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Above : Note how the underlying colour looks different under matt and gloss lamination


Above : Special waterdrop effect 

  • Printing

The Big Finish (part 1) 

From the highly practical to the downright frivolous, the range of print finishes available can give rise to some difficult decision making.  Varnishes, laminates, foils and glitters all jostle for position to lead unwitting designers astray!   

In this first of a series of blogs about different finishing techniques we take a closer look at varnishes and lamination. 


Varnishes are liquid coatings which are applied to the sheet and are available in gloss, matt and silk finishes. Designed to give protection by sealing the printed material to help it last longer, varnishes also significantly enhance the appearance of the underlying colour. A gloss varnish gives the colour greater intensity whilst a matt varnish can knock the colour back and give a subdued sophistication. 

Varnishes can be applied in line (i.e. at the same time as the print) or offline as a separate process. They can be water based or UV, the latter being exposed to UV light in a curing process that hardens the liquid application and creates a high gloss finish.   Specialist varnishes exist for particular applications such as playing card varnish which withstands repeated handling without marking and has excellent surface slip.  

You can use a varnish as an overall covering or in spot form to create some really stunning visual effects. Spot uv varnish is particularly effective when used in conjunction with matt lamination to create contrast and depth. It can also look striking when used over a single solid colour to create a focal point with text or illustration.

And if the budget can take it, using spot uv on the inside of a book can give really spectacular results.  By creating a contrast between the paper and print one can add a whole new dimension and create print that really pops! Whether that be to add emphasis or to create a special effect such as water. 


Unlike varnish, lamination is supplied in film form and bonds to give a sturdy, wipeable plastic coating across the entire printed surface. The films used most often for book covers are made from OPP (Polypropylene) and are the least expensive and softest, nylon and PET films are also available for more specialist applications. Available in gloss and matt finishes; gloss lamination gives impact to the underlying image and can add warmth to the colours, whilst matt subdues and softens.    Silk lamination is also available although not so readily as matt and gloss which remain staples in the book world. 

One issue with matt lamination when used over large areas of solid, dark printing is that it can mark and any scuffs seem exaggerated against the dark background.  In such cases specifying anti scuff lamination is advised as it uses a superior quality film that is specially formulated to resist scratches. 

“Soft touch” or “velvet” finish is another lamination type and has been growing in popularity in recent years. It gives a unique, really distinctive tactility to covers or packaging.   Its luxurious feel comes at a price but in terms of adding distinction and upmarket qualities to a product this is the gold standard in finishing.  

Another way of adding texture is through graining – textured films are available in linen, leather and such like or lamination can be post embossed using patterned rollers held by some specialist suppliers.   Grained laminations are hard wearing and are often used on library books and field guides where durability is key. 

Specialist lamination films 

In addition to transparent lamination films, there are large ranges of specialty films that can used for laminating book covers. Metallic films in gold and silver, glittery films and patterned holographic films which can be over printed or foil blocked.  Fantastic for children's books where extra sparkle is the order of the day (as Boris will testify!)