Laminate may be one of the least-expensivecountertop materials available, but it can be a great way to add a little pizzazz at a low cost. Laminates can also be a good cost-efficient choice for those who like to change out their countertops and other surfaces frequently, according to Wilsonart's public relations coordinator, Brenda White.

“Consumers can get the look they want at a little cheaper price point,” adds David Bell, design director for Panolam Industries, maker of Pionite laminates.

Manufacturers of high-pressure laminates for countertops and backsplashes are using improved photographic and printing technologies to produce innovative colorations, patterns, finishes, and textures that will compete with the now-less-expensive natural granites and highly popular engineered quartz materials.

“People want realism, they love natural materials, and they like their laminate to look and feel like the natural material,” says Formica's vice president of design, Renee Hytry.

Bell points out that consumers are much more savvy about their options, especially in the remodeling segment. “They're not looking for the old spectrum of grey dots that all of us laminate makers had through the late '80s. They're looking for something a little more sophisticated and contemporary,” he says.

courtesy Formica

Stone looks are particularly popular. Formica's new Honed finish replicates the look and feel of natural stone with a low-sheen finish and subtle surface clefts. Also with a textured finish, Nevamar's Bravissimo! line of laminates reproduce the appearance of granites in five colors. The Topaz Series of laminates from Wilsonart uses an enhanced finish to provide the look and highly polished feel of engineered quartz. Pionite's Designer Series offers a selection of granite, fiber, and marble laminate designs. Most manufacturers now also offer metallic laminates for either horizontal or vertical applications.

“Edge treatments have also become more sophisticated,” Hytry says. Laminate countertops can now be finished with beveled, ogee, and double ogee edges, as well as edges that mimic a rough-cut stone slab.