By Melissa Donovan
The decorative laminate space is full of possibilities, especially as digital printing technologies enter the picture. Not only does this technology offer the freedom to bring to life virtually any design, but its time to market is quick—something essential in today’s 24/7 internet purchasing world. In addition, smaller run lengths are much more cost effective compared to traditional technologies.
Buyers for both residential and commercial spaces look for unique, one-of-a-kind designs for anything from flooring to countertops or doors. Surface manufacturers with digital printing capabilities capitalize on this by offering bespoke services to their clients.
Above: The Related Group worked with Wilsonart to create 167 laminate sheets with eight different design patterns using the WxY service. The HPL was created using a proprietary digital print process and then manufactured into doors by Ampco by AJW. The doors are found in The Related Group’s luxury condominiums, Baltus House, located in Miami, FL.
Niche to Mainstream
Wilsonart began in 1956, founded by Ralph Wilson Sr., and today is a world-leading manufacturer and distributor of engineered surfaces like laminate, solid surface, and quartz used for cabinets, countertops, doors, furniture, lockers, kitchenettes, partitions, wall panels, and window sills. Globally, it staffs 4,500 employees with manufacturing out of 15 locations throughout Australia, China, France, Germany, North America, Thailand, and the U.K. Its headquarters is based in Temple, TX.
The company’s brand portfolio is vast, including Arborite, Bushboard, Durcon, KML, Laminart, Polyrey, Ralph Wilson, Resopal, and Wilsonart—found in big box stores like Home Depot and Lowes for consumers and other wholesale channels for commercial contractors and designers.
For the past 20 years, Wilsonart has offered decorative laminates via a proprietary digital print process. Prior to this—and like many companies—it relied on rotogravure printed decorative papers or solid color decorative papers to create high-pressure decorative laminates.
“In the early years, digitally printing was more of a niche, but as demand for customized decorative solutions grew, we dramatically increased our ability to respond to the market,” explains Ricky Crow, director of high-pressure laminate (HPL), Wilsonart.
He says that the company used a number of digital printers and evolved its practices as technology advanced. Currently, its decorative laminate manufacturing process involves pressing layers of resin treated paper. The digital printer prints on one of these layers before the pressing occurs. “We do this because it allows us to offer customers a product that has unlimited design flexibility paired with the high performance of a traditional HPL,” shares Crow.
Traditional HPLs are growing in popularity as architects, designers, and consumers realize the potential. According to Wilsonart, HPL possesses up to 12 times better wear performance, five times better impact resistance, and four times better scruff resistance compared to veneer—based on NEMA/ISO 4586 test results. Not only does HPL offer superior surface performance, the material is able to provide a realistic look resembling wood, stone, or tile.
Offering More with Digital
With one of the key benefits of using digital printers to create decorative HPLs being speed to market, Wilsonart collaborates with leading designers to create capsule collections that capitalize on trending designs. For example, Allie Douglass—a notable illustrator of magazines, newspapers, greeting cards, advertisements, and books—fabricated a whimsical collection that includes cityscapes, nature, and cotton candy-like skies. Other designs from additional artists include various countertop and wall applications from retro boomerangs to timeless architectural finishes.
“Capitalizing on the ease and speed to market with digital processes, we can launch on-trend designs at a much faster pace than that of the past,” says Crow.
Digital also propelled the company to start a custom service, WilsonartXYou (WxY). Anyone can submit their own artwork, photos, or illustrations and the WxY team will create a one-of-a-kind HPL. Files are submitted by CD, photo sharing service, or email. Once received, Wilsonart sends a free 15×19-inch pressed laminate sample in three to four days. After approval, lead time is around three weeks. Orders can be as small as one sheet thanks to the cost effectiveness of digital print. Sheets are available in three-, four-, and five-foot widths.
The WxY service is attractive to buyers from many different backgrounds, from the household consumer to real estate groups looking for something unique. The latter is true for The Related Group, a real estate company that worked with Wilsonart to create custom doors for its latest development in Miami, FL.
The 15 story, 167 unit new construction development was led by Beauchamp Construction and designed by Cohen Freedman Encinosa. The Baltus House condominiums are located in Miami’s Design District. As such, a design was needed to reflect the area in which they are located. The idea was that every floor would resemble an art gallery—with each unit’s door displaying a different painting from Spanish artist Javier Martin.
The team at Wilsonart Engineered Surfaces and The Related Group initially met and discussed long-term durable alternatives to silk screening metal doors. One suggestion was to transpose artwork onto a wood veneer surface. However, this proved unsuccessful when it was discovered that the wood veneer surface did not carry the approved fire rating required of the condominiums’ doors. In addition, the wood veneer surface was too soft to paint over and dents and scratches would appear on the artwork over time.
Wilsonart proposed the WxY service. “There was no better solution. The ability to print created images on demand and imprint them onto a laminate surface—combined with our embossing plate technology to add realistic dimension—offers unlimited design possibilities. On top of that, you get the benefits of product consistency and long-term durability. We are very proud of the fact that Wilsonart’s decorative laminate solution addressed The Related Group’s needs for cost-effective, fire-rated, and long-lasting material,” explains Alina Van Katwyk, metro manager, Wilsonart.
Artwork submitted and laminate samples sent out, The Related Group approved the creation of 167 laminate sheets cumulative of eight different Javier Martin design patterns. A Fine Velvet Textured finish was applied to enhance the color in the artwork when lit by overhead lighting fixtures.
Wilsonart partnered with door fabricator Ampco by AJW to create the final product. “As a fabricator, we want to offer high-performing decorative surfaces for a value on any architectural doors that we produce. It is clear there is growing demand in the market for HPL given its multi-purpose applications from doors to partitions to lockers. We understand the desires for developers, architects, and designers to want unique and dynamic designs that can differentiate themselves from others. There’s no doubt that these distinct high-pressure laminate applications have raised eyebrows in the industry, heightened end user interest, and increased the value of the property overall,” shares Mike O’Neill, senior VP of corporate pricing and product development, Ampco by AJW.
Wilsonart continues to expand its market reach in engineered surfaces by offering digitally printed decorative HPL. Through its custom service, WxY, anyone can upload a design and have it turned into a surface used for a door, floor, or countertop. Not only is this attractive to consumers, it is also a big business for real estate companies and partners looking to make commercial and residential buildings unique to their surroundings. The Related Group is just one of many businesses realizing the potential of digitally printed laminates and the benefits of working with companies that offer them.
Jan2018, Industrial Print Magazine