Have you ever seen a super-glossy brochure and wondered whether it’s gloss laminated … or perhaps gloss U.V. varnished? Even printing experts have trouble spotting the difference! To all intents and purposes, they look the same, but their production methods, costs and properties are very different.


Lamination is a process whereby a thin, transparent, plastic film is bonded, under pressure, to the surface of your printed paper or card. The plastic film can have a variety of finishes including high gloss, soft-touch and matt.

  • Gloss lamination adds an incredible shine to documents and tends to enrich printed colours, also giving photos a greater depth due to the extra contrast they lend them.
  • Matt lamination gives printed documents a lower contrast and, as such, tends to give them a contemporary, lighter appearance along with a high quality look and feel.
  • Soft-touch lamination is similar in appearance to matt lamination but has a softer, more tactile feel to the touch. Some describe it as velvety, others suggest that it’s perhaps even a little rubbery in feel … but in a good way!

Either way, once laminated, the printed sheets are cut and finished so that the edge of the printed sheet is an exact match to the edge of the bonded lamination, with no difference or overhang of either. Lamination can be applied to one side of the sheet, or both.

Lamination gives the printed job additional protection against wear and tear. In fact, one way to be sure that a printed document is laminated is to try to tear it. If it’s nigh on impossible to tear, chances are it’s laminated. Lamination also gives documents protection against moisture, simply due to the presence of the plastic film that’s bonded to the surface.

Lamination is suitable for even reasonably high quantities of printing because it’s a high speed, mostly automated process. It’s used for protection, to give printed documents a lovely finish and to give them a feeling of high quality.


Encapsulation is similar to lamination but the plastic film tends to be significantly thicker and is applied to both sides of the printed sheet. Uniquely with encapsulation, the plastic covering protrudes a few millimetres beyond the edge of the underlying printed sheet and indeed the plastic on the front and the plastic on the back bond to each other where they meet. This forms a tough ‘frame’ of thicker plastic around the edge of the printed sheet.

As with lamination, encapsulation protects the printed sheet from wear and tear and from moisture, however even more so than lamination due to the greater thickness of the plastic and the edges of the sheet also being protected by a double thickness of heat-bonded plastic.

Encapsulation is usually used for one-off or low quantity printing because it’s relatively expensive and time-consuming compared to lamination. It’s ideally suited to printed items that perhaps need to be displayed, manhandled regularly or used in environments that might otherwise lead to the printed item becoming dog-eared or spoiled by water ingress. Menus would be a good example.

U.V. Varnish

U.V. varnish is almost always encountered in a high gloss finish. However, it is also available in matt finish although that’s rarely seen. To even a trained eye, an overall gloss U.V. varnish looks almost identical to gloss lamination, giving the printed document a high gloss sheen that enriches the saturation of printed colours and gives photographs a deeper contrast and ‘punch’. However, the U.V. varnishing process is remarkably different to that of lamination. Unlike with lamination, the gloss sheen is actually printed to the surface of the paper and this then passes under a heat lamp to set it into its robust, high gloss finish.

Unlike lamination, documents that have been U.V. varnished can be torn quite easily. This is the main way to tell gloss U.V. varnished documents apart from those that have been gloss laminated.

However, because it’s printed with a liquid varnish, there is another major advantage to U.V. varnishing. That’s the fact that it can be used to ‘spot print’ the varnish. You could U.V. varnish only the logo and photos in a document while leaving the remainder of the background unvarnished, for example. That’s simply not possible with lamination or encapsulation because, with both of those, the finish has to cover every millimetre of the sheet. That’s a huge difference and is another easy way to tell whether something is spot U.V. varnished or gloss laminated.

For extremely high volumes of printing, overall U.V. varnish can work out cheaper than lamination. For this reason, you will often find that glossy magazines are actually U.V. varnished rather than being gloss laminated. It’s also worth noting that, because there is no plastic film used, U.V. varnished documents and magazines are easier to recycle than those that have been laminated.

Machine Varnish

Then there’s matt, silk or gloss machine varnish (of the non-U.V. kind) although those options are only possible on a litho printing presses. Machine varnishes tend to be much more subtle than lamination, encapsulation and U.V. varnish. For example gloss machine varnish is nowhere near as glossy as gloss lamination, encapsulation or U.V. varnish, so is easy to tell apart from them.  As you can see in the middle example on the main image, gloss machine varnish gives printed documents more of a ‘sheen’ in reality (not a high gloss). It is used less and less these days, not least due to the recent proliferation and vast improvements in the quality of digital printing.

Not Sure Which to Use?

With so many options available it can be confusing knowing which process is going to be the most suitable and affordable for a particular print job. We can help, though! Southside Print has the know-how and equipment to produce pretty much any finish you like and we can let you know when one process will be more suitable than another. Cost comes into it too, of course, because some processes are more suitable for low print runs and others are more suitable for high volume work. We can advise which process will give you the optimum balance for a high quality look and feel as well as representing good value for money. Call us on 020 7378 6754email us us message here or, alternatively, request a quotation here and we’ll come back to you by return. Our quotes are free and without pressure or obligation. As well as printing and production, we also offer a design and artwork service, by the way. Click the bold links for more details.

Your South East London Printer

Southside Print is based in the heart of SE1 close to London Bridge station and Borough tube. We are based on Tabard Street and have a walk-in design & print shop as well as an online print shop where you can order from a selection of popular print items from the comfort of your home or office – or even when on the move – 24/7, 365 days a year.

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