How to Mockup a Spot Varnish Mused on

I recently came into the situation where I was hand producing a one off book and the design called for a spot varnish. Since this was being printed digital, there was no way to use a real spot varnish.

The revelation

I thought about it for a couple days and it just hit me. Why not just use some generic varnish. I went down to my local craft store and bought a small bottle and set out trying it. I tried using a stencil but the varnish would bleed; it was most likely because my stencil was just a sheet of Bristol, so you may have better luck with if you use a plastic or metal.

That’s sooo obvious

Well despite all my searching I couldn’t find a reference to this technique anywhere. I asked both my printer and my paper merchant, and neither of them had any ideas either.

The Technique

While it’s very straight forward, please note the smaller the varnished area, the harder this will be. Grab a small paint brush (I used an acrylic/watercolor brush) with a really fine tip. Load the brush with enough that the varnish begins to form a droplet at the tip (critical for good coverage). Then simply paint the area you want varnished. One dip was enough to do one 57pt semibold character, so you must load the brush often. If done properly it should only take one to three coats.

Things to remember

Just like when using traditional (real) spot varnish, uncoated paper doesn’t take it too well as it tends to absorb it. Also, if your paper is on the lighter side e.g. less than 70 text, it has a tendency to warp your paper. Furthermore, as obvious as it should be, the more coats you put on the thicker (more raised) it gets. In my case this was desirable; however, traditional spot varnished have no perceived height compared to the rest of the printed piece.


This was an old blog post from a previous blog that I managed to dig up. I felt the post was still relevant and helpful, so I decided to republish it. At one point there were images that went with this, but those have been lost to time.

Leave a Reply