Why Decorative Laminate is an Important Part of the AWI Standards

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Decorative laminate is a widely popular surface material for wood furniture, countertops, and wall paneling. Not only is it affordable and highly resistant, but the vast number of decorative laminate options means you’ll always be able to find the perfect match for your project.

In order to achieve the highest performance and best aesthetic appearance, it’s important to make sure your decorative laminate conforms to the AWI Standards.


What is decorative laminate?

Decorative laminate is a composite material that’s made from a decorative layer of paper or a similar alternative. This paper is saturated with resin applied to a substrate and then cured under pressure.

It can be manufactured as either high-pressure decorative laminate (HPDL) or low-pressure decorative laminate (LPDL). Both types look very similar and the process used to create the decorative paper surface is essentially the same. But the key difference that sets HPDL and LPDL apart is the use of backing material.

HPDL uses a somewhat rigid backing material made from layers of kraft paper infused with phenolic resin, to which the decorative face sheet is then applied. This is completed under high pressure and heat. The backing makes HPDL much more impact, abrasion, and water resistant, making it an excellent choice for architectural woodwork projects.

HPDL is typically sold in sheets of 0.028”–0.048” in thickness. It must be glued to a substrate such as particleboard or MDF for use in furniture and interior applications.

LPDL, on the other hand, has no backing material. It’s applied as just the decorative face sheet directly to the substrate, which can be particleboard or MDF. As such, LPDL offers less resistance to impact.

One type of LPDL many people are familiar with is called thermally fused laminate (TFL), often referred to by the trade name Melamine. Most LPDL sold has already been applied to a substrate, which is available in various thicknesses.


Why is decorative laminate important to the AWI Standards?

Adhering to the AWI Standards ensures quality, integrity, and consistency in the fabrication, finishing, and installation of wood products and related interior finishes. The standards also offer a shared common language that’s understood by all project stakeholders, improving communication and lowering the risk of confusion or mistakes.

Since decorative laminate — HPDL in particular — is so widely used in interior architectural woodworking projects, it’s vital that it’s addressed by the AWI Standards. This also means that woodworkers, design professionals, and general contractors can rely on a comprehensive resource for a straightforward project.

AWI QCP - Ensure Project Success


What do the standards for decorative laminate cover?

As you might expect, decorative laminate is detailed in AWI 300 – Materials. The chart given in section 3.3.1 Reference Standards shows which standards different materials need to meet for sufficient performance, fabrication, and appearance. For HPDL, this is ISO 4586 (latest edition).

However, as a popular countertop material, decorative laminates are also covered more specifically in ANSI/AWI 1236 – Countertops. The requirements for the use of decorative laminate on countertops under section 3.2.1 Decorative Laminate are as follows:

  1. a) High Pressure Decorative Laminate meeting the requirements of ISO 4586-3 (latest edition) shall be used for exposed decorative laminate surfaces. See AWI 300 -Materials (latest edition).
  2. b) The work surface shall be a minimum of horizontal grade [HGP].
  3. c) Splashes shall be a minimum of vertical grade [VGS].
  4. d) Backer material is required on all countertops and splashes.
  5. e) Build-up shall have backer material, or moisture-resistant sealer, or be of moisture-resistant core.
  6. f) Core material shall be a minimum nominal thickness of 18 mm [.709”].


Benefits of using decorative laminate

  • Plenty of variety – With so many colors, textures, and designs to choose from, the design possibilities for decorative laminate are almost limitless. When combined with exceptional skill, thoughtful creativity, and the latest tools, you can unleash the functional and aesthetic potential of decorative laminate.
  • High durability – Decorative laminate is made from stain-resistant and protective materials. Even in cases of heavy use, you can rely on it to perform exceptionally for many years.
  • Affordable – Since decorative laminate is mainly composed of paper and resin, it’s very cheap to produce. That means you can deliver outstanding furniture, countertops, and wall panels without pricing yourself out of a job.
  • Easy to maintain – Wood, stone, and other natural materials generally need specialized products and techniques to keep them in top condition. Decorative laminate can be wiped clean with soap for easy maintenance.
  • Flexible renovation – When a property changes hands, the new owner might want to update the design and replace worn components. While materials like stone or hardwood are difficult to install, decorative laminate can be removed and replaced with ease.


Ensure compliance through the AWI Quality Certification Program

The requirements for decorative laminate put forward in the AWI Standards help you deliver wood products that meet the needs of your client and the end user. While specifying AWI Standards in your project documents demonstrates your commitment to excellence in woodworking, the best way to enforce these standards is through the AWI Quality Certification Program (QCP).

QCP is the industry standard for quality and risk assurance in architectural woodworking. As well as ensuring only the industry’s best woodworkers are eligible, regular inspections from QCP representatives confirm that your project meets the AWI Standards. You also receive documented evidence to inspire confidence in your clients and protect yourself against disputes. The best part is that QCP only costs 0.5% of the total value of your woodworking contract (or $500, whichever is greater), with a maximum cost of $10,000.

Take a look through the benefits of project registration, then complete our five-step registration form to give your decorative laminates an internationally recognized mark of excellence.