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Printing Industry Exchange ( is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Commercial Printing: Mixing Printing Paper Coatings

Anytime you use the words “paper coatings” and “mixing,” you are in the realm of not just commercial printing but chemistry as well. Mixing can cause problems. Chemicals can be incompatible. But a good printer can usually come up with a work-around.

To give this point some context, I’ve been brokering a book printing job recently for a small literary publisher. It’s a husband and wife team, and they use their own money, so the price has to be competitive and the printed product has to be outstanding. Before attending a meeting with them to choose a paper stock for the text of their most recent print book, I collected paper samples from the printer they had chosen in the Midwest.

Along with the folder of paper swatches the printer had sent me (many book printers only offer a limited number of paper stocks, presumably to avoid surcharges for special-order paper), they included sample cards showing foil stamping and matte and gloss cover coatings they could offer on their printed books. I can’t tell you how valuable these are as teaching tools and a tangible focus for selling commercial printing. Nothing shows how cover treatments will look better than a physical sample.

In this light, you might note that all of these gloss and dull effects can also be applied to other products than books. For instance, you might want to mix foil stamping with a dull and gloss coating on a brochure, or any other printed product your clients will touch and hold. These are very tactile products. Another area in which these coatings are used a lot is the packaging industry, which has been one of the fastest growing arenas of commercial printing in recent years.

Foil Stamping Over Gloss and Matte Lamination

The first two samples in the collection I received show how foil stamping will look over a glossy and a dull surface. What makes these interesting to me is that according to my representative at this printer, you can add foil stamping over a dull or gloss surface but only if the surface is a film laminate (an actual sheet of plastic lamination adhered to the surface of the paper).

To grasp this concept, keep in mind that foil stamping is applied with heat and pressure using a metal die stamp. The stamp cuts the foil out of a roll and attaches it to the substrate. For whatever reason (heat, chemical incompatibility), if you did not choose a film laminate as the base (lets say you first laid down a UV coating), the foil would not adhere to it. It will adhere to the gloss film laminate (a slick surface) but it will not adhere to a liquid layer of UV varnish (another slick surface). To work around this, the printer would need to knock out the UV (i.e., not print) wherever the foil stamp will adhere.

Now I realize this is an esoteric concept, and I don’t even really understand why this is the case. However, there are two things I learned from this information that are far more relevant:

    1. If gloss UV and gloss film laminate look approximately the same, and if the foil will adhere to the film laminate but not to the UV coating, it is a smart business practice to defer to the printer’s advice. In addition, you’re apparently going to get a better product with the film lamination because there will be no chance of printing the coating out of register. (That is, if you knock out whatever is behind the foil stamp, and there’s the least bit of misalignment in the placement, the gaps around the letters (or other artwork) will be visible. If the foil can be stamped right onto the gloss film laminate with no knock outs, that’s the better choice.


  1. The other thing I learned was that issues with heat, chemistry, and adhesion should be researched and respected, and the printer’s knowledge and experience are invaluable in a case like this.

On the second sample, the fact that the silver foil can adhere to a matte background makes more sense to me. After all, a matte coating is less slick than a gloss coating (which really means more surface area and a rougher surface; kind of like gluing something to wood rather than to glass or metal).

From an artistic point of view, both effects are intriguing. Unlike a single surface (dull or gloss), you have in one case the gloss of the foil contrasting the smoothness and light absorbing (rather than reflecting) power of the matte background. The dullness of the background makes the foil seem to jump up off the page. In contrast, the foil applied to the gloss film laminate provides a more consistent look (gloss on gloss), but it also presents a nice contrast between the metallic gold of the foil and the crispness of the glossy background photo.

Foil Stamp Over Luxury Matte Lamination

From the feel of the background on this particular sample, I would say that it resembles other products I’ve seen that go by names such as Soft Touch UV. The background feels like rubber, and it has almost no sheen. It is hyper-dull, which works well in contrast to the reflective foil stamping. Since the background is a film laminate, and since it is rough in texture, based on what my contact at the printer said, I would assume the foil adheres directly to the matte lamination without any knock-outs behind the foil stamping.

Matte Etch Over Gloss Film Lamination

This sample particularly intrigued me because of how it was produced. At first glance, I would say that the glossy type had been coated with a spot UV coating or a gloss varnish and that the background was the original matte surface. (I would have been wrong.) On the contrary, based on the explanation I received from the print representative, a gloss film lamination had first been adhered to the entire surface of the paper substrate, giving an overall highly reflective sheen to everything.

Unlike liquid laminate, the gloss film laminate had been applied as a thin sheet rather than as a liquid. Then on top of most of this base substrate, the matte coating dulled down everything except the type. That is, the matte coating did not print on any of the type; the type was knocked out of the matte coating. Unless you knew how the printer had done this and why, I think you would have made the same assumption that I did: that the type had been treated to be glossy; not that everything else had been treated to be matte.

And based on my discussion with the printer, in this case a dull coating can still adhere to a gloss background as long as the background is a gloss film laminate and not a gloss liquid UV coating.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

    1. Remember that your printer works with papers and coatings every day. If he suggests a better way to produce a contrast between a foil stamp and a dull or gloss background, listen to him. You’ll avoid the potential cracking of the paper coating or the inability of one coating to stick to another coating.


    1. Consider subtle ways to distinguish one part of a design from another, using foil stamping and dull or gloss coatings. You can use these to focus the reader’s eye on one element of the design first, then another and another. But remember that foil stamping is done with metal dies. These are expensive and take time for the printer’s subcontractor to create.


    1. Always request samples of design effects like these. If all of the samples are of the same design (i.e., the samples I received were from a set that showed the same base art with multiple cover coating options), all the better. This will help you visualize different ways to present your own printed product.


  1. Don’t just use effects like these on book covers. Consider them for brochures and other projects such as product packaging. Or, if you’ve been producing print book covers that only use printer’s ink in their designs, consider contrasting a gloss coating with a dull coating or metallic foil treatment. This will give a book cover more depth visually. It will appear to have multiple layers (foreground, middle-ground, and background).

Great designs come about when you’re willing to experiment.

2 Responses to “Commercial Printing: Mixing Printing Paper Coatings”

  1. Printwin says:

    Nice. Thanks for sharing this


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