Elevate the Look of Your Brand (Part II): A Quick Guide to Print Finishes

Investing in special print finishes for your company’s stationery and branded materials is a great way to elevate the overall look of your brand and can help you stand out. 

There are many print finishing techniques available, offering different levels of visual impact, protection and cost. This article provides an overview of the main types of coatings and lamination finishes to help you navigate through the printing lingo.

If you just landed on this post and would like to read PART I first, click here.

Print Coating Types

Coating and laminating are two of the most widely used processes that can be applied to your printed products after the ink has dried.

Combining coatings and laminations can create unique effects for your branded materials. For example, a spot UV treatment can be applied on your business card with a matte lamination to make a specific visual element of the design stand out more on the printed piece.

Essentially, coating finishes can be added after a piece is printed to:

  • help protect the printed surface from scratching, fingerprints and dirt or can be used to create eye-catching effects;
  • enhance the appearance of economy-grade paper by improving gloss and providing a smoother touch;
  • improve the durability of the printed pieces during shipment through to the end-use of items such as postcards, brochures, catalogues, flyers, etc.

Below we start looking at the main types of print coatings.

A coating finish is a clear layer applied after the ink is printed on the paper to enhance the visual appeal of printed graphics or to add durability and protection to the printing. Whether you want protection against moisture, dirt, overall wear-and-tear or if you want to enhance your work aesthetically, the coating you choose can make a big difference.

A word of warning: Coating a product may increase the likelihood of cracking when it’s scored or folded, so keep that in mind if your printed piece falls in this category.

Varnish coating. A varnish is a widely used print coating because of its low cost and variety of uses. However, this coating has its drawbacks—it is less protective than other print coating types and tends to yellow over time. Varnish coatings come in gloss, matte, and satin varieties.

Varnish coating can be applied either as a spot treatment, to add shine and depth to specific elements on the page, or flooded, as an all-over coating to offer protection and sheen. Overall, varnish coatings improve the appearance of printed materials by adding a protective layer over the paper stock.

Aqueous coating. As the name suggests, it is a water-based fast-drying coating that provides additional protection from fingerprints, scuffing and other handling blemishes. Aqueous coating is shinier, smoother, more resistant to abrasions, and dries faster than varnish coatings, providing a quicker turn-around in case of a rush print job. This type of print coating is available in gloss, satin and dull finishes and is typically applied for all-over coverage.

One popular variation is a soft-touch coating which is also applied in liquid form, usually as an inline process after the printing ink has been applied. A soft-touch coating is called this way because it adds a velvety texture that makes the paper feel soft to the touch, increasing its tactile appeal.

UV coating
This process gets his name from its application—UV coatings are applied to the printing surface and then cured by exposure to ultraviolet lamps. This finish provides the highest gloss finish versus other coatings and is most commonly used as a spot application, hence the name spot UV coating, typically used to highlight a specific element on a paper stock by giving it a high gloss reflective finish.

UV gloss coating is a premium coating that really enhances colour contrast and makes pictures really stand out, even more than regular gloss.

With blind-spot UV (also known as ghost spot UV) there’s no printing underneath it—this finish involves a coating applied onto the bare paper itself, making it visible only at certain angles and lighting.

Matte coating is a light coating that provides a smoother presentation than an uncoated surface and a boost to the contrast of photos but results in very little glare. Matte sheets are good for enhancing designs with a more subdued layout and colour set without having a lot of glare which glossy coatings suffer from.

Gloss coating provides a lot of shine, which results in higher contrast and colour gamut than other papers. This coating is great for full-colour images and gives a professional look to marketing materials or other kinds of prints that want to make the colours really pop.

Spot vs all-over coverage. Spot treatment is applied to only specific portions or elements of a printed piece and can help your collateral stand out by drawing attention to a selected area of the printed item. Unlike spot coatings, all-over treatments (a.k.a. flooded) refer to coatings applied to the entire printed surface.

Laminate Coatings. Lamination is the process of applying a thin layer of coating (usually plastic) to the printed surface in order to enhance and protect its appearance. It creates a smooth feeling to the touch while also improving the sturdiness of the finished print product.

Laminate coating is probably the most common print finish. It can be film-based or water-based. Both types are strong—liquid lamination is less expensive, while the film laminate coating is slower to apply, making it the more expensive than liquid lamination. Film laminate has a washable finish that won’t yellow or flake over time. It is also scratch-resistant but doesn’t support spot-treatment.

Like the other print coatings, laminates come in a number of varieties—common types of lamination include gloss, matt, satin/silk and the latest additions soft touch and velvet lamination. Below is an overview of the main types of lamination you can request as a print finish.

Gloss lamination can be applied to make what’s printed on the page appear crisper and sharper, whilst also enhancing the contrast of photos. Its glossy and shiny texture is also a durable choice, as it repels dirt, dust and fingerprints with ease. Gloss lamination is usually the cheapest option.

Matt laminationUnlike gloss, matt lamination is a more subtle print finish that can provide a softer, more natural look to the printed piece, and produce lower contrast on darker colours. Matt laminate adds a velvety texture and no shine—giving an elegant, sophisticated finish, hence it is a common choice for many prints.

Silk lamination is neither 100% matt nor shiny, but it reflects in certain lights in the same manner that silk does. It has a softer exterior and a superior quality than traditional lamination, and so it is deemed as being a ‘premium’ lamination option. Silk laminated prints look clean, smooth and natural, making it an adaptable finish for a wide range of products.

Soft-touch laminate is a specially-textured matte plastic film that is bonded on top of the printed piece to add durability to the printed piece. It creates a velvety texture and a soft look on the paper while providing a barrier which is fingerprint-resistant. This finish is more expensive than the ‘Soft-touch coating’, but the coating does not add durability.

Protecting your collateral from fingerprints and scuffing

Recommended as an alternative to matt laminate for solid dark colours, such as black, the anti-scuff laminate extends the shelf life of your print and protects it against fingerprint marks and scuffing. 

A word of warning: Some terms are used differently by each printer to describe their products, which can create confusion. For example, ‘matte finish’ could refer to no coating for one printer and matte lamination for another, or ‘no coating’ mainly refers to products that don’t get coated after printing, but whether the stock you’re printing on is already coated or not is a different matter. When in doubt, make sure you understand what they mean when they use these terms.

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