by Melissa Donovan
Grand View Research, an analyst firm out of San Francisco, CA, found that the global wood and laminate flooring market size was valued at USD 63.01 billion in 2019 and predicts a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.3 percent from 2019 to 2025.
The report, Wood And Laminate Flooring Market Size, Share & Trends Analysis Report By Product (Wood Flooring, Laminate Flooring), By Application (Residential, Commercial, Industrial), By Region, And Segment Forecasts, 2019 – 2025, published in November 2019 anticipates growth on account of the introduction of laminates and engineered wood floors that replicate natural solid timber floors.
Above: Brumark’s digital printers are used to produce graphics in its FlexFloor rollable vinyl solutions product line, specifically the Clear Choice and Image White products.
The use of digital printing in the manufacturing of flooring aids in this growth, as it is increasingly utilized to replicate natural designs in the material. “Factors such as sophisticated appearance and ease of maintenance are expected to propel the adoption of wood and laminate flooring. Advancements in designing and printing technology make laminated floors look more realistic, which surged popularity among consumers across the globe.
Furthermore, technological advancements in engineered wood floors have contributed to the ascending product demand,” notes the Grand View Research study.
Both direct print to board as well as printing to papers that are then run through a separate device to create the final product are digital print techniques being used today. Each provide advantages depending on the type of flooring produced as well as preference of the actual manufacturer.
Designers and consumers prefer engineered hardwood and laminate floors for many reasons. Specifically, those produced via digital print are easily customizable and relatively quickly placed in a sales channel to hit market faster. Shorter runs also ease inventory issues for the manufacturer. to hit the market.
According to the Grand View Research report, “engineered hardwood floorings are gaining popularity owing to easy design customization and availability of a variety of wood species to enhance the aesthetics. Moreover, the engineered wood is cheaper as compared to solid wooden floors.”
The analyst firm predicts laminate floor’s usage to increase at a CAGR of 4.6 percent in terms of revenue from 2019 to 2025. “This type of flooring is increasingly used in commercial applications on account of its capability to sustain high traffic and custom printability,” the report states.
For the digital decorative market as a whole, Carsten Brinkmeyer, head of business development, Hymmen GmbH, notices a trend away from fixing laminates on wood-based materials and towards printing directly on either wood-based materials or on multilayer flooring.
“The true goal of any just-in-time manufacturing system is always to leave the customization until the end. It is ideal to manufacture and stock plain, unprinted boards and decorate them only as required. In other words, the digital print system is printing directly onto an otherwise finished board. The image to print can be chosen at the last moment and can vary continuously to avoid pattern repetition,” recommends John Corrall, managing director and chairman, Industrial Inkjet Ltd.
This enables a wider range of design options. “Direct to print is a more efficient process allowing for inventory reduction, while providing board manufacturers as well as furniture, cabinet, door, and flooring manufacturers great flexibility,” agrees Juan Jose Catalan, global building materials sales manager, EFI.
One example of direct to board technology is the EFI Cubik inkjet printer, which prints direct onto wood boards instead of printing to a paper that is then laminated onto the wood. It can be equipped with either UV LED or mineral inks to digitally stain wood.
UV LED inks offer a wide gamut and are suitable for indoor applications. Mineral inks penetrate the wood substrate, which make them ideal for the decoration of hardwood planks and veneers. They are lightfast so they are well suited for outdoor decoration.
Hymmen on the other hand manufactures several digital printing lines that operate in the traditional way, printing to paper and then laminated to a separate board on a secondary device. The latest product is the SATURN Digital Printing Line, but with water-based ink added to the portfolio.
According to Brinkmeyer, the addition of water-based inks into Hymmen’s SATURN portfolio provides two benefits. “Water-based inks can be integrated easier into an existing production line. Also, they allow for special inkjet papers to be used or standard paper can be treated with a primer before printing.”
Analog to Digital
Digital printing maintains a small, but growing presence in the overall flooring market. Analog decorative methods continue to reign supreme.
When compared to other surface manufacturing categories—for example furniture—Brinkmeyer believes flooring production facilities use digital printing technology on a much larger scale.
Catalan points to the ceramic tile market as one manufacturing segment that is almost completely digitized. However, the path this industry followed to digital—as well as others—will be mimicked by flooring manufacturers.
“This will happen in the coming years driven by manufacturing efficiencies but also by new business opportunities with smaller batches, customization, and enhanced decoration possibilities,” predicts Catalan. He adds that direct inkjet printing to wood for industrial purposes has really just started.
It is important to note that after the initial print, flooring typically requires protective or aesthetic finishes to complete the look. This includes features like fire retardancy, UV filters, or anti-graffiti. This is almost always completed during the lamination process and at this time, analog technologies are still in use.
