So I was browsing quotations for an online printer and i came across these two terms "Spot UV" and "UV Varnish".

I understand that the Spot UV effect is sort of like adding some plastic-like material onto the print material in a desired shape/design eg a logo or text.

Is UV Varnish the same thing, or is it something else altogether? A quick Google search returns UV Varnish and Spot UV to be the same thing, but why would the print company use two different terms for the same idea? I think it might mean something else, hence this question.

Thanks it advance!

  • I think those terms refer to the same process. Many companies are inconsistent with their copywriting, especially if different employees have written different pieces. Commented Jun 2, 2016 at 19:39

3 Answers 3


UV varnish is a thing--a varnish that is (nearly instantly) cured by UV light--but also, without any other qualifiers is going to suggest full-coverage coating ("flood").

While many people use the word varnish as a catch-all concept, as far as I know, UV coating is technically not a varnish, it is a curable liquid plastic. There are varnishes (clear inks), aqueous coatings (water-based), and UV coatings. Not everyone has equipment for UV coating.

Spot UV implies partial coverage, so it uses an extra plate or masked silkscreen on a separate printing pass and usually it is going to be a gloss "emboss" effect or it is applied to e.g. the images only. One might use this to have nice rich gloss color for photos on matte paper while keeping the paper texture in other areas.

It is not uncommon to do the UV coating on a separate pass from the process printing, but this depends entirely on the provider's equipment. Some providers will job it out to a different provider if they are not set up for UV curing.

It is also common to incorporate a Spot UV with an aqueous flood coating (or the reverse), which has a sort of resist effect (I think this is called strike-through varnish).

UV is usually glossier than Aqueous Gloss, but UV is a brittle plastic that cracks, so be careful about folds.


They refer to the same thing.

Many refer to any "ink" other than CMY&K as a spot colour. Varnish needs a printing plate to apply it as does ink so it's referred to as a spot "ink." It's more or less clear and has no inherent hue.

The UV refers to Ultra-violet radiation which is used instead of heat to help set the ink faster. (Heat shifts the colour - a BAD thing for advertising.)


UV inks and varnishes are cured onto the paper using ultra violet light - so it really refers to the type of ink and how it's processed. UV inks can be 'dried' quickly.

A varnish would likely be clear, but would change the sheen level of an item. Front on you may not be able to see it, but when it catches the light it may shine or be dull at odds with the rest of the surface. You'd also be able to feel it to touch.

A spot UV may well be a varnish, but could also simply be a coloured spot colour, as opposed to a colour composed from its constituent CMYK colours.

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