While “haptics” may be a late 20th-century term, texture design has been part
of the decorative surfaces story since the materials were first introduced three
quarters of a century ago.
The first laminates carried a very smooth, satiny finish. Inspired by the finishes
used on real wood, satin was a furniture-like finish that was very cleanable
and didn’t interfere with the rich colors and patterns of the decorative prints.
Unfortunately, this finish was prone to scratching (just like the real furniture finish),
and consumers began demanding an option that was more durable.
The next laminate finished introduced was matte, to offer a warmer, velvety
touch and reduce fingerprints. Still very easy to keep clean, but not a huge leap
forward in scratch resistance. It also softens the visual details of the décor layer.
Enter the ubiquitous “stipple” or CR (crystal) finish. This is the tiny-pebbled texture
you still find on many, many laminate surfaces. The goal was to limit the amount
of the surface that could be contacted by objects that might damage it. The
stipple texture was deeper than previous designs; only a tiny fraction of the actual
laminate surface is ever exposed to contact, minimizing potential damage.
The non-directional structure of the stipple finish is resistant to fingerprints
and cleans easily.
EARLY WOODGRAINS AND TILE TEXTURES
In the late 1970s the first woodgrain textures hit the laminate market, and it has
never looked back. The pursuit of realistic etched woodgrains began to change
perceptions of the material for the better, and different structures and scale
were developed to mimic different wood species.
This was also about the time TFL panels began to find their place alongside
HPL, capable of carrying the same visuals and textures. TFL would eventually
prove to be a cost-effective, efficiently produced alternative for all but the high-est-wear applications, where HPL was still the first choice.
Tile and stone designs also began to mature, capable of conveying the
distinctive characteristics of a slate or granite surface, and the varying textures
and depths of both tile surfaces and grout lines were also applied across a
TEXTILE, LEATHER AND FANTASY TEXTURES
Hounds tooth, linen, burlap, suede, ostrich skin and other textures added a
level of interest not only to printed designs, but solid colors as well. Fantasy
geometric patterns play with the light, creating dynamic and discontinuous
designs that change as you moved around the surface. Steel grate, step plate,
brushed aluminum, corrugated cardboard and small-scale washboard textures
are also part of the fantasy texture movement.
LAMINATE FLOORING RAISES THE BAR
The sheer size and scale of the flooring market inspired laminate producers to up
their game, which required the press mould and release paper suppliers to further
refine their capabilities. Deeper and more detailed textures to cover sculpted and
distressed wood designs and worn stone and tile patterns, combined with the use
of much tough wear layers changed the game for texture technology.
Up until now, textures didn’t match the structure of the printed designs. Rather,
they worked separately to convey “wood,” or “stone.”
Embossed-in-register (E.i.R) flooring designs, introduced in the mid-1990s,
were major leap forward for the entire laminate industry. The idea was to create
surface textures that were in perfect register with a printed woodgrain or other
design. The visuals and haptics of woodgrain ticks, cathedral arches, and knot
details would be in perfect alignment, delivering an unprecedented level of
natural realism in an incredibly durable manmade material.
Executing E.i.R. laminates was a herculean challenge. TFL producers were
the first to tackle it, because their materials made up the bulk of the laminate
flooring market. Printers and press plate producers shared their digital image
files to create parallel designs, but quickly found out that papers and panels
shift ever so slightly in the press.
After solving that problem, they found that the décor papers tend to expand or
shrink when impregnated with melamine resin, and stretch or contract under the
heat and pressure of the press, throwing off the matching scale of the designs.
Looking at a woodgrain where the texture and pattern are even slightly out of
register is very disconcerting; E.i.R. technology is an all-or-nothing endeavor.
Huge investments went into solving those issues, requiring the creation of
new types of décor papers, resin systems and pressing technology and procedures.
At the same time, the laminate flooring market began to be pummeled by very
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The matte/gloss surface texture on the surface and edges creates a strong impression of a
natural surface structure without being in register with the printed design. This approach is
seen often on long-straight woodgrains and mottled stone surfaces.