Advanced Labels Blog

Matte and Gloss Varnish on Labels

May 04, 2015 02:31 AM

matte vs gloss finishes, which is right for your labels?

If you're looking for ways to help your labels jump off the shelf, consider matte or gloss varnish treatments on your next label design. Varnishes can be a great way to set yourself apart from the crowd.

Varnish treatments are used to decorate label designs or to simply protect the ink and paper, similar to lamination. When used right, varnishes can have a massive impact on the appearance of your labels.

Gloss or Matte Varnish?

It often comes down to simple personal preference, though ultimately the decision to have a very glossy looking label or a very dull label (or something in between) should be guided by your individual brand strategy.

Of course there are some established trends in individual markets. Wine labels typically have a matte appearance and dietary supplement labels favor a glossy look. But there are exceptions for every established label printing convention. Clever product owners are always pushing the envelope with their designs, looking to gain an edge in the marketplace and out-duel the competition in the ongoing battle for customers. It's up to brand owners to create label designs that will work well in their specific product segment, and there is a time and a place for all types of varnish treatments on all types of labels.


matte, satin, gloss, and semigloss varnishes for labels


Dull, Shiny, and Everything in Between

A matte varnish has little or no shine, and is used to reduce the inherent glare from many inks and label materials. The various matte finishes have a dull appearance, with little or no shine. Super matte is exactly what it sounds like, the dullest looking treatment.

Gloss varnish treatments can provide everything from a a slight shine to a completely wet look. Satin finishes will have minimal shine, gloss will have more, and high gloss varnishes will be very shiny and reflective.

There are numerous matte and gloss varnishes available, so the four boxes above are a drastic oversimplification of your options. Varnishes can also be lightly or heavily applied so your label designs can be truly fine tuned. In addition to the many matte or gloss options available, the appearance of varnish on your labels is also effected by the label material they are added to.

The ability to use matte and glossy varnish treatments and flood or spot applications together means the possibilities are virtually endless.

Spot Varnish, Flood Varnish, or Both

When a varnish is applied to the entire label it's called a flood. Varnish floods can be used to add a matte or gloss appearance to the overall label design, provide protection, and help inks bond with label papers. Some varnishes are almost purely protective. For example, a crystal barrier flood will soak into estate papers, offering some protection while not really having the appearance of a varnished label.

tactile gloss and super matte varnish on a wine labelVarnish is added to your labels just like ink. Spot varnish is applied to specific areas of the label design to add contrast and texture. The effect can be subtle or striking, and multiple decorative spot varnishes can be combined to create a eye-catching and unique labels.

In the wine label sample to the right, a super matte varnish set against a black background fills the negative space, giving an impression of tree branches. The bright red bonsai tree icon jumps off the label with the help of a tactile gloss spot varnish. The embossed red ink set against the black background already has a ton of contrast, and the shiny vs. dull varnishes seal the deal.

Incredible effects have been achieved using varnishes, and in fact some labels are designed and printed with only varnishes, using no ink at all! Selective application of varnishes can create subtle or striking effect.

Tactile Varnishes

As the name implies, tactile varnishes have a different feel when you touch them. A super matte finish can have a rougher feel to it, while a tactile gloss varnish will have a smooth feel with a lot of tack. Tactile varnishes help add to the overall sensory experience of holding a labeled product in your hand. These varnishes can be used to create some visually interesting labels that almost demand to be touched.

Other Considerations For Varnish Treatments on Labels

It's important to note that some matte varnish treatments will lighten rich blacks, so varnishing large areas of solid black will cause rich blacks to appear more gray. A gloss varnish will darken the appearance of rich blacks. Super matte varnishes can also have a rough texture which holds a bit of dust, though it is only noticeable on very dark labels. 

Varnishes can be added to labels that are printed flexographically or digitally. More dramatic effects are often achieved on flexo, and as a result more label varnishing tends to be done on a flexo press. There are some additional up front costs when printing and varnishing for flexo labels compared to digital, so higher end varnished labels tend to be printed flexographically.

Varnish treatments can also be combined with other specialty treatments like embossing or foil stamping to create stunning effects.

Consider varnish treatments for your next label design. Whether you prefer the subdued look of a matte finish or the high shine of a glossy varnish, there are countless creative ways to incorporate them into your designs. Advanced Labels is ready to guide, inspire, and discuss your project with you. Check out our new label gallery, or browse our featured client labels for inspiration.

Topics: Digital Labels, Flexo Labels, Graphic Design, Marketing, Miscellaneous Labels

Join Out Team
Label Questions?

    Stay Up to Date

    Recent Posts