Mannington Longwood laminate flooring, in the Brazilia pattern and Black Pepper color.

Hardwood visuals featuring high-gloss finishes, exotic looks, and subtle hand-scrapes are some of the current trends dominating laminate flooring, according to manufacturers. While flooring makers say the market is moving toward more traditional-looking products, manufacturers are still mixing it up – creating longer, wider planks in hardwood styles and offering thinner grout lines in tile looks.

New to Quick-Step’s Country Collection, Rustic Cottage Oak features a wire-brushed look in a wood grain visual.

David Sheehan, Mannington’s vp resilient and laminate business, said his company is focusing on greater visual clarity and longer planks. “A trend that’s been happening in real wood is the planks have been getting wider and longer. Inspired by that, we’re introducing the Longwood collection, which features planks that are 6.78 feet long by 7.8 inches wide.”

The 12 mil-thick Longwood collection will offer a range of looks, including several high-gloss patterns, though Sheehan said the focus for the line is high-clarity. “If it’s a rich wood design, it will be both high-clarity and high-gloss. But if it’s a high-clarity driftwood look, for example, it won’t feature high-gloss, because that wouldn’t make sense for the pattern.”

Fountainhead Lake is part of Shaw’s new Domestic Luminiere Crystal Lake collection.

Armstrong and Bruce are also introducing long plank looks, including New England Long Plank from Armstrong and Sapele Long Plank from Bruce. Milton Goodwin, Armstrong vp, laminate and ceramic, said new fold-down installation systems for laminate floors, such as Armstrong’s Lock&Fold system, are designed to make installation of the long plank looks “possible and profitable for installers.”

Eric Erickson, Shaw’s laminate category manager, noted his company is launching a range of domestic hardwood-inspired laminate floors. “With the Lacey Act, exotics are not playing as big a part in the marketplace,” he explained. “Exotics are still going strong, but they’re starting to slow down. What we’re focusing on, after looking at what [sister company] Anderson has been doing, is getting exotic visuals in domestic species.”

Hand-scraped textures also remain strong, he said, but the products have become subtler. “Hand-scraped looks are dialing back,” Erickson stated. “We’re using subtler textures and have worked really hard on the visuals and color movement.”

Paradise Bamboo, new from Wilsonart Contract.

Contrast and movement are focuses of Wilsonart Flooring’s new Fireside Maple, according to company designer Natalia Smith. “Contrast and movement are achieved here by the color and grain structure of this stained driftwood [look],” she noted.

The company has also unveiled its Residential Impact Warranty for impact resistance. The Classic collection carries a 5-year warranty, while the Estate Plus, Red Label and Professional Studio lines feature 10-year warranties.

On the commercial side, Wilsonart Contract is launching several new patterns, including an exotic look called Paradise Bamboo. According to Smith, this flooring evokes “the global trend [toward exotics] seen in both residential and commercial segments.”

Jeff Katz, director of laminate for Tarkett Residential noted “antique-stained and soft-hand scraped designs” are very popular in the marketplace. Tarkett has introduced Tarkett Trends, a collection of eight products featuring these types of designs. “Positioned as a premium-value product, this collection is aimed at that perfect retail sweet spot,” he said.

Travis Bass, exec. vp sales and marketing for Kronotex USA, which manufactures the Formica Flooring and Kronotex brands, said mid price-point products are gaining momentum. “Consumers have been choosing value brands during the difficult economic times,” he said. “For the past several months, however, we have seen an emergence of the mid-price point preferences for micro-beveled, higher-gloss products.”

Formica Flooring’s new Messina floor in Abilene Oak.

According to Jane Little, Faus’ director of marketing, manufacturers are also taking a fresh look at their tile and stone visuals. “Everybody can do wood grains now, and everybody is always looking for a new, innovative way of doing laminate,” she said. “I think the trend is going to be a lot of new tile and ceramic styles you haven’t seen before.”

Faus is introducing a range of new laminate floors designed to mimic, tiles, slates and stones. “One of our hottest patterns has been multi-directional Cottage Stone. This year we’re coming out with Travertine and Slate in the Cottage collection.”

The company is also launching Multi-Slate, a look featuring “a multi-colored 16 inch plank with slate squares going in different directions and colors, without the grout line,” she said.

In wood-look visuals, Faus is introducing Convex Surface technology, “a patent-pending 3-D look where you can see the actual texture raised up out of the surface,” Little explained, noting the technology will give the floors added depth and realism.

Adam Vester, Pergo’s director of design, said this year’s laminate floors will feature “organic, modern looks. We’re seeing a little bit more of the satin finishes coming through, as well as more nature-inspired looks that are almost unfinished.”

He said there will also be a shift toward richer colors such as creams, golds and ambers, as well as more blacks and grays. Additionally, in the tile segment the grout lines are going to keep getting smaller, so the products look more like a dry-fitted natural stone, with a beveled edge and almost no grout.

According to the Classen Group, laminate flooring may even soon find itself as décor that goes beyond flooring. At this year’s Domotex, the company launched “gecko – Laminate Goes Wall,” a collection of laminate marketed as an “attractive, high-quality alternative to traditional wall paneling.”

This year will also bring some new players to the segment. Hardwood flooring maker Ark Floors, based in El Monte, Calif., has signaled its interest in joining the category when it debuted a new laminate flooring line last month at Surfaces 2010 in Las Vegas. The line, which will feature between 10 and 15 SKUs, is slated to roll out this summer.

“There are a lot of players in the laminate business, but we feel we can bring a nice line of products to the market, offering great value and quality,” said Ira Lefkowitz, ceo of Ark. “The line is still in development, but it will offer good products at a competitive price point.”