I think we can all agree that nothing quite compares to the warmth of real wood, the elegance of natural stone or the richness of a fine leather or textile. These timeless materials provide the beauty and authenticity that many clients simply refuse to live without. Our Shinnoki wood panels and Plyboo routed bamboo are both highly celebrated and extensively specified. And it’s no wonder, as they are both delightful examples of sustainable, natural materials being offered in timely and innovative ways.
However, there are times, (and we’ve all been there) when laminates have served the client and the budget as fast, durable and affordable surfacing solutions. Often saving an otherwise woefully over budget or out of time project with an easy option, laminates are often even more durable than their “real” counterpart. With time and money being the bottom line on commercial projects, it’s no wonder that the decision to “go laminate” is becoming less and less of a compromise.
Nowadays, the graphic and textural realism that these materials can achieve, fool even the most trained eye. Have you ever gone so far as to hold a sample to your cheek or even given it a good sniff to confirm its authenticity? No need to be embarrassed, we are all taking closer looks before committing to a true or “faux” verdict.
Most of the advanced realism we see in laminate products come from a few key technology improvements. First photography. Did you know that decor laminate products start with a photograph? Not just one picture of a piece of wood or slab of stone, but many really good, high resolution, well art directed pictures of the subject. Then, using digital manipulation, color correction and let’s not forget trendy layout, (queue barnwood siding) we get highly realistic imagery of.. well, you name it.
These highest quality photographs are then printed on melamine resin soaked paper that are then laminated to either a thin kraft paper/phenolic resin backing as in your standard HPL (High pressure Laminate) or to a thicker ready for install substrate like mdf or particle board in Thermally Fused Laminate or (TFL).
Which is better for your project? While easy to stock, lower cost HPL has long been the go to for the vast majority of specifiers, TFL products are rivaling HPLs now due to their ease of fabrication (just cut and edge band) and monolithic edge appearance ( no black lines). While most HPL companies offer integral or color -through options now, they tend to limited colors and higher in cost. Regardless of esthetics however, phenolic resin reinforced HPL still wins on moisture and abrasion resistance, whereas horizontally challenged TFL gets more winks for its sexy embossed textures, one step fabrication and clean edges. Keep the TFL for your lower traffic surfacing like cabinets and casegoods but don’t ask it compete with HPL for countertops, high traffic or wet areas. Both materials can end up about the same cost once you factor that TFL can have higher material cost but less fabrication compare to lower cost HPL that requires lamination to a substrate.
Not interested in Faux, Fakes or Wannabe’s? We get it. Many discerning design snobs are“ok “ with laminates as long as they don’t try to be something they’re are not. That’s why high performance, soft touch finishes like extreme matte, chic metallics like Rose Gold and an ever growing range of timely solid colors and textures remain of high interest to purists seeking honest solutions who stand on their own merits and materiality.