By Reginald Tucker
It’s often said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But when it comes to laminate flooring manufacturers striving to replicate genuine hardwood flooring visuals, make no mistake: it’s all about seizing market share.
To that end, suppliers are pulling out all the stops, utilizing advancements in embossing techniques, screening and digital printing technologies to render not only extremely realistic wood visuals but also textures and heft.
While some companies utilize in-house capabilities, tools and equipment to create one-of- a-kind hardwood visuals, others rely on experts in digital printing to execute realistic hardwood designs. A company best known for its capability in this regard is I4F. The company has evolved over the years from specializing in glueless locking systems to developing digital printing technologies that are often used in the creation of today’s modern wood patterns.
“Cutting-edge digital printing technologies are enabling flooring manufacturers to create unique designs, achieve superior optical quality and avoid unnecessary inventory on pre-printed materials,” said John Rietveldt, I4F CEO. “Our digital printing patent portfolio means our licensees now have access to the most important and usable digital printing technologies in the industry.”
Following is an overview of how some suppliers are utilizing technology to not only deliver more realistic wood looks but also get retailers excited about laminate again.
Beauflor USA offers two laminate collections, Hydrana and Trendline Pro. The Hydrana collection features eight on-trend colors with embossed textures for a luxurious and authentic hardwood visual. Hydrana is water resistant and backed by a 72-hour topical water warranty. It has a 14mm thickness that includes a 2mm attached pad for additional underfoot comfort and noise reduction.
The Trendline Pro collection is an 8mm product featuring eight neutral colors ranging from blonde to dark brown and a matte finish to help conceal footprints and dirt. It is a visually appealing collection ideal for most households with active lifestyles as well as commercial spaces with light to moderate foot traffic.
“These collections showcase a beautiful selection of natural hardwood color palettes and different levels of texturing for customers seeking smooth or rustic wood visuals,” said Whitney Myers, communications coordinator. “Both products combine the look of natural hardwood floors and painted bevels with the added benefits of superior durability and low maintenance requirements. They are both suitable for installation in residential and commercial settings.”
Within its Atroguard collection, CFL continues to focus on innovating with texturing such as embossed-in-register and hand-scraped finishes. These textures emulate natural wood knots and grains while capturing the warmth and look of traditional wood.
“This is especially evident in our larger and wide-width plank collections,” said Barron Frith, president, CFL North America. “Retailers can leverage the realistic look with the impeccable scratch- and stain-resistant surface with our durability story. When you pair the visuals, water- resistance and performance attributes, it’s very compelling.”
When it comes to replicating wood looks, Inhaus looks to the source—Mother Nature. “Over the years laminate production, particularly with our proprietary processes, has become quite detailed in its ability to mimic real wood,” said Derek Welbourn, CEO. “Today’s laminate production processes actually use real wood as the base to which further enhancements are added.”
Inhaus has continually made investments in its people and its technology to control the design process in house. The company acquires real wood, scans it and manipulates it digitally to make its own decors to create genuine wood-look laminates. Before the digital process, the wood may be conditioned before scanning or staining (using different light sources or multiple scans to achieve various effects).
Lastly, depending on the desired look, Inhaus determines the texture and gloss level. For example, it might bevel the edges (or not), use embossed-in-register designs and/or alter the gloss from plank to plank or within the plank.
Aside from advancements in design, Inhaus said great design can also have an environmental story to tell. “You can now bring to market a vibrant oak design from a tree that is hundreds of years old without ever cutting oak trees down for production,” Welbourn explained.
The secret in Mannington’s sauce is the fact that its in-house styling team starts with real raw materials and then custom creates its designs based on the latest North American trends. As opposed to buying “off-the-shelf” designs, Mannington starts from scratch and individually tailors each plank to come up with unique patterns, the company said.
“The latest addition to our award-winning Restoration collection that exemplifies this phenomenal realism is a pattern called Anthology,” said Dan Natkin, vice president of hardwood and laminate, Mannington. “This pattern, inspired our hardwood product, Triumph, combines the three most widely used species in flooring: white oak, hickory and maple. Each plank in this pattern is unique in individual character, grain and color variation—and when blended together create a phenomenally realistic visual that is both rich and dramatic.”
Anthology utilizes Mannington’s TruDetail digital technology, which allows it to offer 20 unique planks in this pattern per box—far surpassing the industry norm, according to Natkin. “Sales of this product have exploded this year as retailers recognize the unique realism offered in combination with the outstanding performance benefits of a laminate floor,” he said.
From its launch back in 2018, RevWood continues turn the heads of retailers and consumers alike. Its top-selling wood-look patterns range from contemporary visuals such as those found in its Boardwalk collection as well as its Rare Vintage line, which sports a more rustic flair. Other strong movers include Chestnut as well as its Antique Craft line—both of which come in the popular longer/wider format.
Developing realistic patterns such as these, according to Adam Ward, senior product director, laminate and hardwood, starts with real wood samples as the inspiration. “It’s really about focusing on nailing the looks,” he explained. “It all starts with the wood that we scan in and then we manipulate it. We also make our own press plates in our own factories. It’s that total control from start to finish that allows us to get that higher level look that consumers can really see in the final product.”
Additional proprietary touches such as its GenuEdge beveling technology also provide added realism. As Ward explained, “We press the bevel into the product, which makes a big difference compared to other processes. With GenuEdge, you get edge to edge coverage on the same paper. That’s closer to what you would see in a real wood product.”
There are dozens of authentic-looking wood visuals across Shaw Floors’ laminate offering, but Grand Vista stands out as a top seller. “The product evokes a weathered oak visual, highlighting the natural gradient of wood in gray and warm undertones throughout,” said John Hammel, director of category management, wood and laminate. “Deep texture and split-plank looks achieve unmatched realism for these 72-inch planks. With wider and longer boards, high-contrast wood visuals, bevels and EIR texture, Grand Vista is an excellent water-resistant, on-trend option.”