Varnish vs. Aqueous Coating: Which is Right for Custom Printed Rigid Boxes?


With the right print coating, you can efficiently protect your custom printed rigid boxes from moisture, scuffing, scratching, and fingerprints. Besides, it gives a creative direction to your rigid boxes that helps you achieve a certain visual effect. The print coating generally works with the coated paper, as the hard and nonporous surface holds the coating well rather than being absorbed by it.   

Even if you are looking to attain an overall matte finish, a gloss coated sheet remains the best choice as the paper’s gloss finish provides superior printability.

In contrast, the uncoated paper doesn’t make much sense because it fails to hold the coatings or varnishes. Here we have outlined the coatings that work best with rigid box packaging.


Varnishes are applied like any other ink in the press. You can dye them in any shade to create a special effect. Though matte and gloss varnishes are generally used as overall coatings, you can also incorporate them in spot color inks or craft a unique look. They can be dry trapped, or wet trapped. If you opt for dry trapping, you will get a superior result, but it’s an expensive process.

Over time, varnishes may get yellowish, but it remains unnoticeable when used over process colors. However, it becomes visible when the varnish is used over the unprinted paper. They also require offset spray powder on the press in order to keep the printed sheets from sticking with one another before the finish is completely cured.

The powder can badly affect the look and feel of the piece if it is left behind. Here are two common types of varnish:

Gloss Varnish: With high precision, you can apply this coating all over the box or in spot areas. Gloss varnish amplifies the depth and saturation of hues by improving image contrast. Additionally, it offers excellent protection against rub-off, but fingerprints are apparent in light and dark colors. But keep in mind that gloss finish is highly reflective. As a result, it creates a glare on the surface, which may impede text readability.

Matte Varnish: The non-reflective coating not only protects the sheet but also enhances the readability of text. When you use them over images, it flattens and softens them; however, it can give it a lush, tactile quality to the surface. In comparison to gloss varnish, matte is more resistant to fingerprinting. But it tends to get scuff up with wear. To keep the printed items in optimal condition, you can place blank paper between them to prevent them from rubbing against one another.

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Aqueous Coating

A rubber blanket is used to apply these water-based coatings on a dedicated press unit. Aqueous is one of the most commonly used coatings available today that efficiently protects the coated surface against fingerprints and other blemishes. The best thing about aqueous coating is it less likely to turn yellow and is more eco-friendly than other varnishes. Moreover, they dry faster than other varnishes, which means you get to see faster turnaround times.  

Using aqueous coating means you don’t need spray powder. Another top feature of aqueous coating is they perfectly seal the ink, which ceases the metallic inks from tarnishing. However, sometimes this coating turns spot colors like purple, blue, rhodamine, warm red, and violet. Following are the common types of aqueous coating:

Gloss Aqueous: Applied as an overall coating, gloss aqueous offers better protection than gloss varnish. You can apply it to a spot area, but it will require you to cut an expensive press blanket.

Matte Aqueous: The scuff-resistant matte coating is typically applied overall and is used to flatten and soften the images slightly.

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