What Is Laminate Flooring and How Is It Made?
It’s an amazing manufacturing process by which four layers are fused together in a single press operation at high heat at over 300˚F using direct-pressure laminate (DPL) construction. DPL is the most typical fusing method used to manufacture residential laminate flooring.
Let’s review each of the four layers starting with the bottom layer
Layer D: Backer paper
At the base of every Swiss Krono laminate flooring plank is a bottom balancing layer that keeps the board straight. The backer seals the back of the laminate board so its dimensional stability isn’t compromised in any way, for example by moisture. Some Swiss Krono laminate planks have foam padding added, eliminating the need for an underlayment; underlayment or padding enhances the acoustical quality of the floors when you walk on it.
Layer C: HDF core or board
The core layer of Swiss Krono laminate flooring is high-density fiberboard (HDF). There is also medium-density fiberboard (MDF), which Swiss Krono does not use in the production of its laminate flooring planks. Both HDF and MDF are made from softwood fibers that are broken down, combined with a wax and resin binder, and formed into panels using heat and pressure. However, HDF offers superior stability and strength compared with MDF for the production of laminate flooring; it makes a better floor.
During the manufacturing process, the HDF core will be milled to absolute, micron-precise tolerances. The edges of each plank will be cut to specific profiles to make them easily and consistently fit together for a snug, reliable installation according to one of four locking systems. The extreme micron-milling precision required for these locking systems panel profiles is only possible with an HDF core.
Layer B: Decorative paper
Next comes the decor or decorative-paper layer. The decorative paper is a high quality printed design that gives the laminate plank its distinctive appearance. That appearance can be a realistic reproduction of wood, stone or marble in a multitude of colors and patterns, as well as such non-traditional designs as leaves or grass, artwork or paint splatters.
Layer A: Wear or overlay layer
The top laminate flooring layer is the wear or overlay layer. Aside from putting the finishing, lustrous touch on every plank, it serves several important functions that enhance the floor’s durability:
- The wear layer seals and protects the surface of the laminate floor from everyday minor wear and accidents such as scuffs, scrapes and scratches commonly caused by pet claws, shoes, kids toys, furniture legs, vacuum cleaners and the like.
- It shields the decorative paper layer from harmful ultraviolet rays that could fade the color. Most people like big open windows. Problem is that if those windows face south or southwest, prolonged exposure from sunlight can subject the floor to a big dose of ultraviolet rays. UV rays can actually create photodegradation (fading) that breaks the chemical bonds in color. In essence, the color gets “bleached” over time from the sun without proper Wear Layer protection.
You’ll notice a range of finishes (from near matte to high-gloss) in the wear layer depending on the desired style of flooring. As you can see, a lot goes into laminate flooring to make it such an ideal floor for wear and affordability as well as beauty. We put all those important elements and more into every plank we make at Swiss Krono.
Laminate is now more durable, easier to install and looks more realistic
“Laminate has a lot going for it. It’s durable. It’s easy to install. It’s competitively priced, and its visuals are among the most realistic in the industry.” So says Jessica Chevalier, Floor Focus Magazine editor, in an article titled “Laminate 2013” in an issue about the laminate flooring industry. Chevalier did extensive interviews with flooring retailers around the country for her article, asking them about laminate flooring. The article specifically addresses:
- The ongoing threat of category commoditization,
- Competition with “Big Box” retailers,
- The misperception that all laminate floors are a “cheap” alternative, and
- The future of the laminate flooring category.
Here are highlights we found particularly interesting and worth bringing to your attention:
Durability is laminate flooring’s strength
As the Floor Focus article states, “Among the retailers with whom we spoke, the durability of laminate seemed to be the most important selling point. For active households, it is second only to ceramic for durability. It is resistant to scratches, dents and staining. In other words, it’s able to stand up to abuse from both kids and pets.”
Experts agree: Laminate flooring’s realistic visuals can’t be distinguished from hardwood
You can’t beat the realism of high quality laminate flooring! Realism was noted by another trade journal as an important trend. Floor Focus shares this marvelous story:
“Booth (a regional sales manager from another laminate flooring company) shares a story from the National Wood Flooring Association show. The flooring in one booth was a mix of hardwood and laminate. Some of the hardwood experts at the show expressed interest in buying the laminate product, not realizing it wasn’t hardwood. So, at the high end, the realism of laminate can be very convincing, even to the expert’s eye.”
The decor-layer printing of laminate flooring gets better and better
A big reason for the jaw-dropping realism of laminate flooring products (especially Swiss Krono’s) has to do with continued technological improvements in printing. Or, as one individual in the article puts it,
“Baldwin (a retailer product manager) believes that laminate flooring will continue to dominate in the DIY category, and he predicts that the category’s visuals will continue to improve, ‘Every time we think that the printing reaches its peak,’ he says, ‘it gets even better.’”
Laminate flooring can be installed over an existing floor
One dealer interviewed for the Floor Focus article had an interesting observation regarding the advantage that laminate can be installed over an existing floor:
“He emphasizes to customers that not having to install a subfloor means that they are investing their money in a product, not in preparing for a product, and that the saved money can be put towards a higher quality floor covering. Says Donohoe, “Many vinyl customers will upgrade to laminate when they find that vinyl may require a subfloor.”