Laminate Vs Veneer Finish: What Makes the Two Distinct From Each Other?

In the design arena, there are several terms that are often used interchangeably, but whose misapplication actually changes the proper definition of the term itself. One such misapplication occurs when the terms laminate and veneer are discussed.

Firstly, let us delve into what makes the two distinct from each other...

By definition, laminate is "made by bonding or impregnating superposed layers (as of paper, wood, or fabric) with resin and compressing under heat to create layers of firmly united material*. It is this layered construction that provides durability and unique structural reinforcement when applied to varying surfaces. Because laminate is a manufactured material as opposed to a natural one, it only gives the appearance of real wood and is still subject to eventual atrophy and diminished integrity over time.

By contrast, veneer refers to "thin slices of wood, usually thinner than 3 mm (1/8 inch), that typically are glued onto core panels (typically, wood, particle board or medium-density fiberboard) to produce flat panels such as doors, tops and panels for cabinets, parquet floors and parts of furniture**. Unlike laminate, veneer applications utilize real wood and have a staying power that significantly outlasts its fabricated laminate counterpart.

Laminate's man-made, most times plastic-like composition presents a design challenge to those who desire a stained finish. All is not lost, however, in that laminate fully lends itself to a beautiful surface ready for painting. Another unique feature found in laminate is the resemblance of actual wood grains with the application of a highly graphic printing tool especially designed for laminate material.

Contrastingly, because veneer is actually comprised of authentic hardwood, it has the compositional makeup to receive applications that involve staining as well as painting. Users of veneer typically choose this option because it provides a more taste-specific aesthetic that isn't possible with the use of an authentic wood.

Now that we've identified what makes the two different from each other, let us discuss the benefits and uses of each...

Probably one of the most highlighted benefits of laminate is its budgetary appeal. With today's technologies, laminate wood is manufactured to look exactly like real wood at only a fraction of the cost one would spend on a similar application of the same. Another celebrated benefit of laminate is its four-layer construction which adds a structural durability that is expected from a traditional, one- layer wood structure. Because of its unique fabrication, the uses of laminate are as vast as any wood application. But more specifically, laminate is frequently used in flooring which showcases its "design muscle" and ability to resist staining, warping, and fading otherwise experienced in less reinforced material.

When considering veneer, it is important to illuminate its ecological characteristics that attract the "green-conscious" among us. Because veneer is constructed of real wood, it has a recyclability nature that has minimal affect on total energy use. In fact, seventy percent less energy is required in the use of wood compared with any other building material. Another noted benefit of veneer is its sustainability impact on wood over time. Because veneer is often applied to the surface of an existing wood piece, it substantially extends the lifetime of an otherwise discarded wood fixture. The uses of veneer are equally plenteous with those of laminate and are only limited by the user's design needs and function.

As defined, both laminate and veneer have their rightful places in the world of construction and home design. How and when they are used depends upon the desired affect and practical consideration. One is not greater than the other - only a better candidate in the role for which they are cast.