Pictured is Provence Iron Shale, from the Pergo Select line, which features the look of tile in a laminate format. The product also features the company's LusterGard Plus built-in scratch barrier.

Oiled Teak Shipdeck, a new addition to the Alloc Original Collection, is available in 3 3/4-inch-wide planks. The two-strip design incorporates black decorative grooves and no end joints to conjure the rustic, lineal appearance of a ship deck.
In past years, the flooring industry's laminate segment has distinguished itself as a bastion of continuous technical innovation. Consider the abrupt sea change the product category made as manufacturers moved, almost overnight, from traditional glued installation systems to glueless, "click" configurations. And who does not remember the buzz generated by the registered embossing and other textural surface techniques that brought new realism to laminates?

Witex ventured into exotic wood looks this year with Tropical Bamboo from the company's Laura Ashley Home Collection of laminate flooring. Witex plans to introduce additional exotic decors before year's end.
But for 2004, most suppliers have eschewed adding radical new bells and whistles to their laminate lineups, and have opted instead to refocus their product development efforts on design and decor. The result is a refreshed slate of looks, particularly in wood patterns.

Kronotex offers its take on a parquet look with Palatinate Parquet Beech, an offering from the company's Mega Clic laminate line.
That's not to say that ceramic, stone and special-effects decors are not well represented in this year's laminate launches, as some of the new product photos accompanying this story attest. However, it's obvious when perusing the 2004 collections that manufacturers have kept close tabs on product trends prevalent among laminate's hardwood flooring cousins and brought the looks of many of their most popular species and surface treatments into the laminate format.

Although wood-look decors continue to dominate the laminate product category this year, ceramics and natural stone continue to be well represented. Canyon from Wilsonart's Red Label Stones line is just one laminate that convincingly captures the look of marble and granite.
In the aggregate, the laminate industry has implemented a number of new initiatives to even more closely mimic hot fashions in hardwood. Distressed, antiqued, oiled and hand-scraped hardwood flooring has grown increasingly popular over the past few years, and this year laminate followed suit by introducing product with the same looks. Nor have laminate producers ignored consumers' blossoming demand for exotic wood species. Many have added decors that emulate teak, bamboo and other exotics.

BHK of America this year has extended its laminate focus to walls and ceilings. BHK Moderna Logo Laminate Ceiling Planks are available in five color variations.
In addition, certain laminate manufacturers have modified the traditional plank format of the product in a nod to hardwood's installation versatility. For example, laminate herringbone patterns, which make use of individual strips rather than plank-sized units, are now available. And taking this theme even further, some suppliers today offer multi-width and random-length planks, long a mainstay configuration in hardwood. Even parquet is more frequently turning up in laminate form.

Columbus Oak, from the Mannington Revolutions laminate line, features an interchangeable plank design for uninterrupted realism in wood grain from plank to plank.
Recent laminate innovations that once were proprietary to just a few brands have become more commonplace for 2004. Although micro beveling the edges of laminate planks to create a v-groove between the assembled units is no longer a new novelty, it has become a mainstream option instituted by a great many manufacturers this year. In testament to the popularity of the beveled-edge look, some laminate producers that don't emboss the v-groove into their products still offer the illusion of bevels in the photo-realistic decorative paper that so convincingly allows laminate to mimic natural, alternative floor covering materials.

The Quick-Step division of Unilin Flooring is one of several manufacturers that have added the look of exotic wood species to their laminate product offerings. Pictured here is the company's Jatoba laminate plank.
Other recent innovations that now have thoroughly penetrated the laminate segment, rather than being offered by a select few suppliers, include the registered embossing technique and textured-surface treatments.

Armstrong's American Duet Collection, which features the company's NatureTouch embossing process and MasterWorks Technology printing technique, follows the recent laminate trend toward multiple-width products. By mixing the collection's 5- and 7-inch-wide planks, pictured here in the Hartford Maple decor, users can compose a unique pattern all their own.
In the final analysis, there can be no denying that the laminate flooring category has in 2004 come a long way in the variety of looks it offers and the uncanny realism it achieves.