Varnish or Laminate - Which Do You Need?

by Maverick Label | June 21, 2018

What’s the difference between a laminate and a varnish?  And do you even need one? Yes, label terminology can be confusing. If you haven’t ordered custom labels before, you’re probably not sure what would work best for your labels.


A varnish is a liquid coating (typically silicon-based) that alters the appearance of a label and provides a bit of protection. It’s the less expensive option of the two. Varnish can accentuate label color or shine, particularly on paper stock. It can be applied to either specific areas of the artwork to create dimension (spot varnish) or flood-coated over the whole label for smudge or fingerprint resistance. Varnishes are really best for indoor applications, and come in matte, hi-gloss, or thermal transfer. Our varnishes have UV protection for fade resistance. They are less durable and less resistant to moisture than our laminates.


A laminate is a full-on additional layer of material (polyester typically) applied over the label, thus creating a "thicker" feel as well as additional protection. Like varnish, it will protect from fingerprints and smudges, but in addition, it provides more durability and water-resistance. For products that are exposed to oil or moisture (bath & body products, outdoor uses, food products, etc.), you want a laminate rather than a varnish. Our non-specialty laminates have either a glossy or a matte finish.


Gloss laminated label Gloss laminated label, angled so you can see the reflective quality

Hi-gloss or gloss laminate is great for images with bright colors, as it makes the colors really pop. These laminates are the most popular, and are typically less expensive than matte laminate. A glossy finish adds shine and intensity to a label. It’s the laminate you want if you plan to put a transparent label on a clear surface, too, if that surface is going to be exposed to moisture or abrasion.


Matte laminated label Safety label with matte lamination

Matte lamination cuts down glare and and any reflective properties the label may have. This is very useful for barcoded labels - shiny or reflective labels can be hard to scan. In locations where there may be bright or shifting light and shadows, matte labels are easier to read. Writing on a matte finish is easier, as well.

Specialty Laminates

Diamond Dust laminate sparkles Diamond Dust protects while adding "bling"

We have a number of specialty laminated coatings in addition to plain gloss and matte. There are ones to protect from UV light, that can add a tactile finish, or provide a scratch & sniff aroma. Our “Diamond Dust” laminate provides a bit of anti-forgery protection as well as a certain sparkle (especially effective on a black background). LexSaver® and outdoor laminates add even more protection, for those labels that will end up in harsh environments.

Thermal Transfer

With a thermal transfer laminate, printing from a wax or resin ribbon adheres more strongly to a label when it runs through a thermal printer. The thermal transfer finish is also available as a varnish.

Need More Info?

Our process color and industrial (short-run) equipment product lines offer the most laminate and varnish options. Each of them has a “Free Samples” button. Samples include a copy of each laminate or varnish available in that product line.

Have more specific questions? Our Customer Care reps are available via chat from one of those pages (M-F 6AM-5PM Pacific), phone (800-537-8816; same hours as chat), or email ([email protected]).