Decorative surfaces can be broadly separated into two groups – overlays and coatings – and are applied by various techniques to panel products like particleboard, medium density fiberboard (MDF) and hardboard. Overlays include products such as foils, high-pressure laminates, papers, TFL, veneers and vinyls. Coatings used as industrial decorative surfaces on composite wood substrates are available in both liquid and powder forms. What follows is a brief description of the decorative overlays used in various woodworking applications including: cabinets, furniture, store fixtures, laminate flooring, and more. For more information visit

Thermally fused laminate (TFL), once known as thermally fused melamine or TFM, is made by fusing a resin-impregnated sheet of décor paper directly to a substrate. Surface textures are created with steel press plates that emboss the decorative overlay to heighten the realism of wood grain, stone or abstract designs. TFL decorative panels have excellent scratch and wear resistance. They are widely used in laminate flooring, office furniture, closet system components, store fixtures and cabinets.

Known as rigid thermoformable foils (RTF), three-dimensional laminate (3DL) and two-dimensional laminate (2DL) are thermoplastic film overlays. 3DLs can be seamlessly membrane pressed or vacuum formed around contoured components, including edges. 3DL can also be used in 2DL applications such as profile wrapping and flat lamination. 3D laminates can be embossed with patterns to improve realistic aesthetics. Common uses for 3DL are used in store fixtures, POP displays, commercial hospitality components, healthcare furniture, office furniture and door/drawer fronts for cabinetry. 2DLs can be solid colored, reverse printed or top printed with an overlay based on end use requirements. Common uses for 2DL include walls and ceilings of recreational vehicles, vertical surfaces for retail store fixtures, cabinets, commercial flooring, and residential components.

Decorative foils are also called impregnated papers. Specifiers choose decorative foils for their sharp print fidelity; wear-, stain- and water-resistant qualities; ease of maintenance and durability as well as their cost-effectiveness and machining and manufacturing characteristics. Common uses include cabinets and doors, furniture and cabinet surfaces, closet systems, store fixtures, RTA furniture, picture frames and profile wrappings.

Decorative papers, also known as light basis weight papers, can be printed with excellent quality and high-fidelity patterns. Optional chemical, optical, or gloss-matte embossing of these papers enhances the realism of woodgrain and natural patterns. Light basis weight papers have been common in higher levels of value engineering and are widely used in cabinets, store fixtures, paneling, shelving, closet systems, RTA and home office furniture.

High-pressure laminate is considered to be one of the most durable decorative surface materials and is available with special performance properties including chemical, fire and wear resistance. Special grades of HPL can be postformed around curved edges by application of heat and restraint. Due to its durability, HPL is a common choice for horizontal surfaces including flooring, countertops and desktops. It also performs well in horizontal and vertical applications for high traffic settings such as hospitality, office furniture, healthcare, retail casework, commercial interiors and educational facilities.

Relatively new to the category, oriented polypropylene (OPP) films are stretched (oriented) in both the machine and cross-machine direction to deliver improved dimensional stability. OPP also offers resistance to water and chemicals, making it ideal for high fidelity wood grain prints and decorative patterns. Typical applications include RTA furniture, cabinets, wrapped profiles, ceiling and wall panels.

Source: Composite Panel Association. For more information on panel products and decorative surfaces, call (703) 724-1128 or visit and

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