Buyer's Guide to Laminate Countertops for Kitchens and Bathrooms

  • 01 of 04

    Laminate Countertops Buying Guide

    Modern Kitchen
    ShutterWorx / Getty Images

    Having taken a real beating throughout the 1980s-1990s, laminates have made a comeback.  Homeowners are re-discovering laminate's ease of installation and surprisingly low cost.

    What Is This Stuff?

    If the term laminate countertops doesn't ring a bell, the name Formica probably will. Formica, a brand name of the oldest type of laminate counter material around, has long carried the laminate legion--and sometimes burden--for the rest of the industry. And yes, there was a dark time for...MORE laminate countertops; a time when laminate was synonymous with cigarette-burned motel countertops and Space Age-styled Googie diners.

    Alas, times change; and for laminate countertops, change has been for the good. Many of the myths and assumptions about laminate countertops have been shattered (or never existed in the first place), opening up more kitchens and bathrooms for laminate countertops.

    Laminate Rumors and Facts #1:  It Scratches Easily

    False, as it will scratch, but not easily.  Manufacturers such as Wilsonart bind a protective layer (in Wilsonart's case, it's called AEON) to the laminate, making it up to 500% more scuff and scratch resistant, 400% more wear resistant. Still, laminate is prone to scratching and scuffing, so be careful.

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  • 02 of 04

    Granite Laminate Countertops

    Formica Himalayan Slate Laminate Countertop
    Formica Himalayan Slate Laminate Countertop. © Formica

    Granite laminate countertops? This seems like a contradiction of terms. After all, laminate counter manufacturers have long been known for producing materials with contemporary designs. As Formica notes in its history, "With the exception of Linen and Wood finish, the patterns were synthetic designs, often with a playful bent..."

    In the Seventies, names like Avocado and Harvest Gold came around. But where were the stones?

    It wasn't until the 1990s, when homeowners expressed an interest...MORE in the real stones--the kind that comes from quarries--that laminate counters began to imitate their earth-based counterparts.

    Granite laminate countertops now look remarkably like the real thing, due to improved design and manufacturing techniques. Not only that, but granite laminate counters now have better finishes which more closely imitate granite.

    Laminate Rumors and Facts #2:  Don't Put Hot Pans On It, As It Will Scorch

    Technically true.  Laminate manufacturers always recommend that you use a trivet when setting down hot pots or baking pans.  In practice, I have found laminate to be incredibly resilient even when subjected to cast iron pans directly taken from 500 degree-plus ovens.

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  • 03 of 04

    Wilsonart Laminate Countertops

    Laminate Countertops Wilsonart
    Wilsonart Smoky Topaz. Wilsonart

    Wilsonart laminate countertops are perhaps the second-most recognized brand of laminate next to Formica.

    Not a newcomer by any means, Wilsonart has been producing laminate countertops for decades.

    Increasing the Appearance of Depth

    One of the problems with laminate countertops has always been a lack of visual depth. Natural stones, such as granite, have the appearance of depth because they are deep. Even solid surface and quartz countertop materials can have that desired three-dimensional quality.

    Bu...MOREt laminate countertop materials are thin--no more than a few millimeters--so depth must be achieved some other way. Wilsonart has developed a line of HD® High Definition® laminates under the following premium series: Luna, Eclipse, Metallic, Passage, Crystalline, Gemstone, Bella, Sedona, and Deepstar.

    Wilsonart Laminate Countertop "Wear-Ability"

    With laminate countertops, you win in terms of price but you lose with the wear/durability qualities. Laminates easily scratch, scuff, wear down, etc.

    Wilsonart's response is a line of laminate countertops using what they call AEON™ technology. AEON™ is not available with all Wilsonart laminate countertops, just Wilsonart HD® and most Wilsonart Premium Laminates.

    Laminate Rumors and Facts #3:  It's Your Cheapest Countertop Option

    True.

    Product Shown: Wilsonart Smoky Topaz Laminate Countertop

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  • 04 of 04

    Realistic High-Def Laminate Counter Graphics

    Wilsonart Old Mill Oak Laminate Counter
    Wilsonart Old Mill Oak Laminate Counter. © Wilsonart

    Formica has always been associated with laminate countertops.  Much to the chagrin of Formica lawyers, this term is used interchangeably by many consumers when discussing laminates.

    But now, with laminate's stature rising (once again), Formica is leading the forefront of new technology designed to lead the way for a second wave of laminate countertops.

    Laminate Rumors and Facts #4:  The Only Finish Is Fake-Looking Granite

    If you spend enough time starting at a sheet of laminate countertop,...MORE you'll notice the pattern repeating roughly every 18 inches. Because of the explosion in popularity of granite laminates, Formica with its 180fx™ series has photographed large slabs of real granite (up to 5 feet wide) and reproduced these images in high-def on Formica.

    Another interesting advance from Formica has been the metal finishes in its Authentix Collection®. No, this is not real metal at all, but a clever reproduction. Where would you use Authentix? How about kitchen backsplashes?