Looking at luxury vinyl plank from a distance, brands tend to blend together. Come closer, step on them, install them, and good vinyl plank flooring quickly separates from bad plank flooring. The main points that differentiate the best vinyl plank flooring from inexpensive, adequate vinyl plank include: thickness, wear layer, quality of register embossing, quality of visual layer, edge treatments, the size of the selection, company reputation, and warranty.
Shaw: Premio, Classico, Easy Street, Aviator, Navigator
Shaw is serious about luxury vinyl plank flooring. Currently running seven different lines, each line with between seven and thirteen color or species variations, Shaw's offerings encompass the full gamut of the upper-end luxury vinyl plank market. Whether you want moderately inexpensive or super-premium, Shaw has a product to fill your needs. Just be prepared for everything from Shaw to cost just a bit more; nothing from this established, respected company can ever be considered to be rock-bottom cheap.
So many luxury vinyl quality points pivot on thickness. Shaw's Premio and Classico lines are an industry-topping 6.5 mm thick. It is a full quarter-inch thick for a product that, industry-wide, averages out at about half that thickness. Additionally, Premio and Classico's wear layers are a full 20 mil thick. But even Shaw's middle of the road offerings are excellent. In a world where middle often means bringing board length down from 48 inches to 36 inches, Shaw's mid-range planks in the Aviator and Navigator lines remain at 48 inches long.
Armstrong: Luxe Plank
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 further with trendy wood treatments like weathered barn wood and exotics like amendoim, a type of Brazilian oak.
None of Armstrong's planks reach Shaw's 6.5 mm thickness, though they still maintain a respectable 4 mm thickness. All Armstrong luxury vinyl plank flooring depends on self-stick adhesive that they call FasTak to join the boards, whether alone or in conjunction with a click-and-lock function. Unlike the do-or-die flooring adhesives of the past, FasTak is a lower-tack, pressure-sensitive adhesive that can be repositioned a number of times.
Mannington: Adura and Distinctive Plank
Mannington's luxury vinyl planks are divided between the premium line, Distinctive Plank, and the entry-level plank, Adura. Between those two lines, Adura clearly stands out as the more cost-effective method of adding luxury vinyl plank to your home with 4-inch by 36-inch dimensions and 4 mm thicknesses. Adura's teaks, oaks, and maples are solid, basic replica wood species for your bargain-remodel kitchen, basement, kids' bedroom, or second bathroom.
If you are looking for a higher grade of luxury vinyl plank, you will need to upgrade to Mannington's Distinctive Plank line that includes full 6-inch by 48-inch 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 a thicker product, as both are 4 mm thick.
Karndean: Art Select, Loose Lay
Unlike Shaw, Armstrong, and Mannington, Karndean is not a name that rolls off of most U.S. homeowners' tongues. Well-known to U.K. buyers for over four decades, Karndean has slowly been making inroads into U.S. homes in recent years. But Karndean wants to make one thing perfectly clear: its products are not mass-market, ultra-cheap, and boring. When you install Karndean flooring, you don't mind paying a bit more for luxury vinyl flooring that looks better and installs a bit differently than most of the other vinyl products out there.
Karndean's Art Select brand is one of very few that offers up a wood parquet-look vinyl that looks amazingly similar to the real wood product. Content to let other companies push trendy 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 1/2 mm thick and with a 20 mils wear layer.
Loose Lay is a Karndean method of installation that does not rely on click-and-lock or adhesive to join the planks. Instead, Loose Lay's planks friction-grip the floor with a heavy, soft backing. Planks butt directly against skirt boards on the perimeter and against each other. This makes for 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.
Lumber Liquidators: Tranquility
If Shaw, Armstrong, and Mannington represent the old guard of flooring, Lumber Liquidators is still the disruptive upstart, though an upstart that is approaching two decades old.
Simply put, Lumber Liquidators always does things a bit differently. And it's this rebellious quality that brings people into their stores. Lumber Liquidators' house brand for luxury vinyl is called Tranquility. 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 few homeowners will be able to call it in. So, how does Tranquility rate as being one of the best luxury vinyl planks? Answer: for offering products that are not easily found elsewhere.
Rarely will you find a 1.5 mm plank vinyl floor until you happen upon Lumber Liquidators' North Perry Pine series. While you may not want to install North Perry Pine in key rooms of your primary residence, its drastically low price may be tempting for a fast installation in an outbuilding or even as a temporary floor for an ongoing remodel project. On a more serious note, Tranquility offers 5 mm luxury vinyl plank flooring in 48-inch lengths at 7-inch widths. In fact, half of the Tranquility brand is 5 mm thick. Most notable of all, Tranquility is cheap. Even the most expensive Tranquility is still half the price of Shaw and Armstrong luxury vinyl plank products.