The Ultimate Laminate Guide

Laminates Explained

What are the differences between the laminates and how do they affect your work?

Decorative surfaces are all around us and they help us create stunning environments. Laminates play an important role in interior design as they offer close to unlimited choices in colors and patterns. They are also one of the most durable decorative surfaces and an economical choice. How could we ask for more? As in any industry, the architectural word is full of acronyms and industry jargon and they mix with generic and trade names. We created this glossary list to help define some of the most important names in the laminate space.

Laminate Guide

High-Pressure (Decorative) Laminate (HPL, HPDL) aka Plastic Laminate

High-Pressure Laminate is composed of multiple layers of resin-permeated kraft paper, a decorative paper, and a clear melamine overlay. The term high-pressure comes from its manufacturing process of applying high pressure and temperatures to these layers to create a durable bond.

TFL Layers

Thermally Fused Laminate (TFL) aka Thermofuse

Thermally fused laminate (TFL) Panels, once known as thermally fused melamine or TFM, is made by fusing a resin-permeated sheet of décor paper directly to a substrate. Heat and pressure activate the resin in the saturated TFL panel sheet, creating a cross-linked bond with the substrate. This effectively seals the substrate. Particleboard and MDF are ideal substrates for TFL because they are consistent, uniform in strength, and free of defects. The finished TFL panel is extremely durable, cannot peel or delaminate, and has many of the scratch and heat-resistant qualities of HPL. It is, however, less impact resistant.

LPDL Layers

Low-Pressure Decorative Laminate (LPDL)

The process by which the melamine infused, laminate paper is attached to the substrate is where HPDL and LPDL differ. LPDL’s are formed with lower pressure and fewer layers, which typically results in a shorter lifespan.

CL 20 Cabinet Liner

CL20 aka Cabinet Liner

High-Pressure Laminate Balancing Sheet for balanced construction to avoid warping of a laminated board. It consists of the same layers of kraft paper as the decorative High-pressure laminates but lacks a printed decorative sheet, and is thinner (.020”). The top sheet is typically made in neutral colors for interiors.

Magnetic Laminates

Magnetic Laminates

Magnetic laminates allow e.g. cabinet doors to become magnetic and in a whiteboard material they become magnetic markerboards. These laminates have an additional steel layer that provides magnetic properties. Due to this metal layer, sizing of these laminates can become challenging, since saw-blades can burn out quickly. Not all woodworking shops will cut these laminate panels.

GP 28 aka Vertical Grade

High-Pressure Laminate for Vertical Surfaces uses fewer layers of kraft paper than horizontal grade. Depending on the manufacturer it can be up to 40% thinner (.028”).

GP 50 aka Horizontal Grade Laminate aka Standard Grade Laminate

High-Pressure Laminate for Horizontal Surfaces. It is more impact resistant than vertical grade thanks to more layers of kraft paper and its thickness (.050”).

PF 39* aka Postform Grade Laminate

Special grades of high-pressure laminate that can be formed around curved edges by application of heat and restraint (.039” thickness).
*Case Systems exclusive horizontal surface choice.

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Did you know that Melamine is technically a chemical used to create laminates? It’s an organic-based, white crystalline powder that combined with other chemicals becomes the plastic resin, that is needed to create laminates. Melamine has become a generic term – and confusion ensues: Melamine is used by some to describe Low-Pressure laminates or Thermally Fused laminates. Some use the term melamine for all laminates.

Top Coated Melamine

Foil or Top Coated Melamine

Instead of being thermally fused to the board, it contains a low amount of melamine resin and gets applied to panels using glue. This product is the least expensive laminate. It is primarily used for vertical applications such as signs, or inexpensive side panels in the Point of Purchase Industry. It can be applied to both sides of a panel or one surface without the risk of warping.



Postforming is a bending process that can be applied to specific grades of laminates using heat. Postforming will form the laminate into concave or convex
curves and is often used to form rounded edges.

High-Pressure (Decorative) Laminate (HPL, HPDL) aka Plastic Laminate

Decorative Laminates are often used interchangeably with High-Pressure, Low-pressure, and Thermally Fused laminates. In the world of laminate casework and cabinets, there is often a distinction made between ‘decorative colors’ and ‘interior colors’, referring to the top decorative sheet
layer of the laminate. In this case ‘decorative colors’ – or ‘decorative interiors’ are all woodgrain, abstract, or solid color patterns that define
the aesthetic of the cabinet. ‘Interior colors’ are typically neutral light colors like e.g. white.


Ticking is a finish option for many laminates. It is created during the pressing process of the laminate using a stainless steel plate. The pattern
often mimics the touch and feel of a woodgrain, but can also have a weave or pitted structure.

Anti-microbial Laminates

Some laminate manufacturers offer built-in antimicrobial protection that inhibits the growth and reproduction of bacteria, mold, and fungi
that can cause stains and odors. Those laminates don’t offer a sterile surface, but a surface that stops microbes from growing. Most laminate
manufacturers use Silver Ion Technology for their antimicrobial products.

Rigid Thermoformable Foils aka RTF – aka Thermofoil – aka 2D | 3D Laminates

Thin layer of vinyl overlays that are thermoformed/vacuum pressed to the profile of an underlying engineered substrate like e.g. medium-density fiberboard (MDF).

(Reinforced) Thermoplastic Laminates

Thermoplastic laminates usually refer to composite laminates of polyimide or polyether, reinforced with long carbon fibers. Thermoplastic
laminates are made for environments that demand durability and chemical resistance. They soften when heated to take on the shape of their substrate and return to a firm state when sufficiently cooled. Their integral color keeps surfaces looking new longer than traditional materials. The material is
thicker than HPL.

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