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Label Finishes 101

The Ultimate Guide To Laminates, Varnishes and UV Coatings


You have created an amazing label design, but when you take the bottle out of the freezer your beautiful label has cracked!  You get the idea – what is the point of creating such an amazing design when the label materials themselves are not up to the job?

Labels can face all sorts of testing conditions like moisture or rain, humidity, abrasion, and light – all of which can impact its quality. When designing a label for your product it is critical that you understand the shelf life of that product, where it will be stored, and for how long? You see it is not just the look of the label that counts – the label finishes play an essential role in keeping your labels looking good for the duration of their life on the shelf and beyond!

Let’s take a look at the types of finishes available to you, so you can select one with confidence.  In the example below you can see a wide range of Matt and Gloss varnishes and laminates being used.

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In our experience, most customers will use a finish on their product labels, but there are times when they will go without, whether it is for purely aesthetic reasons or cost savings. Not using a finish on paper labels can create a great rustic look for example because there’s no sheen and the texture is rougher. However, store that bottle with the paper label in crates and deliver to a customer of yours and before you know it – the beautifully designed paper label is no longer recognisable due to it being rubbed off in transit! Ultimately, the benefit of using a finish – whether laminate, varnish, or UV coating – is that it adds an extra layer of protection to the label, along with visual appeal, either giving the labels a Gloss or Matt look. Deciding which finish (or finishes) to use comes down to your labelling needs and design choices.


  • Laminates are a film material that offer a thicker layer of protection making them better suited for labels that will face moisture, abrasion, and light. Gloss, matte, and special durable laminates are available, depending on your specific needs.
  • Varnishes are clear liquid coatings that are cheaper than laminates and UV coatings but have the least amount of protection. Varnishes are available in gloss, matte and even a ‘Sandpaper’ finish and can be applied to the entire label (“flood varnish”) or only certain sections of the label (“spot coating”) to create interesting visual effects.
  • UV coatings are a special type of varnish that is cured during printing by exposure to ultraviolet light. Although UV coatings typically cost more than other types of varnishes, they also have a longer-lasting quality and super glossy look. UV spot coatings are popular for making certain design elements pop.


It is important to consider what conditions your labels will face, how long you need your labels to last and how you want your labels to look when choosing your label’s finish. Some finishes are best suited for indoor or outdoor environments, while others work only to achieve a certain appearance. For example, if your labels will face conditions like rain, sunlight and friction, we suggest using a polyester laminate because standard varnishes and laminates aren’t designed to handle the rough conditions that outdoor labels face.

Most labels don’t need such a strong finish because they’re going on items that have a shorter lifespan or face much gentler conditions. Self-wound laminates are a popular option for consumer product labels because they’re cost-effective and offer plenty of durability. If you’re looking for a finish with a little more visual appeal, however, a spot UV coating is always a good choice, as it can add an eye-catching element to your label. Spot UV coatings can be used to make certain parts of label design stand out, like accent colours, foil stamps, metallic inks and other artwork elements while also adding dimension with the contrast of gloss and matte finishes.

On the label featured below, a combination of embellishments were used, namely: Matt Varnish, Gloss Lamination and Embossed Hot Foil to visually lift the ‘Penlon Cottage Brewery’ text.

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No matter what labelling requirements you have, there is a finish that is right for you. If you need help finding that finish or deciding on the best one to use, then speak to your dedicated Business Development Manager or call us on 01543 431070.