Main points that differentiate the best plank vinyl from cheap, barely passable plank vinyl include: thickness, wear layer, quality of register embossing, quality of visual layer, edge treatments, the size of the selection, company reputation, and warranty.
Shaw is serious about vinyl plank. Currently running 7 different lines, each line with between 7 and 13 color or species variations, Shaw's offerings encompass the gamut of LVP. Whether it's cheap and thin you want or thick and super-premium, Shaw covers the spectrum.
So many luxury vinyl quality points pivot on thickness. Shaw's Premio and Classico lines are an industry-topping 6.5 mm thick--a full quarter-inch thick, for a product, averages out at about half that thickness. Additionally, Premio and Classico's wear layer is a full 20 mil thick.
But even Shaw's middle of the road offerings is excellent. In a world where "middle" often means bringing board length down from 48" to 36", Shaw's mid-range planks, Aviator and Navigator, remain 48".
If Shaw is all about choice, Armstrong is all about simplicity.
Armstrong's one plank line is called Luxe Plank, and this line is broken up into three quality designations, Good, Better, and Best.
Most of Armstrong's wood-style planks address safe, crowd-pleasing favorites, like maple, oak, walnut, and jatoba. In the Best category, Luxe ranges outward a bit with trendy wood treatments like weathered barn wood and exotics like amendoim.
None of Armstrong's planks reach Shaw's 6.5mm thickness, though they are a respectable 4mm. All Armstrong vinyl plank depends on self-stick adhesive to join the boards, whether alone or in conjunction with a click/lock function.
Mannington's luxury vinyl planks are divided between the premium line, Distinctive Plank, and the entry-level plank, Adura.
Of the two, Adura is the more cost-effective way to plank your home with 4" x 36" dimensions and 4 mm thicknesses. You'll find nothing spectacular or earth-shattering about Adura's teaks, oaks, and maples; just basic, solid vinyl for your bargain-remodel kitchen, or for a basement, kids' room, or second bathroom.
But if you want your floor to actually be seen, you'll need to upgrade to the Distinctive Plank line that includes full 6" x 48" sizes, micro-beveled edges, and darker, more soothing colors than those found in Adura. In addition, Distinctive's embossing is far more complex and true-to-life than Adura's. The only thing you do not gain by going from Adura to Distinctive is thickness: both are 4 mm.
4. Karndean: Art Select, Loose Lay
Unlike the other manufacturers listed here, Karndean isn't a name that rolls off of most U.S. homeowners' tongues.
Well-known to U.K. buyers for the past 40+ years, Karndean has slowly been making inroads into U.S. homes in recent years.
Karndean wants to distinguish itself from other LVP providers; it's not a mass-market, rock-bottom-cheap manufacturer. You install Karndean when you don't mind paying a bit more for luxury vinyl that looks better and installs a bit differently.
Its Art Select brand is the only one I've seen that offers up a wood parquet-look vinyl that actually looks good. Content to let other companies push of-the-moment reclaimed woods and effects like chipped paint and whitewashes, Art Select hews to classic looks like lush oaks and maples, all in planks that are 4.5 mm total thickness and 20 mils wear layer.
Loose Lay is a Karndean method of installation that doesn't rely on click/lock or adhesive to join the planks.
Instead, the planks friction-grip the floor with a heavy, soft backing. Planks butt directly against skirt boards on the perimeter and against each other. It's a smooth method of laying vinyl plank that helps you avoid those inevitable bumps and ridges that develop from planks that refuse to click into place.
5. Lumber Liquidators: Tranquility
The fashionable word "disruption" must get tossed around a lot at Lumber Liquidators product development meetings. If Shaw, Armstrong, and Mannington represent the old guard, Lumber Liquidators is still the disruptive upstart, though an upstart that is approaching 20 years old.
Lumber Liquidators' house brand for luxury vinyl is called Tranquility. Tranquility isn't the most beautiful LVP on the market: some planks are so dramatically grained and streaked that garish is the only way to describe it. Tranquility's selection is limited: only 25 luxury planks, total. The warranty is nothing special: though a 50-year warranty, it comes studded with so many exceptions that it would take you 50 years to find a way to call the warranty in.
How does Tranquility make this list then?
For offering products that you can't easily find elsewhere. I had never seen a 1.5 mm plank vinyl floor until happening upon Lumber Liquidators' North Perry Pine. While I cannot imagine installing this anywhere in your primary residence, the below-fifty-cents price may be tempting for a fast/cheap install in an outbuilding or even as a temporary floor for an ongoing remodel project. Let's get serious, though: Tranquility offers 5 mm vinyl plank flooring in 48" lengths by 7" widths (yes, not 5" or 6"). In fact, half of the Tranquility brand is 5 mm. Even the most expensive Tranquility is still half the price of Shaws and Armstrongs.