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and language (the intersection of the parietal, temporal and occipital lobes).
This tells us that touch has obviously been very important in our evolution.
It’s the first sense we acquire ontogenetically—as we’re first developing
as organisms—and plays a huge role in putting our world into context for
the rest of our lives. As babies, the minute we have any control of our hands
we’re grabbing everything we can reach (and eventually putting most of it in
our mouths) to fully experience them.
We’re born with hungry fingers, says Lisa White, head of Lifestyle & Interiors
for WGSN, the global trend forecasting agency. She says in retail markets
especially, there’s a trend toward tactility and temptation of touch—digitally-
dazed consumers are looking for “real.”
“Materials play a big role in getting us away from the tablet or phone
screen. We’re really getting tired of slick surfaces; our fingers are hungry for
tactility. We used a lot of plywood in an exhibition recently because it’s so
refreshing to be in contact with something like that!”
Research published by the National Institutes of Health says that not
only do “shoppers more readily understand and form confident impressions
about products with which they physically interact,” the materials used in
the environment and packaging of a product influence perceptions: “[W]ater
seems to taste better from a firm bottle than from a flimsy bottle.”
In other words, “haptically acquired information exerts a rather broad
influence over cognition, in ways of which we are probably often unaware.”
“Haptics,” from the Greek word for touch, is the science of understanding of why
you feel what you feel when you touch or hold something, and how those percep-
tions might be controlled or influenced. The phrase “haptic feedback” is used to
describe how we interact with technology: the way your electronic devices let you
know you are touching them with minute vibrations, or high-tech cars will vibrate
your seat to alert you that you’re about to back into your neighbor’s mailbox.
Haptics as a term in the interior materials world began in Europe and
crossed the Atlantic with the laminate flooring boom two decades ago.
When laminate flooring was first introduced in Europe, it offered many
advantages over the “natural” materials it was replacing—higher durability, easier
to keep clean, quick to install, easier on the environment, lower cost, etc.
But it had one serious disadvantage: Consumers noticed that the texture
revealed in the glare of window or overhead lighting was visually out of sync
with the printed wood or tile designs.
The standard laminate finish at the time, a pebbled or stippled surface,
has a telltale look when the light hits it right. So, manufacturers began to
study haptics and experiment with technology that controls textures.
These efforts eventually resonated with the rest of the laminate industry,
and now we’re seeing more sophisticated textures appearing on materials
destined for commercial and residential furniture and interiors.
Texture of some kind is applied to all laminate materials–high-pressure laminate
(HPL) and thermally fused laminate (TFL)–most commonly by etched hardened
stainless steel plates, or press moulds, up to 5 ft x 10 ft in size. These plates
are used in the presses that heat and compress the layers of materials that
become laminate. As the laminate materials are heated, they become soft
enough to accept the embossed texture of a press mould plate.
HPL consists of a décor layer and several layers of brownish kraft paper
fused together under heat and pressure in very large presses. The layers for
each sheet are separated by the textured plates, which for HPL are engraved
on both sides. The laminate sandwich below the plate faces up, the sandwich
above faces down, so one plate applies texture to two sheets of HPL in each
pressing cycle. A blank plate is placed on top of the down-facing laminate
sandwich, and the paper-textured plate-paper-order repeats. Large HPL
presses can produce several sheets of HPL in each cycle.
In TFL, where the décor layer is thermally fused in the factory directly to
an MDF or particleboard substrate, panels are pressed one at a time in a
through-feed press. Press plates for TFL are only engraved on one side.
(See sidebar online for more on TFL.)
These plates not only impart texture, they’re part of the mechanical pressing
process, so they’re engineered to exact dimensions and thicknesses, and to
have the thermal properties necessary for different pressing processes.
Plate manufacturers must consider four intersecting goals when engineering
a textured press mould:
w Pattern: Is it a woodgrain, tile, leather, for a geometric or fantasy design?
w Gloss level: Is there a desired, definable gloss level in the designer’s mind?
w Depth: How deep does the texture need to be to achieve the desired
reality for the pattern? Maximum achievable texture depths depend on
the type of material and pressing equipment used.
w Touch: What is the desired haptic response of the surface …
weathered wood, smooth, word tile, warm, flat matte?
All of these characteristics must also be compatible with the surface layer
of the laminate. Décor sheets are impregnated with a melamine resin, which
cures clear in the pressing process and is very hard, and if not handled properly,
brittle, at least until laminated into a finished decorative sheet.
Materials destined for higher use applications may have additional layers
of impregnated paper over the décor surface, sometimes with wear-resistant
additives like aluminum oxide. These additives may change the effect imparted
by the mould plates, and will reduce a plate’s useful life.
The detail engraved or etched into press mould plates range from quite
large and obvious (woodgrain ticking) to microscopic (smooth gradients from
high gloss to super matte). In even the tiniest details manufacturers have
control over depth and directionality, creating structures that, even though
you can “see” or feel them, seem to move as you change your position
around the finished laminate, or move it relative to light sources.
Some laminate manufacturers also use textured release papers to create
laminate texture. This method is more common in Europe, where the market
includes continuously pressed laminates (CPL), rarely found in North America.
CPL is produced in large rolls rather than individual sheets.
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Low-gloss raw wood
and high-gloss laminates
working in harmony.
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