A New Feel In Wood-Look Laminates -- Quick-Step's new Perspective 4 laminate floor, pictured here in Dark Oak, features the Authentic registered embossing surface treatment that corresponds with the pattern of the grain. The company's ceramic-look 8mm Tile laminate line also features textured grout lines to enhance the product's tactile realism.

Even More Like The Real Thing -- Columbia Flooring's Colonial Clic glueless laminate plank is not only registered embossed to enhance the look and feel of its wood decor, it also incorporates beveled edges on all four sides to more realistically emulate natural wood flooring.
When the product category launched in the United States during the mid 1990s, laminate flooring generally was positioned as a less expensive, easier-to-install alternative to wood flooring. Since then, laminate styling has moved on to rather convincingly imitate the looks of ceramic, stone and other popular hard-surface floor covering materials.

Traditionally, when aesthetic comparisons were made between laminates and the natural materials they emulate, laminates sometimes were criticized for their flat, almost featureless surface finishes. In short, laminates lacked the tactile feel and surface variations characteristic of natural flooring alternatives.

But increasingly, that criticism no longer applies. Today, laminate manufacturers have mastered new technological processes that are yielding wood-, stone- and ceramic-look floor coverings that, to the non-expert eye, are virtually indistinguishable from the real McCoys.

No Embossing Required -- Sicilian Slate , from Wilsonart's NaturalStone Finish line, makes use of both physical and visual textures. Visually, the look of the texture is captured via printing technology and enhanced by the product's gloss level to create an impression of greater three-dimensional depth. Physical texture is achieved by texturing, rather than embossing, the product's wearlayer.
The annual Surfaces expo often serves as an unofficial launch pad for burgeoning laminate trends. A couple of years ago, glueless installation systems —- which today are ubiquitous among laminate suppliers —- exploded on the scene during Surfaces. If there was a clear laminate-specific theme at Surfaces 2003, it likely was the emergence of enhanced texturing.

“This year, it’s all about the texture,” says Mark Kieckhafer, marketing director for Alloc Inc. And for many manufacturers this year, that textural focus is being applied more than ever where the product started out —- in wood floor patterns.

A Stone Texture To Match Its Appearance -- Formica's Mythix Collection features 16-inch-square stone and tile motifs executed with the company's 3D In-Register Embossing technology. The product's Dual Gloss Texture makes use of high and low gloss levels to create even more visual dimension.
Alloc is among a growing cadre of laminate manufacturers who have reworked their wood-look products with a greater emphasis on grain textures. The company’s new TimberView line is one of several wood-d¿r products now on the market that incorporates a beveled-edge treatment to more convincingly imitate the look and feel of authentic hardwood flooring. The product also features a texture similar to natural wood that is physically pressed into the surface of the laminate plank.

Alloc's Valencia Earth laminate planks, featuring a 16-by-16-inch tile pattern, use registered embossing to produce a highly realistic result. The process requires precise matching of the decorative paper with the press to create consistency in texture between the overlay and the "actual" stone. The embossing also improves the product's slip resistance and reduces the visibility of footprints and smudges, Alloc says.
That’s not to insinuate that tile and stone looks have been neglected in the effort to bring more texture to the laminate product segment. In fact, many of the textural effects in evidence this year have their origins in the registered embossing technology that was pioneered previously for ceramic tile motifs.

Pictured is Victorian Cherry from the Witex Country LocTec and Country LocTec Comfort Collections. It is one of the many wood decors featuring surface texture that Witex has developed. The company's Casa Collection features several tile-look designs with surface texturing. Witex's soon-to-be-launched Laura Ashley brand laminate flooring also will have a textured surface.
Registered embossing is still used for ceramic-look patterns, particularly to create relief effects between the tiles and grout lines. But now embossing techniques are being more widely employed to mimic the natural undulations and clefting of natural stone patterns as well.

Mohawk's glueless Natural Stone laminate collection achieves striking textural effects
On the other hand, some manufacturers eschew embossing altogether and instead achieve certain tactile effects by texturing the wearlayers of their products. This texturing is further enhanced, in some cases, with visual effects that manipulate and combine gloss levels to create an impression of greater three-dimensional depth.

BHK's Moderna Lifestyle Country Collection encompasses a variety of wood decors with textured wood grains.
Regardless of how such tactile effects are achieved now and in the future, it’s clear that the texture genie is forever out of its bottle. How closely laminate floors ultimately mimic natural materials is a legitimate point of debate.

But for observers who recall the look and feel of the laminates that were introduced to the U.S. market almost a decade ago, the realism of today’s generation of laminate product -- and the swift rate at which it has come to fruition -- is nothing short of astonishing.