The term solid-surface material refers to a class of synthetic building material that began with the creation of Corian by the Dupont Corporation in 1967. By the 1980s, solid-surface material was in widespread use as a countertop material. Easy to fabricate and care for, solid-surface countertops are still an excellent choice for many applications—more durable and attractive than most laminates and considerably less expensive than natural or composite stone.
Officially, solid-surface material is defined as a substance that combines alumina trihydrate (ATH) as filler with acrylic or polyester resins, along with added pigments. Not all solid-surface countertops are made with the same ingredients, and they typically are categorized as either acrylic or polyester solid-surface materials, depending on the predominant ingredients. Each type has some advantages and disadvantages, but solid-surface manufacturers don't make the resin content obvious. You may need to search the technical specifications to learn if a particular manufacturer's solid-surface material is based on acrylic or polyester.
Solid-Surface Materials Based on Acrylic
- Corian (Dupont)
- Samsung Staron
Solid-Surface Materials Based on Polyester
Although similar in most ways, acrylic and polyester solid-surface material have differences when key characteristics are evaluated
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All solid-surface countertops—no matter the brand, no matter the blend—will scratch. That is why you need to religiously use cutting boards on this material. One brand, Avonite, puts it succinctly, "Solid surface scratches...because the items that are deposited on it are harder than it is." Then again, this axiom applies to any kind of countertop material, not just solid-surface. And solid-surface material can usually be repaired by wet sanding, unlike most other materials.
Using the Barcol indentation test, polyester and acrylic exhibit some differences in their susceptibility to scratches, though the distinction is so minor that they are functionally insignificant. Both polyester and acrylic solid-surface materials stand up equally well to boiling water (212 degrees Fahrenheit), a minimum standard for residential kitchen counters.
Acrylics Can Be Damaged by Solvents
One more important difference is that acrylic countertops can be damaged by solvents such dental glues, ketones, acetones, nail polish removers, thinners, etc., and they should not be installed in areas where these materials might be used. This mostly applies to commercial spaces (dental offices, nail salons, etc.), but a homeowner who uses these solvents in craft activities will be better off with polyester countertops.
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Polyester Solid-Surface Countertops: Key Characteristics
- If you want a high-gloss finish, you may want to go with polyester. This material imparts brilliant color and texture when sanded and polished.
- Polyester solid-surface material is more brittle than acrylic. However, most of the danger of breakage occurs during transportation and fabrication, not consumer usage.
- Fabricators may have a more difficult time ensuring a solid seam with polyester materials than with acrylic. Polyester requires that the ends be abraded so that the adhesive can properly stick. While competent fabricators should be able to do this, seam failure sometimes does occur with polyester countertops.
- Polyester is a less expensive material than acrylic, so countertops typically are slightly more affordable.
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Acrylic Solid-Surface Countertops: Key Characteristics
- Acrylic has less visual depth than polyester. The surface has a flat, matte finish.
- Exhibits greater tensile and flexural strength than polyester.
- If you want a lower gloss, choose acrylic countertops. Acrylic shows off its best side when polished to lower glosses.
- Seams are virtually invisible and unlikely to ever fail.
- Acrylic solid surfaces lend themselves more to thermoforming and can be bent to tighter curves. For this reason, acrylic offers more options for integral sink/countertop products.
- Acrylics are less susceptible to fading and discoloring from UV light.
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Although it is still possible to purchase polyester-based solid-surface countertops, the preference is gradually shifting to acrylics, which now owns about 80 percent of the market.
Acrylic solid surfaces are less brittle and therefore less susceptible to chipping and cracking during fabrication. Professionals like the fact that acrylic surfaces form very tight, secure seams that rarely fail. The better performance—and the large number of manufacturers offering acrylics—is the reason most builders lean toward acrylic countertops.
Polyester solid-surface countertops are preferable where a deep, translucent finish is required, or where you need a countertop that is resistant to solvents such as nail polish remover or acetone.