UV Coating: Signage 101

Share this article

Want to give your business cards or post cards some added “visual pop?” Or maybe you simply want to ensure your door hangers or hang tags will hold up under duress? There’s a solution readily available to you: Have a UV coating applied to them.

By adding a UV coating, you can enhance not only the look of a printed piece, but also bolster its durability under a variety of conditions. The coating can be applied to just about any paper-based substrate – from business cards and door hangers to hang tags, post cards, and more.

Here, we’ll provide you with some of the basics when it comes to UV coating, including the process and its benefits.

What is UV Coating?

UV coating (the “UV” is short for ultraviolet) is a clear compound that can be applied to plain or printed paper – or other substrates, including plastic, glass, wood, and even some metals (but we’ll only refer to paper here for simplicity’s sake).

Liquid-based, the UV coating is usually composed of calcium carbonate, polyethylene, and kaolinite (a clay mineral). It’s then mixed with a viscosifier, which is the stuff that helps it stick to the paper.

The UV coating can be applied to the paper while on the press (aka “inline”) or with a roller or UV coating machine once the paper has left the press (“offline”). We’ll get back to its actual application in a bit.

Here’s where UV comes into the picture: Once the coating has been applied, it’s then cured by UV light (in a process called photopolymerization) and the compound hardens to its final finish. It goes without saying that the inks as well as the paper substrate itself must be able to withstand the UV light that’s used to cure the coating – otherwise, the paper will deteriorate and the coating will end up having nothing to adhere to.  

UV coating is often used to add a glossy or “slick” finish to a paper product, and this is likely what most people are familiar with. The use of the gloss finish helps the finished product stand out in a crowd and gives it a very professional look. However, other finishes are available, including matte – which offers a soft, luxurious tactile look and feel.

Flooding vs. Spot

You sometimes also have options when it comes to how the UV coating is applied (I told you we’d get back to this topic). Two options are available: The coating can be added to a full sheet of paper (what’s called “flooding”), or, alternately, you can choose to apply UV coating to just a specific detail (“spot” application). 

Let’s first address flooding your marketing piece with UV coating – giving it the “full” UV coating treatment, so to speak. Doing so will give the entire piece the finish you select – if glossy, for instance, then the full piece will be enhanced with a gleaming, lustrous look. On the other hand, flood the piece with a matte UV coating and your piece will, for all intents and purposes, look and feel softer.

Beyond the added aesthetic benefits, flooding a piece with UV coating will also boost its durability. UV coating is the most durable coating available, and the coating that achieves the highest level of gloss (aqueous coatings and varnish are other options, by the way, which we’ll address in a future post here).

So, let’s say your marketing project includes 1,000 door hangers to champion your county commissioner up for a vote in this fall’s election. By flooding the door hangers with a UV coating, you’ll not only be supplying them with additional dimensional stability but also providing moisture protection from the elements. The bottom line: UV coating will serve to enhance and protect a printed or plain substrate.

Why would you choose to spot coat something? Think about it this way: Perhaps you want one specific element to really stand out or “jump” from the two-dimensional surface – a spot coat will give that detail some extra pop.

You could, for instance, choose to spot coat your website URL on the front of your business card. Or, spot coat one area of artwork on your card – some detail you especially want to emphasize. You get the idea: It’s somewhat like using a glossy highlighter. But keep in mind that, just as with a highlighter, you don’t want to over-do it; if you end up “highlighting” too many areas or items, then they could draw attention away from each other (instead of to each other).

How Best to Utilize UV Coatings

There are two possible downsides to take into consideration when making the decision on whether or not to add UV coating to a project.

The first is that UV coating doesn’t work well for paper that needs to be written on. So, for instance, if you like to write on your business card, you might want to skip the UV coating (at least on one side). Keep in mind that UV coating repels pen and even permanent marker.

The second consideration is that although UV coating certainly adds to durability when it comes to abrasion-resistance and general toughness, it might be susceptible to cracking if folded (depending upon the specific finish and application). So if your project is going to played with by a bunch of first-graders, you might want to skip the UV coating.

Here are some additional notes about UV coating to keep in mind:

  • The texture of a business card (or other product) can be the result of a UV coating; but it also might simply be due to the texture of the paper itself. For instance, here at Signs.com, we offer business cards with UV coating (glossy or matte), but textures such as linen, silk, and pearl are the result of the business card’s paper stock having that finish.
  • Beyond UV coatings, textures are also sometimes added by utilizing aqueous (water-based) coatings, varnishes, and laminates (which can be liquid or sheet-based). Our business cards with suede finish, for example, are the result of a laminate. Our brochures, meanwhile, achieve their glossy or matte finish due to an aqueous coating.
  • Adding a UV coating (whether flood or spot), offering various coating textures, and which specific products offer the coating can be dependent upon the printer’s machinery as well as the demand for a certain coating or product.

With this last bullet point in mind, it’s a good time to let you know that Signs.com will soon be adding additional UV coating technology to our own technology toolbox. We can’t divulge too many of the cool details yet, but we think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the various coating options we’ll be able to provide – for small-format marketing pieces as well as larger signage! We’ll provide more details once everything is in place.

Meanwhile, our team at Signs.com can help you decide if UV coating will work well for your project – and, if so, how best to utilize it. We’d also be happy to help answer any further questions you have on UV coating – and if you’re seeking a specific UV coating texture for a product you don’t see on our site, don’t hesitate to ask us!

And, don’t forget: You can work one-on-one with a Signs.com designer free of charge via our free design services page.

Share this article