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Is there a proof that can accurately show a varnish?

Answered by Stephen Beals, Digital Pre Press Manager and Writer

I have a customer who wants to see a proof of the varnish I've proposed. My printer has supplied me with printed samples of the technique, which is a simple dry trap dull varnish on gloss stock. However, my customer wants to a proof of this specific project. Is there any way to achieve this short of a press proof?

C. L.
Senior Art Director

Most print providers and pre-press houses will not have any means of showing a varnish effect on a proof. Your printer has probably done all he can by providing a printed sample of the effect. There are a few proofing systems, like the Kodak Approval, that can produce a simulated varnish effect. You can also approximate a varnish look with a neutral tint overlay. The problem is the effect of any of these simulations is not going to exactly match the printed work; it's only an approximation. The same problem exists for special metallic colors which cannot be reproduced by ink jet printers. There are special (and expensive) inks or metallic overlays that can be used in some proofing devices, but even under the best of conditions it is still only an approximation of what the final printed piece will look like. A few ink jet printers like the HP z3100 do provide a glossy finish (it's actually a clear ink), but to the best of my knowledge there is no way to print the finishing layer as a spot color; you can only turn it on or off. The coating is not really the same effect a varnish would give in any case. It's really more of a protective coating than a varnish.

This is certainly a problem looking for a solution, but currently the best bet is still a press proof. In theory, there is technology that could provide for a varnish effect on an inkjet printer, but if anyone has come up with the hardware, ink and software to do so, I'm not aware of it.

Perhaps the high cost of that method will convince the client that a simulated output and/or printed sample are sufficient.

If one of our readers knows of another solution, we'd love to hear about it.

Stephen Beals is a digital pre-press manager and has been writing for major print publications for many years. He is the author of A Practical Primer for Painless Print Production. He can be reached at

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