The purpose of a varnish or laminate is to protect your printed label from exposure to moisture, abrasion and light, as well as things like smudges and fingerprints. A varnish or laminate can also boost the visual appeal of your label with a smoother, glossier finish. If you want a more rustic, natural look, with texture and no shine, then you should avoid using a top coat. But if your label needs protection from the elements and you want to keep it looking good for a long time, then you should definitely consider a varnish or finish.
So then, what's the right finish for you?
Varnish is a liquid finish that’s applied over the printed label to seal and protect the ink. It’s available in gloss or matte finishes and is usually matched to the underlying paper i.e., matte varnish for matte paper and glossy varnish for glossy papers. Varnishes are typically less expensive than laminates but they also typically don't hold up as long.
Lamination provides the ultimate in protection for your label. It’s available in a thin bi-oriented polypropylene film (BOPP) or Thermal Transfer (TT) polyester that’s applied after printing to seal and protect the ink. Lamination is ideal for labels that will be exposed to moisture, abrasion and light. It's highly recommended for products that are being packed, shipped or shelved. Available in both gloss and matte finishes, as well Thermal Transfer for secondary printing, lamination is great if you want a more pronounced sheen and texture than varnish. With a gloss laminate you get a shiny, polished finish, while matte lamination offers a smooth, no-glare finish.