What is Spot Varnish?

Make Your Print Project Pop with Spot Varnish

Spaceoasis Business Cards
These business cards use spot varnishing to highlight the company name. Thomas Lowe/Getty Images

Spot varnish is a clear overprint varnish applied only to specific areas of a printed piece. It is often used to make a photograph pop off the page, highlight drop caps or create texture and subtle images on the page. 

Types of Varnishes

Varnish can be glossy or dull, depending on the effect you are looking for. You might even choose to dull varnish the majority of your print project and gloss varnish the one element you want to stand out the most.

  • Flood varnish refers to the application of varnish to the entire surface of a print project.
  • Spot varnish refers to the application of varnish only to specified areas of a print project. It requires a plate for the press, just like the ones made for the ink colors.

The term spot varnish can refer to more than just traditional clear varnish. It also is used with spot ultra-violet (UV) coatings and spot aqueous (AQ) finishes.

Digital File Creation for Spot Varnishes

Graphic designers create a separate layer in the print design file for a spot varnish. On the varnish layer, the area that varnishes are indicated in a solid spot color that shows the position of the spot varnish. The varnish layer is treated as an ink, in that a metal plate is made just for the varnish and it is run through the printing press just like the plates for the printed colors. Some commercials run the varnish at the same time as the project prints.

Some prefer to apply it afterward to the printed product.

Because spot varnishes require a metal plate and a cylinder and wash up on the printing press, a four-color print project with a spot varnish prices as a five-color job.

Why Use Spot Varnishes

Although flood varnishes are sometimes used for durability or to add strength to a printed piece, spot varnishes are almost always aesthetic.

They are designed to emphasize an element of the design or to make a photo stand out.

When Not to Use Varnish

It is difficult to write over varnish because the ink doesn't adhere to it. If your print design has areas that need to be written on, skip the varnish altogether or at least in the affected areas. This applies to the address side of postcards or mailing panels of brochures and the inside of greeting cards.

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Your Citation
Bear, Jacci Howard. "What is Spot Varnish?" ThoughtCo, Sep. 8, 2017, thoughtco.com/spot-varnish-in-printing-1078311. Bear, Jacci Howard. (2017, September 8). What is Spot Varnish? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/spot-varnish-in-printing-1078311 Bear, Jacci Howard. "What is Spot Varnish?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/spot-varnish-in-printing-1078311 (accessed November 25, 2017).