“Normally the decorative finishes go after the digital printing through a separate process. Either digitally printed décor paper is pressed in a double-belt press or a multi-opening press where the impregnated papers are finished, or the digitally printed surfaces are lacquered,” explains Brinkmeyer.
Catalan argues that although “protective qualities are typically applied during the lamination process, digital printing offers unparalleled durability and resilience as it actually becomes part of the polymer substrate during the printing process.” Meaning in some instances, a digitally printed floor may not require additional protective coatings post print.
Sizing Up Hospitality
Many flooring manufacturers use digital printing technologies in house to address the growing demand for personalization. One segment receptive to customization techniques when it comes to décor is the hospitality industry—from restaurants to hotels and entertainment venues.
“There’s room for growth in this sector and manufacturers stand to gain a lot of opportunity by proactively reaching out to businesses with a solution. This is something that is only possible with digital printing. Total customization can be produced in an industrial, efficient, and cost-competitive way,” says Catalan.
Hospitality businesses look to develop an identifiable brand to stand out from the competition. Branding becomes more than signage, but extends to customized floors, as well as other surfaces like countertops or doors.
Single- or multi-pass digital printing can be used in this instance, notes Brinkmeyer. This is ideal for the low batch sizes that are most likely required in these scenarios.
Focused on Event Flooring
Another segment ideal for customization techniques when it comes to flooring is the trade show and event space. Branding and customization is essential to making a marketing message in an area saturated with competitors stand out and this is something where digital printing techniques excel.
Brumark, a division of Exploring, Inc., is a “total flooring solutions specialist.” In business since 1983, the Atlanta, GA-based company offers a one-stop solution for creative, convenient, and cost-effective trade show and exhibit flooring in the U.S.
In addition to basic trade show carpet for leasing or purchasing, Brumark offers custom flooring fabrication. The company’s product line includes FlexFloor rollable vinyl flooring, raised flooring, printed flooring, specialty flooring, custom carpet, hardwood flooring, and “green” flooring options.
It began offering digitally printed flooring in 2017, when it acquired its first printer though a company acquisition. Today it owns two, a ten-foot wide EFI VUTEk GS3250LX Pro UV LED device and a 16-foot wide EFI VUTEk GS5000r UV printer.
“Digital printing is ideal for custom trade show and event flooring. It gives our clients a simple, cost-effective method to create a custom floor that grabs attention and tells a story in a lasting way. It is important for our customers to be able to make an eye-catching, highly memorably statement quickly,” explains James Zacharias, VP of sales, Brumark.
Reflecting on why the two EFI printers were chosen, Zacharias states that it was the size, clarity of print, white ink capability, and speed of the EFI VUTEk GS3250LX Pro that led to its purchase. For the EFI VUTEk GS5000r it was the superwide format, clarity of print, speed, and flexible inks.
The printers are used for Brumark’s FlexFloor rollable vinyl solutions product line, specifically the Clear Choice and Image White products. “Both are portable, have vivid colors and detailed graphics, and are durable and easy to install and clean. These flooring solutions can be used for permanent or temporary installation, indoors or out,” shares Zacharias.
FlexFloor Clear Choice graphics are printed on the back of clear vinyl. Alternatively, Image White FlexFloor graphics are printed on the top surface and then protected with a clear urethane layer.
In addition to digitally printed flooring, the company offers dye-sublimation (dye-sub) and infusion dye carpet for custom requests. Determining which process to steer a client towards depends on a number of factors. This includes objectives, budget, and how and where the flooring will be used.
“So the decision of whether to use a digitally printed flooring solution like Image White FlexFloor or go with a dye-sub carpet ties to the overall design and budget for the exhibit or event space the flooring is used in,” says Zacharias.
Brumark plans to add more digital printers as demand for custom flooring grows. Zacharias believes digital printing technology opens up many new possibilities in customization thanks to the vivid colors and highly detailed images.
“At Brumark, we always note that flooring is the ‘fifth wall’ of space, and digital printing expands the possibilities of what you can do with that,” he concludes.
In the End
Digital printing has a history in flooring manufacturing. It is traditionally used to print to the décor paper that is then run through a lamination machine that adheres the print to a board. The next phase of its use is direct-to-board printing, opening up possibilities for customization on all types of substrates including wood.
“Inkjet technology has already made inroads into the décor market, increasing design possibilities and reducing economic batch sizes. Arguably late-stage customization by direct-to-board printing will take this to another level,” foresees Corrall.
Single- and multi-pass devices are at the ready, with many flooring manufacturers already taking advantage of their capabilities to serve segments like the hospitality and trade show/event sectors. Here, digital printing fits its niche market—small runs produced cost effectively. The next step is further expansion into production-level facilities and we eagerly await this movement. IPM
Oct2020, Industrial Print Magazine