Posted on February 14, 2023 by Dennis Salazar

FAQ: Varnishes and Flexographic Printing of DTC Packaging

Flexographic printing for custom printed boxes is by far the most popular print process used. Why wouldn’t it be? It is substantially less expensive compared to any other way of printing corrugated boxes. Flexo uses water-based inks making them the most eco-friendly print option. And most importantly, there is no compromise in terms of print quality with the many attractive variations and combinations of ink colors an experienced box producer like us can utilize. Visit our gallery for a small example of our work, and most of the boxes shown there were printed using flexo equipment and inks.

The only problem anyone has ever expressed with flexo inks is that because they are water based, they typically dry “flat”, and have no gloss at all. In most cases, that is fine or even preferred, but we hear from an increasing number of customers and clients who would like to have a little gloss, here and/or there on their graphic design. Below are a few of the most frequently asked questions:

Q. Are clear varnishes available anywhere boxes are printed flexo?
A. Sadly many old, corrugated plants and plant managers tend to avoid anything new, or any change they do not understand. Depending on the equipment, using varnishes may require additional clean up and maintenance. Several of our manufacturing partners are well versed and experienced on varnishes so we can do just about anything you may want.
Q. Are all varnishes water based?
A. I cannot answer for all plants and equipment but all the ones we use, definitely use eco-friendly water-based varnishes. Some ink/varnish suppliers even refer to them as aqueous coatings, so there is absolutely no negative impact on the recyclability and pulpability of the boxes you ship to your customers.
Q. What if I want a soft, satin type gloss, not a real shiny one?
A. We can “dial in” the gloss type and provide you with print card samples so you can see what it will look like? High gloss, medium or satin flood coats are all available.
Q. How about spot glosses? Can I just highlight and varnish specific parts rather than an edge-to-edge flood coat?
A. We would want to review the artwork, but chances are, the answer is yes. The only downside is that is if the varnish is going to be applied in specific areas like an ink color, you will need a print plate at an additional onetime cost.
Q. Will varnishes or coatings help us prevent or stop “ink rub off”?
A. There are often situations, especially flood coats of darker ink colors like blue, brown dark gray, and of course black, where the inks can rub off on the packers hands or clothing. The concern of course with inside flood coat dark prints is that the rub off can also rub off on the product being shipped and/or the receiving customer’s hands. A coat of varnish can eliminate or greatly reduce rub off whenever using high pigment flexo inks in high ink coverage designs.
Q. How much does a coating or varnish add to the cost of a box?
A. Surprisingly, it has little impact on cost because we look at it as an additional color and the upcharge for a second or third color is always minimal. A flood coat of flexo, well applied, with a varnish may actually eliminate the need for a digital or litho label print, greatly reducing the unit price. If in doubt, let us see your design and we’ll tell you.

The goal of this post is not to make clear varnishes sound easy, because they are not. Since they are water based, anyone adding too much water to the press mix can negatively impact the end result. Knowing what the end goal is, is critical.

The key though, is to make sure the company you are working with has the experience to do it right. If you are interested in utilizing a varnish coating to your existing or new graphic design, call us at 630-551-1700 or contact us through this web site. We would love to help you achieve the look and final result you want.

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