Modern fiber placement machines allow laminates with spatially varying stiffness properties to be manufactured. In earlier research, the authors optimized variable stiffness plates for maximum buckling load, demonstrating significant improvements in load-carrying capacity. In aerospace applications, panel structures are often permitted to enter the postbuckling regime during service. It is, therefore, not only important to understand their postbuckling behavior, but also to develop fast analysis methods that can subsequently be used in a design optimization framework. The aim of the present research is to study the postbuckling behavior of the optimized plates using a perturbation method that has been developed earlier within a general-purpose finite element environment. The perturbation approach is used to compute postbuckling coefficients, which are used to make a quick estimate of the postbuckling stiffness of the panel and to establish a reduced-order model. In the present work, the postbuckling analysis of variable stiffness plates is carried out using the reduced-order model, and the potential of the approach for incorporation within the optimization process is demonstrated. © 2011 World Scientific Publishing Company.