Lamination vs. Encapsulation vs. Varnishing

Lamination, encapsulation & varnishing your printing

Once you’ve decided on a design for your sales and marketing literature and the artwork is ready, consider what finish you will have on the final print. This can make a huge difference to both the look and feel of the final printed document. Will gloss look good, or would matt look better? Should it be used all over, from edge to edge, or only in certain ‘spot’ areas? From a technical point of view, should it be varnished, laminated or encapsulated? Which printing/finishing process will give you the desired result, without breaking the bank?

What’s the difference?


Lamination involves sealing a very thin lamina (whole sheet) of clear plastic, under significant pressure, to the front and/or back of a sheet of paper, card or board. So the entire surface of the stock is covered in the laminated plastic. The most common types of lamination are ‘gloss, which is very glossy, ‘matt’, which has a lovely silky feel and a soft, matt appearance, and finally ‘soft-touch’ lamination, which is most similar to matt lamination but has a slight rubbery feel to it – it’s quite a tactile thing, which is subtle but pleasant.


Varnishing (specifically machine varnishing) usually involves a liquid varnish being ‘printed’ just as if it were a liquid ink like black. If it’s an overall varnish, no plate is required. If it’s a ‘spot’ varnish, then a printing plate will be needed just as it would if the varnish was a coloured ink. So this difference will affect the price a little. (There are now also some digital versions of varnishing now available and, as we know with most digital printing, no plates are required). ‘Machine’ varnishes can be matt, silk or gloss, however traditional ‘litho’ machine varnishes tend to be more muted than “UV varnish”, which is described below …

UV Varnish

UV varnish is a more specialist type of varnish. It is most commonly seen in a glossy finish and the gloss is so glossy that it is difficult to tell it apart from gloss lamination.** UV varnishing is more expensive than ‘machine’ varnish, as it’s a slightly more complex printing technique, but the effect is way more dramatic.

** One simple way of working out whether a glossy bit of print is laminated or varnished is simply by trying to tear it. If it tears fairly easily then it’s varnished. If it’s virtually impossible to tear, then it’s almost certainly laminated. Many magazines, for example, now have covers that are high gloss UV varnished and look every bit as if they’re gloss laminated, but they simply use UV varnish to get the same effect.


Encapsulation is very similar in look and feel to lamination except the finished result has the telltale extra margin of heat-sealed plastic extending beyond the edge of the paper. It is most commonly seen with a gloss finish and the process gives the printed item a significant extra thickness. That may be a good or a bad thing, depending upon your viewpoint and intended use.


  • High gloss finishes like lamination, encapsulation and gloss UV varnish tend to make printing look more colour-saturated, high contrast and punchy. Using machine gloss varnish has a similar effect but it is less noticeable because machine varnishes are more subtle than their high gloss counterparts like UV, gloss lamination and gloss encapsulation (see the main image above).
  • Matt finishes like matt and ‘soft-touch’ lamination tend to lower contrast and slightly ‘mute’ colours. So you end up with a softer, more subtle look.
  • Varnishing is more adaptable than lamination and encapsulation. By that, we mean specifically that varnish can be produced as ‘spot’ varnish. For example, we can varnish over just the photographs within a brochure, so that they are glossy and contrasting to the more matt page surrounding them. Spot coverage is not possible with lamination or encapsulation; you either laminate the whole sheet, or you don’t laminate at all.
  • Varnish is more eco-friendly than lamination and encapsulation. That’s primarily because varnished paper and board can be recycled whereas laminated stock usually can’t, due to the layer of plastic film adhered to it.
  • If you’re after protection and longevity, lamination will give your document greater protection including protection against tearing and making the document waterproof, apart from possible water ingress via the cut edges, which is where encapsulation scores highest, because that seals the edges too.
  • Machine varnishing is usually less expensive than lamination and encapsulation. It’s also usually faster because we can varnish ‘in-line’ (meaning that varnish is added at the same time as the printed ink, in one pass) rather than as a separate production stage. In contrast, lamination and encapsulation are usually additional tasks, produced at a stage after the printing itself, so add more significantly to both time and costs.
  • When it comes to UV varnish, “spot” UV varnish (e.g. varnishing only over photos) is more expensive than “overall” UV varnish (edge to edge). That’s because spot UV varnish requires a printing ‘plate’ for want of a better description (actually spot UV uses a ‘screen’ but let’s not get too technical here) whereas overall UV varnish does not.
  • Encapsulation does not tend to be used for mass printing i.e. is usually reserved for one-off or low-run prints, for example for office charts, notices and, perhaps, things like café menus. In contrast, lamination is used for higher volume work and looks more professional and slick, with its flush-cut edges.


So, there are quite a few things to consider when choosing between lamination, encapsulation, machine varnish and UV varnish. Some considerations involve speed and cost of production, protection for documents also comes into it but the main consideration usually comes down to personal preference i.e. how you want your finished piece to look and, quite literally, feel. Let us know if you need more information or perhaps even samples. We have three branches in Central London so contact your nearest branch for more details, a quotation or for an informal discussion about your next printing project.

Firstpoint Print are commercial printers in London and can be contacted as follows:

For printing in London Bridge:
Contact the SE1 branch on 020 7378 6754 – or contact us here.

For printing in Clerkenwell:
Contact the EC1 branch on 020 7490 7588 – or contact us here.

For printing in Victoria:
Contact the SW1 branch on 020 7828 0515 – or contact us here.