Aqueous Coating in Printing & Packaging

The packaging box is the first thing prospective buyers see before determining what kind of product is inside. Paper packaging boxes do much more for the product than just housing it. It must adequately protect the product while not compromising its shape or elegance. The right print aqueous coating helps ensure that the paper box remains durable, elegant, and attractive to buyers. It protects the box from scratches, moisture, scuffing, fingerprint smudges, and other undesirable effects.

While the aqueous coating is the popular de-facto choice of many box manufacturers for coating their paper boxes, there are two other popular kinds of coatings for paper packaging boxes – varnishes and ultraviolet (UV) coating.

Glossy UV Aqueous Coating Paper Box
Glossy UV Coating Paper Box
Matte Aqueous Coating Perfume Box
Matte Aqueous Coating Perfume Box


Varnish is clear ink applied on a printed medium and then dried. The ink can be gloss, satin, or matte. It is usually use to enhance the appearance and durability of paper packaging boxes. Varnishes, however, become yellow with age. While this may not be so obvious when applied over processed, colored papers, it is noticeable when applied on unprinted paper.

Types of Varnishes

  • Gloss Varnish

You can choose glossy varnishes to apply over the entire surface of the box or only in some specified areas. The result is a very smooth and glossy finish, making the box look more saturated with more color depth and improving image contrast. Its glossy finish, however, results in a very reflective surface that is susceptible to glare and could impair the legibility of the printed text on the box.

  • Matte Varnish

The matte varnish ink protects package boxes with a smooth, soft, and subtle surface appearance. But unlike gloss varnishes, it results in a non-reflective surface, improving the readability and legibility of texts printed on the box’s surface. Matte varnishes are more resistant to fingerprints and smudges than gloss varnishes, although they tend to scuff and gloss up after some time due to wear and tear.

  • Satin Varnish

This development involves combining gloss and matte ink to balance the gloss’s shining properties and the matte’s smudge resistance. The result is an intermediate level of shine and high resistance to scuffs and smudges. Satin varnishes have a very subtle appearance on boxes, making the coated boxes look almost as if no coating was applied.

Glossy Varnish Coating Jigsaw Puzzles
Glossy Varnish Coating Jigsaw Puzzles

UV (Ultraviolet) Coating

UV coating is a chemical-based protectant coating applied inline to the entire box sheet using a roller, screen, or blanket. The constituent chemicals are often polyethylene, kaolinite, or calcium carbonate. The chemical coating dried instantaneously by exposing the coated surface to ultraviolet (UV) drying lamps. This exposure to UV light polymerizes and hardens the coat. The result of a coated surface is very glossy, durable, and resistant to rubs, scuffs, and smudges. UV coating is, however, relatively thicker and harder than other types of coating, making it less flexible and vulnerable to cracks when folded or bent.

Types of UV Coating

  • Gloss UV Coating

Gloss UV coating produces a glossy, shining, and highly reflective surface that is brilliant and beautiful to look at. Its over-the-top shine can also undermine the imprinted text and design on the paper material and may put people off.

  • Matte UV Coating

Matte UV coating is mostly applied to particular spots on a paper material that you wish to highlight with a rich, vivid effect and contrast nicely with the rest of the surface. It is, however, prone to fingerprint smudges and not advisable for all packaging.

  • Pearlescent UV Coating

This coating gives off a lustrous iridescent glow that combines gloss UV coating with metal dots in different colors. It is mostly used in cosmetics packaging.

  • Orange Peel UV Coating

This coating results in a textured finish that, because of its unique raised design, combines visual stimulation with tactile experience. This results in a coated surface that is pleasing to look at and amazing to handle.

UV Aqueous Coating Lipstick Box
UV Coating Lipstick Box

Aqueous (AQ) Coating

Aqueous coating, as implied in the name, is water-based. It is a clear, fast-drying varnish applied to printed surfaces to enhance their durability and attractiveness. Aqueous coating is dried through natural oxidation – air drying. It is an eco-friendly coating solution that dries fast, protects the printed surface, and enhances its durability by making it resistant to fingerprints, scratches, smudges, and other wear and tear blemishes that may undermine its attractiveness. Aqueous coating is also known as flood finish because it covers the entire print surface instead of being applied to specific parts.

