UV coating and lamination both have their places in the print finishing world but generally, they're pitted against each other rather than looked at as processes that both have something to offer.
Flood UV coating is a popular option for printers for 3 reasons: it's inexpensive, extremely quick and it protects the print. An additional benefit is that it makes downstream processing easier. Most offset presses have a UV or aqueous coater-in-line, which, compared to lamination, makes the entire process simpler.
However, there are a few key flaws. Although it boasts a glossy sheen and vibrant colors, some water resistance, and an instantaneous dying time, it:
requires venting because of the toxic fumes it emanates
is messy to clean up
can't be used on text weight paper under 100# because it causes curling
requires a coated stock
renders spot foil specialty effects useless because of its high gloss finish
can't be written on or overprinted
cracks when folded
may cause graininess or unevenness in the surface
has limited options available for finishes
But despite this, it's popular because it's simply easy and offers print some protection at a fraction of the cost of lamination.
Although more expensive than UV coating, lamination also has an important place. This is becoming more evident as the print industry begins to head toward print as a premium product. The individuals who want print are willing to invest in it and ensure that they don't only send customers "a mailout". They want them to receive a piece of their brand - a premium experience.
In these cases, we're seeing people opt for lamination because it:
provides vibrant colors
gives true protection against moisture and water (particularly when the piece is encapsulated)
gives tensile strength and body to the printed piece
can be folded
adds weight to the printed material
has a wide variety of options available for finished (gloss/matte; soft touch; scuff resistant; smudge-free; wood, leather, linen, and grit textured)
However, it makes almost every downstream process more difficult because of issues such as flagging and curling. These issues can be resolved with the right films, techniques, and machinery.
Ultimately, the days of the 'UV coating vs Lamination' argument are over. They both have a role to play, and while UV coating is ideal for inexpensive transactional print, once the conversation moves beyond basic print protection and cost, it takes itself out of the equation. Lamination, on the other hand, although a longer and more expensive process, has its place in high-end applications for print customers looking to deliver an experience through print.