Exploring Thermally Fused and High-Pressure Laminate

Photography Courtesy of JSI

For more than a century, designers and architects have used laminate when looking for surfacing solutions that offer a range of aesthetics. Today, Thermally Fused Laminate (TFL, also known as Thermally Fused Melamine (TFM)) and High Pressure Laminate (HPL) provide cost-effective options. The information that follows will explore the similarities and differences between the two.

What is Thermally Fused Laminate?

As Pamela Kincer of Formica, explained, “TFL is better suited for light-duty applications such as cabinets and other casework”  as it is less durable than other surfacing materials. First, melamine resins are applied to a decorative sheet of paper and are then fused to MDF or particleboard by applying heat and pressure. The resin is fused to the substrate permanently, creating a bond that eliminates peeling or flaking.

What is High-Pressure Laminate?

Similar to TFL, HPL uses melamine resin and decorative paper, but, unlike TFL, HPL attraches the resin and decorative paper to several sheets of kraft paper saturated in phenolic resin and then presses them under high heat. After, they are cured and glued to a substrate. The additional sheets of kraft paper gives high-pressure laminate more strength and impact resistance.

Photography Courtesy of Formica

Comparisons between Thermally Fused and High-Pressure Laminate

While both are surfacing materials that use decorative paper and melamine resin, Kincer explained that there are three main difference between TFL and HPL:

  1. HPL is able to be postformed or wrapped, allowing it to be used around columns or curved surfaces
  2. The layers of kraft paper used in HPL makes it more durable than TFL
  3. Because TFL is less durable, it is often used in light-duty applications, such as for cabinetry or shelving, while HPL is able to be used on horizontal and vertical surfaces where it will undergo more wear-and-tear, such as tables, doors, walls and countertops

Additionally, Kincer said, TFL often requires a higher order minimum than HPL, so “it’s typically only used for larger scale projects where multiple sheets are needed. [Meanwhile,] the minimum order quantity for stocked HPL is typically just one sheet, providing design flexibility.”

Photography Courtesy of Formica

Uses for TFL and HPL

As mentioned before, TFL is often used for surfacing material for lower impact furnishings, such as cabinetry, while HPL is more durable, making it an option for a wide range of surfaces, including countertops and walls; however, they are both used by a wide variety of industries. Because the decoration is printed on paper before it’s laminated, rather than printed on the substrate itself or otherwise printed or painted to the material, both TFL and HPL are capable of taking on a large array of appearances for a low cost. It is commonly printed to appear like costly natural materials such as stone and wood, and therefore is a cost-effective alternative. Often it’s used on budget-friendly furniture to make it appear to be made of hardwood, as a uniform surfacing solution for large-scale projects such as in hospitals or offices, and in places such as hotels where high-traffic durability is necessary.

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