheet just like ink. It can be applied during the same print run as the image, referred to as inline, or can be applied to an already printed and dry sheet, referred to as dry-trap. Applying varnish inline is more efficient because the printed image and the varnish are applied on the same press run. However, inline varnish tends to not have as strong of an effect because the varnish mixes in with the wet ink before it is cured. A dry-trap varnish incurs another press run, but the effect can be a lot stronger because the varnish is applied on top of an already cured printed image. This scenario is assuming the press is running conventional printing inks, which are cured slowly by air-drying. If a press runs UV inks which are cured instantly with a UV lamp inside the press AND there are UV lamps after each unit, it is possible to produce a dry trap varnish effect in one press run. However, UV curable varnishes don’t always have the same finish as conventional varnishes. Varnishes are generally used to create different sheens like gloss and dull. By combining different varnish finishes one can create high contrast effects.

UV coating is not the same thing as UV curable varnish. A UV coating is applied in a separate press through a direct printing process using a screen. This is a similar process to what is used to print T-shirts or high-volume signs. The coating is applied directly to the substrate through a screen that contains tiny holes forming the image or area to be coated. The coating is then cured with a UV lamp. Because the coating is applied through a direct screen-printing method it is possible to apply a lot more coating in one pass. UV coatings offer a variety of different options including high-gloss, matte, textured, glitter, raised or reticulated. It can be applied as a flood, which covers the entire sheet evenly, or as a spot, which is only applied to certain areas of the graphic. UV coatings can create more extreme contrasts in sheen and texture than varnishes. However, the edges of the coating are not as defined as with varnishes due to its screen-applied method. Therefore, intricate graphics and tight register applications are not recommended.

Creating an impact with gloss and dull sheens or different textures is easier than you may think. Often the printer can handle setting up the files for the additional varnish or coating layers for you. You can often just instruct the printer where you want the effect to be applied and prepress can create the shapes and assign the desired effect.

If you have a print project with a graphic that needs that extra wow factor, try adding a varnish or coating. It can make the difference between a beautifully printed piece and solid gold.