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Veneers vs. Laminates

This article lists the difference between veneers and laminates, two of the most commonly used materials these days, that are used for decorating plywood or other wooden furniture.

To start with, lets take a look at what veneers and laminates are, and how they are made.

What is a Veneer?

Veneer is a very thin slice of wood obtained from a tree log. That is why it is also known as wood veneers, since they are actually slices of wood.

How are veneers made?

Logs obtained from trees are mounted horizontally on a machine, and rotated about their longitudinal axis while a cutter peels off layers from the log. Such types of wood veneers are called rotary-cut veneers. The other type is sliced veneers in which logs are sliced instead of being rotated and peeled. Sliced veneers are more costlier to produce but these are capable of providing us with veneers of a higher quality.

What is a Laminate?

Laminates, also known as decorative laminates are artificially produced materials made from paper and plastic resins. Similar to veneers these are also used as an overlay over wooden surfaces to increase their beauty.

Note: In India, people often refer to laminates by the name of Sunmica (which is actually the name of a well-known laminate company that was an early entrant in the Indian laminate market). There are also many other popular brands of laminates available.

How are laminates made?

Laminates are made from two different kinds of paper soaked in resins. One is a brown base paper that is soaked and saturated with a synthetic phenolic resin (plastic resin), and the other paper is a decorative paper on which the design pattern is printed. This decorative paper is soaked and saturated in transparent melamine resin. The use of resins make the paper hard and brittle. The two papers are placed over each other and hard-pressed together to manufacture the laminate sheet.

Veneers vs. Laminates:

The question of whether to choose laminates or veneers often arises when we are re-decorating our furniture. Another often asked question is whether to go for Veneered MDF or Laminated Plywood for the kitchen cabinets or other such furniture. The major points of comparison between veneers and laminates are listed below.

1. Which looks better?

Both laminates and veneers are decorative overlay materials, meant to increase the beauty of the underlying wood. If you prefer a natural look and feel, veneers is a good choice, because its a wooden material, a slice of wood. There are many kinds of good looking wood veneers obtained from different trees. e.g. teak, cherry, oak, maple etc.

On the other hand, there are also laminates available in the market that resemble wood grain patterns and look exactly like wood, though they are not. Since decorative laminates are made from designs printed on paper, there is a wide variety available.

The basic point is veneers are natural, while laminates are artificial materials.

2. Which is costlier?

High quality veneers are generally costlier than laminates. The cost of laminates depends on the brand and quality.

3. Which ones are easier to maintain?

Laminates are easier to maintain. They are scratch-resistant, waterproof and usually retain their look for years. In comparison, veneers require more maintainence. They need to polished from time to time, so that they look as beautiful as ever.

4. Which one is better. Veneered MDF or laminated plywood?

This is matter of choice. Amongst substrate wood materials, good quality waterproof plywood made using phenolic resins is usually considered stronger and better than MDF (Medium density fibre boards), but the suitability of material depends on the kind of furniture being made.

For example in the case of kitchen cabinets, veneered MDF is often used for making the doors (shutters), while the box frame is made from plywood since it has a greater structural strength.

In terms of aesthetic value, veneered MDF (natural veneer glued over MDF wood) looks better than laminated plywood in many cases. But laminates on the other hand, offer a wider variety such as high-gloss, plain vanilla look, thousands of design patterns and colours, as also the popular ones that resemble natural wood grain patterns.