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Bring the Shine: What Is Varnish for Product Packaging?

Varnish is the enhancement far too many brands don’t know they need when picking out packaging materials. What may seem like a minor afterthought creates a huge shift in the appearance of product packaging. Varnish is a type of coating that protects and enhances a finished product. A coating can enhance the look and integrity of a package by protecting against scratching, scuffing, scarring, fingerprints and moisture. Take a dive into the world of packaging finishing to see why vivacious impressions start with varnish!

What Are the Advantages of Adding Varnish to Packaging?

Varnish adds value. Yes, it’s really that simple when making the decision to add varnish to product packaging. Marketing experts have known for decades that most buying decisions are made on the subconscious level. Customers use subtle cues regarding a product’s quality and value to make their purchasing decisions. What’s more, we know that most customers make up their minds about products and brands within 10 seconds of being exposed to those products and brands for the first time.

In many cases, customers are coming into contact with product packaging on the tangible level before they are handling the actual product. This speaks to the importance of making sure that packaging alone is strong enough to create a positive impression for consumers. The benefits of varnish for reinforcing brand value to create positive customer impressions include:

  • Increasing perceived quality by making packaging appear more expensive.
  • Increasing perceived value of the packaging.
  • Boosting product recognition by creating a look that stands out from the pack.
  • Allowing brands to customize the look of product packaging without creating custom packaging for each line.

Varnish offers a way to upgrade packaging without necessarily changing packaging. In many cases, brands can keep the same size and design of existing packaging when making the upgrade. Varnish is considered a cost-effective and user-friendly way to change packaging. Of course, varnish also has a place in the total rebranding and rebadging of a product’s packaging.

How Does Packaging Varnish Work?

Varnishes are actually applied on a press. The process for applying varnish is very similar to the process for applying any kind of ink on packaging. There are two main options when applying varnish. The first is a process called wet-trap application. A “wet trapped” varnish is applied at the same time that other inks used for the packaging are applied. Varnish that is “dry trapped” is printed on during a second pass through the printing press after all of the other inks used in the process are already dry.

Dry-trapped varnish is considered the more elite option. It simply provides a superior finish with a crisper appearance. However, some brands prefer to choose wet-trapped varnish simply because this option is much less expensive when compared to dry-trapped varnish.

Are There Any Disadvantages to Using Varnishes on Packaging?

Varnish is generally regarded as a prestigious option that ages well. However, there are some things to know before settling on varnish for your brand’s packaging plan. Some varnishes may actually yellow over time. This is an important thing to know when considering the average “shelf life” of a product. Products that are not likely to remain in storage, on display shelves, or in home storage for long periods of time should do just fine with varnish without worries over age-related yellowing.

Another potential downside of using varnish comes down to the offset powder that is sprayed on the press to prevent packaging materials from sticking together during production. This powder spray is necessary because materials can often stick prior to a varnish being fully cured. The powder residue is not often a concern for brands that choose varnish. However, it is important to know that powder remnants can potentially linger.

What Are the Different Types of Varnish?

Varnish is far from a one-size-fits-all solution for enhancing packaging. Brands exploring varnish actually have several different options to consider for getting a high-value, fully custom look. Here’s a look at the different varnish options available for brands today:

  • Gloss: A gloss varnish is the most popular option. Gloss varnishes can either be applied all over the surface or in specific spots. This is considered a high-precision, high-impact look. The reason why gloss varnish looks so spectacular is because it increases color saturation and depth. It also kicks up image contrast a few notches. In addition to creating visual prestige, gloss varnish also offers superior protection against rub-off issues on packaging. However, it’s impossible to prevent fingerprints from showing up on gloss varnish when very light and very dark colors are used. This coating can be applied all over or in “spot” areas with high precision. However, this option won’t be ideal for all types of products. Another important thing to know about gloss is that its “glossiness” can actually impair readability of any text content on a package. For this reason, gloss varnish should potentially be avoided in areas where safety information is being conveyed.
  • Matte: A beautiful matte finish protects packaging using a non-reflecting coating. Matte is the top pick for preserving readability on product packaging. For this reason, it surpasses gloss when it comes to providing a finish for areas that are displaying important product safety information that needs to be visible to customers for liability purposes. Matte also offers the benefit of concealing marks and prints much better than gloss. Matte will actually soften and flatten images when it is placed over them. One downside with matte is that it is known to be prone to scuffing. In some cases, it can actually take on a glossier look over time with wear and tear.
  • Satin: Satin is the product of mixing gloss and matte varnishes. Many people enjoy the middling level of shine produced by this merger. Overall, satin creates an attractive appearance with very decent scuff resistance.
  • Opaque: Some brands use the trick of adding opaque varnish to whatever option they settle on when choosing a finish for brand packaging. The benefit of adding a bit of opaque white to any type of varnish is that it creates a decent level of opacity for taking the edge off of both ultra-glossy and ultra-matte finishes.
  • Strike-Through Matte: This application technique actually applies gloss and matte varnish to different areas of packaging. The matte varnish is typically applied to every area except for the spots that require a high-visibility gloss finish. The finished result is a soft-versus-shiny effect that calls attention to just the right spots.

Application can also vary based on brand preference. One option is a “flood varnish.” With a flood varnish, you’re protecting the entire piece by adding a complete sheen. Brands can also choose a “spot varnish” that draws attention to specific areas of a surface to create texture and depth.

When Is a Varnish Needed?

Varnish can be essential for protecting your final product. It is commonly used in packaging because packaged products are exposed to so many scratches and “dings” during shipping, handling, transport, delivery, stocking, and purchase. It’s recommended for any product that is shipped to be given a varnish coating. However, there are some cases where varnish should be skipped. For instance, varnish isn’t recommended if you intend to add any type of writing or inscriptions to the surfaces of packages.

What Are Some Alternatives to Varnish?

There’s no need to make packaging go “naked” if it’s ultimately decided that varnish isn’t a good fit. There are several other options that can fill in the gaps left by varnish. Aqueous coating is a transparent, fast-drying option with a water base that offers protection. UV coatings are also popular. A UV coating offers a way to draw the eye to specific areas of packaging. It can be applied using both flood and spot coatings.

It It Time to Talk Coatings?

Choosing a coating that adds value to packaging design can be a difficult process. It’s important to seek the expertise of packaging experts who understand the visual, practical, and cost considerations that go into selecting the right coating. Book your appointment to get a custom packaging quote from Mid-Atlantic Packaging! We help brands of all sizes put the gloss on their final packaging looks!