High pressure laminate (HPL) is a thin, man-made composite material made up of many layers. At its core are sheets of paper impregnated with thermosetting resins, typically phenolic, that are bonded together and occasionally reinforced with metal layers or mesh. Layers of printed décor paper, which are often infused with melamine resin, are applied to the panel’s two external faces as a decorative outer layer—metal foils, wood veneers, or textiles are alternative materials for this outer layer. The entire stack is fused into a rigid sheet by the simultaneous application of heat and high pressure. Once cured, the resins are cross-linked, creating strong, irreversible bonds that enhance the material’s durability. HPL is known for being high performing, post-formable, and available in a wide variety of colors, textures, and styles. It is used in heavily trafficked areas such as kitchens, hotels, offices, hospitals, shopping centers, and educational facilities, where it can be found in countertops, partitions, furniture, flooring, and wall cladding. It is often used to imitate the appearance of other materials like wood or metal, an effect that can be achieved for a significantly lower cost and a fraction of the weight of the original material. Though they have many advantageous features, including low-maintenance, impermeability, and heat- and impact-resistance, HPLs can rarely support themselves alone. They range in thickness from 0.028 inches to 0.048 inches, and so must be adhered or mechanically attached to a substrate, and may also require balancing with a backer. If properly maintained, HPLs can be used for 15 years or longer.
Kula, Daniel, Élodie Ternaux, and Quentin Hirsinger. Materiology: The Creatives Guide to Materials and Technologies. Basel, “Laminates,” p. 175: Birkhäuser, 2014.