Get an Early Start to the Best Finish
Coatings come in a broad array of choices, but depending on the types of book titles that are being produced, it's important to know all of the finishing choices available in order to make an educated and economical decision. BookTech the Magazine asked several coatings experts to offer advice.
"I used to work for an educational publisher, and we [produced] case-bound, hardcover books," recalls Amanda Howard, production manager of Parallel. "The finishing options available included lamination, varnish, UV coating, water-based aqueous coating, or even producing a separate paper dust jacket, although that doesn't stand up well in educational usage."
As Howard points out, application and purpose may largely determine what type of finishing is used for a title's cover or jacket. The list of options may seem short at first glance, but lamination, varnishing and other types of coatings can be manipulated in myriad ways that open up a virtually limitless world of aesthetic possibilities.
When strength matters
Laminating is defined as a plastic layer of film bonded to a printed substrate through a process of heat and pressure. "Laminating will provide the best protection against damage and marking or scuffing. . . For books, lamination is the best," suggests Howard. It's also the most expensive finishing option.
"Lamination is more protective and substantial than UV, aqueous or varnish," explains Larry Amoroso, customer service representative of Coral Graphics. "UV and aqueous [coatings] do not add strength to covers or jackets, but they are a good way to get a matte or gloss effect at a lower cost than lamination."
UV offers some added benefits: it tends to be more protective to the inks than aqueous coatings or varnishes, Amoroso adds. Applying UV coatings, however, tends to be more labor intensive for the printer or finisher, who must operate drying or curing lamps to set the coating. This adds time to the schedule, resulting in slightly higher costs.
John Meyer, director of operations for Cohber Press, suggests that publishers familiarize themselves with CoCure, which he defines as a "hybrid mix of both conventional and UV chemistry. It gives very good gloss-level readings that are in some cases—depending on your stock choice—as good as lamination or full UV . . . coating that's water resistant and affords a good level of protection."
"Laminating will give you the most protection, followed by UV coating, then aqueous coating—last and least, varnish. I believe aqueous coating will work in most cases; it gives good protection and rub, and is the most economical [finishing option]," explains David Thoms, pressroom supervisor at Integra Printing.
While perhaps not the best finishing choice for books destined for a life of above-average wear and tear, varnish does offer minimal protection against minor scratches, fingerprints and smudges, in addition to possessing some aesthetic qualities. A varnished surface has a different tactile property than an uncoated sheet or board, and in some cases, varnishes may be tinted to add a hint of color to images beneath surfaces.
Varnish may be applied in-line very much like inks are applied to paper. It may also have a dull, satin or glossy finish, which will affect the printed images and text underneath, due to the unique ways in which the different finishes reflect light from the surface of the printed piece.
Dull varnishes, for example, can reduce glare; while satin finishes produce a slightly muted, smooth overall surface. For heightened impact, varnishes can be applied in spots to showcase images or important text, such as book titles and author bylines.
As with any other finishing technique, applying varnish takes time and costs money. Publishers and printers must plan ahead to budget line items and additional cycle time. "When problems do occur, they're usually the result of introducing a varnish as an afterthought, particularly as a remedy for oversights or complications in paper choice or presswork," cautions Sappi in its online resource guide to varnishing techniques (www.ideaexchange.sappi.com).
GRACoL 2001 (General Requirements for Applications in Commercial Offset Lithography, www.gracol.com) cautions, if varnishes are applied off-line, the inks must be formulated to accept the overprint varnish. Also, off-line varnishing tends to be more expensive than the in-line alternative.
Like many production projects, it's easy to get wrapped up in the early details such as creative and prepress workflow, paper selection and printing contracts. But it is imperative to not relegate the title's finishing to an afterthought. As the budget is prepared and schedules are set, suppliers should be consulted to make the most appropriate and affordable finishing decision. Are they equipped to handle finishing in-house or will they need to outsource? Successful time to market could be sacrificed if the question goes unasked.
To ensure that the finishing choice will not conflict with inks or paper stock, it is also important to discuss printing conditions and paper selection. According to GRACoL 2001, "The application of energy-curable coatings, such as (UV) or electron beam (EB), aqueous and catalytic coatings may require special ink formulations. Some pigments such as warm red (red lak C) rhodamine red, purple, reflex blue and greens may bleed, change color or fade out as a result of a reaction with components of these types of coatings."
Suppliers are often good sources of practical information about potential problems and finishing costs. Before selecting UV, it should be known that a faster-drying, water-based coating—if appropriate for the job—could cost half as much. Printers and finishers may also offer some suggestions on the best finishing solutions for covers and jackets with embossing, foil stamps or die-cuts.
Also, the involvement of creative and production staff early in the project planning is wise, for they may offer solutions and aesthetic concerns better-voiced sooner rather than later.
-Gretchen A. Kirby
Gretchen A. Kirby (firstname.lastname@example.org) manages P.A.G.E.s, a freelance writing and publishing consulting firm.