A coating is a covering that is applied to the surface of an object, usually referred to as the substrate. The purpose of applying the coating may be decorative, functional, or both. The coating itself may be an all-over coating, completely covering the substrate, or it may only cover parts of the substrate. An example of all of these types of coating is a product label on many drinks bottles- one side has an all-over functional coating (the adhesive) and the other side has one or more decorative coatings in an appropriate pattern (the printing) to form the words and images.
Paints and lacquers are coatings that mostly have dual uses of protecting the substrate and being decorative, although some artists paints are only for decoration, and the paint on large industrial pipes is presumably only for the function of preventing corrosion.
Functional coatings may be applied to change the surface properties of the substrate, such as adhesion, wettability, corrosion resistance, or wear resistance. In other cases, e.g. semiconductor device fabrication (where the substrate is a wafer), the coating adds a completely new property such as a magnetic response or electrical conductivity and forms an essential part of the finished product.
A major consideration for most coating processes is that the coating is to be applied at a controlled thickness, and a number of different processes are in use to achieve this control, ranging from a simple brush for painting a wall, to some very expensive machinery applying coatings in the electronics industry. A further consideration for 'non-all-over' coatings is that control is needed as to where the coating is to be applied. A number of these non-all-over coating processes are printing processes.
Many industrial coating processes involve the application of a thin film of functional material to a substrate, such as paper, fabric, film, foil, or sheet stock. If the substrate starts and ends the process wound up in a roll, the process may be termed "roll-to-roll" or "web-based" coating. A roll of substrate, when wound through the coating machine, is typically called a web.
Coatings may be applied as liquids, gases or solids.