Types of Aqueous Coating

There are various types of aqueous coating, including gloss aqueous coating, matte aqueous coating, satin aqueous coating, soft touch aqueous coating, pencil-receptive aqueous coating, and dry-erase aqueous coating.

  • Gloss AQ Coating

Gloss finishes can be achieved with either AQ or UV coating. Gloss AQ coating is preferred if you want a more subtle and muted gloss look for your product rather than the shimmery gloss that UV coat produces. This coating help disguise surface flaws and design imperfections of the paper material and improve color contrast and ink saturation. But like all gloss finishes, the glossiness reduces readability and may not be a good choice for packaging boxes with a lot of text printed.

  • Matte AQ Coating

Matte aqueous coating is ideal for minimalistic and less showy package boxes. It sacrifices glossiness and shine for color brilliance and intensity. Matte coatings are generally more resistant to scuffs and smudges. This, combined with their minimalistic aesthetic, makes them the ideal coating for functional package boxes that prioritizes durability over glamorous appearance.

  • Satin AQ Coating

The satin aqueous coating offers the best of both gloss and matte aqueous coatings. It results in a rather moderate shine and adequate wear resistance. If you are not quite prepared to sacrifice aesthetics for durability, the satin aqueous coating offers a modest compromise.

  • Soft Touch AQ Coating

Soft touch aqueous coating produces a soft, velvety texture that makes the print material look and feel soft and premium while also functioning as an adequate protective layer.

  • Pencil Receptive AQ Coating

Regular aqueous coating, or any other coating, makes it difficult to imprint with pencil or ink on the coated surface. The pencil-receptive aqueous coating produces a surface designed to enhance the quality of pencil, ink, or laser imprints. This coating is ideal for print boxes where imprint quality is important.

  • Dry-erase AQ Coating

This is a low-budget coating alternative to the gloss aqueous coating. It achieves a high gloss effect at a smaller cost. It is an inexpensive alternative to laminate and makes any print material suitable as a dry-erase marker surface.

Aqueous Coating Packaging Box with Window
Aqueous Coating Packaging Box with Window

The Aqueous Coating Application Process

The aqueous coating solution is applied to the print paper material after they are imprinted with ink. To apply the aqueous coating, the paper material is coated in a water-based adhesive and then immediately dried using a heated air system to hasten the drying process. The coated material then proceeds through to the finishing area.

To achieve optimal results during the coating process, it is important to ensure that the coating is applied evenly across the surface of the paper. Also, you need to consider the weight and texture of the paper material to avoid issues like curling, warping, or wrinkling. Heavier paper requires minimal coating application than lighter paper. It is important to consider this before beginning the application process.

Advantages of Aqueous Coating

  • Non-toxic and Eco-friendly

Aqueous coating, being water-based, contains no toxic chemicals that could be hazardous to the environment. They are easily recyclable and can be effectively disposed of as they decompose easily without harming the environment. On the other hand, UV coating is chemical-based and contains toxic carcinogens that make them unrecyclable. They also do not decompose in landfills contributing to the vast plastic waste the world is battling.

  • Ease of Production

Being water-based means its production process is relatively easier and straightforward as the needed materials are handy and easier to source. The water-based coating also means the result dries quickly, unlike the UV and varnish coatings.

  • Cost-effective

The aqueous solution is easier and cheaper to produce, lowering the production costs of the manufacturer seeking to package his goods. This makes them an ideal choice, especially compared to the costlier alternatives of UV coating and varnishes.

  • Flexibility and Versatility

The aqueous coating makes it easy to add finishing touches to the print material without any hassles. It is very easy to write and print over the coating, a much more difficult thing to do with UV coating. Also, the print material coated with the aqueous coating is more flexible and malleable as they do not suffer wrinkling or cracking when bent or folded, unlike when applying UV coating.

  • Durability

Aqueous coating protects the material from the blemishes and smudges associated with handling and everyday wear and tear. It seals the print ink against exposure to air, preserving its metallic appearance for a long time. And unlike varnishes, it does not yellow or discolor over time.

Aqueous Coating Corrugated Box
Aqueous Coating Corrugated Box


Paper packaging boxes used to house products must protect the product and possess a ‘wow’ factor that would draw buyers to the product. You must finish your packaging boxes with the ideal coating solution to give them that wow factor. The aqueous coating solution is the industry’s default choice for coating, and for a good reason; It is cheap, fast, eco-friendly, and durable – an ideal choice.

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