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DE104 interiors+sources june2016 interiorsandsources.com
low-cost producers, negatively impacting
broader adoption of the expensive E.i.R.
technology by manufacturers.
E.i.R. in TFL panels has since been
slowly making its way into laminates for
furniture and interiors, and has blossomed
with the distressed, barn-board look
we’ve seen in the last few years. It has
also found its way onto HPL, beginning in
2003 with wall surfaces popular in bathrooms in Scandinavia and Spain.
As E.i.R. was making its eventual way into showrooms and sample books,
a surface design concept originally developed in the 1990s virtually exploded—
matte/gloss finishes. It’s quite a simple idea. Areas of matte finish are alternated with areas of gloss finish, to create the impression of a natural surface
structure. Long-straight woodgrains, mottled stone surfaces, even organic
and geometric patterns on solid colors, have captured the attention of
designers and consumers, first in Europe, now across the globe.
Matte/gloss isn’t designed to compete with E.i.R. Rather, it’s another
option that gives a strong impression, both in touch and lightplay, of the
printed design without pretending to be a literally exact structural match.
NEW GLOSS TECHNOLOGIES
High gloss is still in high demand. Believe it or not, even gloss finishes can
be said to have directionality. Press mould suppliers have discovered that
Detail of a matte/gloss press plate; panels embossed in a matte/gloss woodgrain.
TFL Panels Demystified
The texture revolution began with laminate flooring, which was largely made with thermally fused melamine panels, or TFL. Although widely used in commercial and residential markets, TFL is still not widely understood.
TFL, originally known as melamine board, is a European creation, developed
over a quarter century ago by large composite panel producers looking for a way
to produce decorative panels for furniture and interiors more efficiently than what
was the state of the art at the time—HPL glued to particleboard or MDF.
These producers took the uppermost decorative and durability layers of an
HPL sheet, thermally fused them directly to the surface of the composite wood
substrate, and marketed them as “melamine boards”–melamine being the
resin system that gives toughness and clarity to the surface layer.
But the decors chosen for this first generation of TFL were pretty dull–white,
almond and grey. Black was introduced later, with much fanfare. This is why for
first few decades TFL surfaces were used only for cabinet interiors, closet organizers,
student furniture, and other applications where price point was paramount.
This is why many in the design community could be heard to say,
“Melamine boards? They’re great for cabinet interiors, but that’s about it.”
In the 1990s, TFL design began to emerge from the shadows. A handful of
North American producers began to purchase decor papers from HPL suppliers, so
designers could value engineer projects without compromising design harmony–the
HPL on the high-wear work surface was now an exact match to the TFL casework.
Such design matching programs are now the norm, with all major TFL
producers publishing cross-reference guides for matching and complementary
designs in HPL, 3DL (three dimensional laminates), edge treatments, and other
materials. This “one-stop-shopping” access to matching designs has played an
important role in the growing use of TFL.
THE MAKEUP OF TFL
TFL is a two-component material–surface and core. The core is always
composite wood, either particleboard or MDF, and the surface is a resin-saturated printed decor paper. For very high-wear applications (like flooring),
an additional durability overlay may be used.
The secret to TFL’s appeal for responsible design lies in how these two
elements are brought together. The resin systems in both the composite wood
core and the decor paper overlay flow into each other and crosslink, or “fuse,”
under heat and pressure in a high-tech press. This creates a permanent bond
without the need for adhesives; the paper literally becomes part of the board,
and will never delaminate.
DECOR PAPERS DELIVER THE VISUALS:
HPL, TFL, and the lighter weight paper-based foils all laminates begin with
a design concept, interpreted and executed by décor printers, who print on
papers engineered to accept water-based inks used in the giant rotogravure
printing presses and absorbing the reactive resins required in the pressing
stage without degrading the print.
Design inspiration for laminates come from an infinite number of places,
and with today’s technology, the printed realizations of materials found in
nature, industry, architecture, or even in the imagination, are stunningly vibrant.
Special pearlescent inks can recreate the reflective flare of a piece of finely
finished wood as you turn it in your hands.
Rotogravure printing—laying down portions of a design in stages with
up to four engraved cylinders, each carrying a different color water-based
ink–is the same process used for making fine art prints. Laser engraving of
the cylinders enables greater print definition and detail in even the subtlest
designs, as well as sharper contrasts and smoother tonal gradients for greater
dimensionality and realism.
Printers work with artists to source the raw materials (original art, veneer,
stone), which are photographed or scanned and digitally manipulated for scale
and pattern repeat. These designs may be further tweaked for specific colorways,
so the same visual structures may be offered in very different tones, creating a
catalog of literally hundreds of designs from a single supplier.
COMPOSITE PANELS DELIVER THE BACKBONE:
Particleboard and MDF panels are produced are produced by mixing the wood
particles or fibers with resin, paraffin wax and other additives, forming the
panel, consolidating and curing it under pressure and heat, and then sanding
and sawing to desired dimensions.
The composite panels are highly stable, dimensionally consistent, and can