You have a design for your printed piece, and you and your printer have discussed and chosen the appropriate paper(s). You are all set, right? Well, not so fast. Have you thought about applying a coating to your piece?
Not all printed pieces require coatings. Coatings are applied primarily over color printing only, and for two reasons: 1) to provide protection against moisture, fingerprints, and the types of scuffing or scratching which happen with normal, everyday use; and 2) for aesthetic reasons such as adding a shine, depth or interest to your piece.
Keep in mind, however, there are times when you specifically do NOT want to apply a coating. Coatings can interfere with the ability to write on a piece in pen or pencil, plus they can be problematic with foil stamping, addressing on mail pieces, and gluing on bound pieces.
There are four standard types of coatings: varnish, aqueous, laminate and UV (ultraviolet). All forms of coatings are available in gloss or non-glossy formats (dull or matte).
Varnish and aqueous coatings are usually applied in-line during the offset printing process which make them cost-effective and quick forms of coatings for these pieces. UV coatings are sometimes applied in-line with printing and sometimes as a bindery process, depending on press capabilities. Laminates are almost always applied as an off-line bindery process.
Applying varnish is an inexpensive way to add gloss to your printed piece. Although the surface is not as hard as some other coatings, it does offer some protection against smudging and moisture. Gloss varnish adds to the sharpness of images by reflecting more light while matte or dull varnishes increase readability by reducing glare. Drawbacks to varnish are that it is not an environmentally friendly coating and it can yellow paper over time.
Aqueous coatings are quick-drying, water-based, and environmentally friendly solutions which are particularly resistant to fingerprints and smudges. This coating offers more protection than varnish, and provides a shine that falls somewhere between that of varnish and UV. These coatings are faster drying than varnish, but would not be considered as moisture resistant.
Laminate is applied either as a film-based or a liquid-based coating. Either way, laminates protect the sheet from moisture and provide a strong washable surface. Film lamination has advantages over liquid coatings in that it will not flake, plus it protects the ink from cracking. Laminating over digital printing requires special films so be sure to discuss this with your printer. Laminate films are available in a variety of finishes (including dry erase) and textures such as linen.
UV is applied as a liquid coating and cured by ultraviolet light to a high-gloss hard finish. Different liquids are applied for different types of toners or ink so this is another form of coating to discuss with your printer. UV coatings are solvent free, and as they are cured by light instead of heat, they are more environmentally friendly than some other forms of coating.
So there you have it — a short outline of the types of coatings available for print jobs. Talk to your printer about what types of coatings, if any, would work best for your job. A number of factors including the papers used, the end use of the product, shipping considerations, and the inks or toners used on your piece will all play into deciding which coatings to consider.