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Ask the Experts #3


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My own criteria for choosing a type of coating is: esthetically functional, protective, easy, economical, fast, environmentally friendly and cool. I use the Paper-Scissors-Rock method to prioritize these features.

UV Coating
If your report needs to last forever and stand up to rough handling, this is a good choice. It's a kind of liquid plastic. (Polymer resin, if you want the technical term.) It's applied by rollers, blanket-coating the sheet. Then it's cured by a UV lamp. It's thick and tough and water resistant. It can be applied as hi-gloss, semi-gloss or matte. I see the glossy version used the most. It's ideal for those sticky menus at Denny's (my mom's favorite restaurant,) that can be easily cleaned with a damp rag (if only, right?) Few printers have an in-house UV coater, so they have to truck your job out to a local supplier. It makes stinky noxious fumes. It's not really recyclable. It's pricey. It demands extra time for the additional process. Nevertheless, the "Sizzlin' Skillet" still looks very appetizing after the jelly is wiped away.

Aqueous Coating
This is often my favorite. It's a water-based coating that can be applied as gloss, satin or dull. The coating tower is attached to the end of a sheet-fed press so it can be used in-line. And it dries almost instantly so there's hardly no waiting to flip the sheet over and print side two. It's a good sealant and lends protection from rubbing. And, because it's applied by a tower at the end of the press, all the fountains on the press are available to me for inks. I don't have to give up a unit for varnish. On the down-side, it's not so good for uncoated stock where the feel of the paper is important. Like any blanket coating, it changes the paper's feel. It can feel somewhat chalky or slick. Paper whiteness is slightly compromised, too. Where varnish makes white paper a little yellow, aqueous makes it a little grey. These days, designers like a dull finish. If I'm printing on a coated paper, I start with gloss coated paper, which gives me a hard surface for crisp dots, and coat it with dull aqueous. It works pretty well. It's cost friendly, fast and widely available. And what you print can be recycled.

Flood Varnishes
What can I say, I'm not a fan of varnish for flood coating, unless aqueous coating is not available. (See Aqueous coating above.) Varnish is basically ink with a thicker viscosity and without pigment. I've had the most gas-ghosting problems with flood varnish. It takes longer to dry. It yellows the sheet over time. I love to use varnish, but not for flood coating. It's cool that I can control how it prints like ink. I use it as a design tool to create a gloss or dull contrast, or to spot varnish over only the printed areas, maintaining the sexy feel and whiteness of the paper. You can't do that with aqueous or UV coating. Like inks, varnish can be made with vegetable-based oil. It's less harmful to the environment than UV coating, but I wouldn't recommend eating it.

As an aside, there is a really nice aqueous coating called Soft-Touch (made by Kelstar). This has a nice, 'nubby' almost silicone-rubber-grip-like texture. It's incredibly matte and has and lovely hand.

You can use Soft Touch as an overall coat to mimic the feel of Plike, for a fraction of the price.


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Armin Vit

Editor of FPO and co-founder of UnderConsideration LLC.

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March 20, 2012


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UnderConsideration is a graphic design firm generating its own projects, initiatives, and content while taking on limited client work. Run by Bryony Gomez-Palacio and Armin Vit in Bloomington, IN. More…

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