How to Select the Right Finish for Your Product Labels
The U.S. labels market is projected to reach $20.6 billion in 2025—a 3.3% increase year over year from 2021. This growth will be accelerated by the continued focus on utilizing labels as marketing and track-and-trace tools, thus supporting consumer demand for value-added label types.
No matter which type of label is required for your product packaging, the label finish is an important—and often overlooked—part of the label selection process. Label finishes serve a variety of purposes, from providing protection from environmental conditions like heat or moisture to enhancing durability and preserving the appearance of labels.
Key Differences Between Three Popular Label Finishes
Whether you’re looking for a glossy or matte look, the type of label finish that you choose will depend greatly upon your specific labeling needs and desired design aesthetic. While there are many available label finishes on the market, three of the most popular types are laminate, varnish and UV coatings—each of which boast their own unique features and characteristics.
Consider these key differences to help you select the label finish that will best suit your needs:
- Laminates: Laminate finishes are made from a film-like material. Compared to other finishes, laminates provide a thicker layer of protection—making them ideal for labels that will face exposure to elements such as sunlight, moisture or abrasion. Depending on your specific design needs, laminates can come with a glossy or matte appearance. They are also available with other special durable properties for an even higher level of protection and durability. Two of the most popular types include polyester and self-wound laminates.
- Varnishes: Varnishes are clear liquid coatings that are the most affordable of the three finish options, but with the least staying power. Like laminates, they can be either glossy or matte, allowing you to choose the option that best showcases your design. With the ability to create a visually appealing look, varnishes can be applied either to the entire label (flood varnish) or to cover only particular sections of the label (spot coating).
- UV Coatings: UV coatings are a special type of varnish that is cured during the printing process through exposure to ultraviolet light. Although UV coatings are typically more expensive than other varnishes, they provide several key benefits such as longer-lasting quality and a high-gloss finish. This makes them a great choice when certain design features need to stand out.
Considerations for Choosing the Right Label Finish
There are several factors that should be considered when choosing the right label finish for your product packaging—from any environmental exposures it will face to your available budget.
Consider the following factors to help you make the right selection:
- What environmental conditions will the label be exposed to? If a label is likely to be outside facing exposures such as friction, rain or sunlight, a polyester laminate is preferable because it offers a high level of durability and protection. Standard laminates and varnishes, in contrast, aren’t made for such conditions. Some indoor products, such as soaps and other bathroom solutions, may also use a polyester laminate that can withstand moisture levels in the environment. On the other hand, labels that are subject to milder conditions or do not need to last as long—as is the case with many consumer products—can do well with self-wound laminates. These types of finishes offer the required level of durability while being a cost-effective solution.
- What is your desired label appearance? Laminates, varnishes and UV coatings are all available in gloss or matte. When design and visual appeal are a focus, the ideal choice is a UV spot coating. This coating uses artistic features such as foil stamps, metallic inks or accent colors to highlight specific aspects of a label’s design.
- What is your budget? While customers sometimes choose to forgo a finish to cut costs, label finishes offer crucial protective and appearance-enhancing benefits that shouldn’t be overlooked. Varnishes are a great option if affordability is a key requirement, although they offer the least staying power. Self-wound laminates are also another cost-effective solution for consumer product labels, while offering the necessary durability. On the other end of the spectrum, UV coatings—while typically the most expensive option—provide longer-lasting quality that can be worth the added investment.
With a wide variety of protection levels, costs and design options available, it’s never been easier to find a label finish that is right for your product packaging needs. Understanding the key differences in features and characteristics between laminates, varnishes and UV coatings can help you find the right finish that meets your needs.
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