Oriented polypropylene is light, tough, and beautiful
Kitchen done with oriented strand polypropylene

Orieneted polypropylene (OPP) is becoming increasingly popular as a decorative film in a wide variety of applications, including kitchens.

When it comes to decorative surfaces, the properties manufacturers desire most – durability, flexibility, design fidelity and ease of application – are rarely found in the same material. If you factor in cost, which is probably the top topic for most manufacturers, your options come down to just a few. 

One of them, oriented polypropylene (OPP) decorative film, is relatively new on the laminates timeline. And it’s an emerging solution for manufacturers looking to check all of the boxes above, as well as a few extras. 

OPP films are known for their exceptional durability and resistance to wear and tear, which is why they already have a long history in the packaging industry. (Think of the crinkly, crystal-clear film used to wrap bouquets of flowers, commercial baked goods and cigarette boxes.) 

As a furniture surface they offer daily-use durability and are highly resistant to scratches and stains. All of these properties, as well as being compatible with the same application technologies as standard low basis weight paper films, make them a great option for a growing number of furniture and millwork applications. 

Printing OPP
OPP is printed on high-definition rotogravure presses for maximum detail and fidelity.

Featherweight toughness
In the North American market, Premeer OPP, from décor printer Interprint Inc., is changing how some large manufacturers keep their mix of products fresh, tough and affordable without sacrificing visual design fidelity. 

What initially draws major cabinet and furniture manufacturers to the material, says Peter Stasiowski, Interprint Inc.’s Director of Communications, is how easy it is to handle in existing manufacturing scenarios.

“We see a lot of focus on the machinability of OPP,” said Stasiowski. “It’s much thinner than PVC, as low as 1.2 mil at the 32 grams-per-square-inch weight, but it’s still strong enough to be a ‘living hinge’ for things like drawer boxes and the miter-folded back panels in RTA furniture. As strong as it is, it’s still much easier on tooling than thicker overlays.”

He said the weight is what is most remarkable to people.

“When people first handle it they’re surprised at how light it feels,” he said. “They’re even more surprised at how tough it is when they test it. We apply a clear acrylic top layer in varying weights, up to 2.2 mil, providing wear resistance at least as good as TFL – over 1,200 cycles on the Taber Abrasion Test. It’s water-resistant even at 1.2 mil, but adding a heavier acrylic topcoat further protects the substrate from water damage.” 

Moulding done in OPP
OPP films can be applied to an extensive list of substrates, including particleboard, MDF, thin MDF, HDF, plywood, luan, hardboard, cardboard, drywall, high-impact polystyrene (HIPS) and aluminum.

Cores galore
Speaking of substrates, manufacturers have plenty of flexibility there as well: OPP is compatible with particleboard, MDF, thin MDF, HDF, plywood, luan, hardboard, cardboard, drywall, high-impact polystyrene (HIPS) and aluminum.

It’s typically applied via standard flat lamination, profile wrapping and miter-folding, and is free of cracks and distortions even up to 2.2 mil, Stasiowski says. 

Very thin overlays always run the risk of telegraphing any surface imperfections, like the “orange-peel” effect you can get from some particleboard. Running the glue a little heavier smooths the surface, with savings to spare versus upgrading to MDF. 
“We don’t generally recommend it for high-wear horizontal surfaces like countertops, but for cabinetry, shelving, RTA furniture and millwork OPP is an easy way for designers to achieve visual harmony on shelves, sides and backs with durability to spare. We have customers successfully using OPP on toe-kicks, which is a great testament to its durability.”

Print fidelity in OPP
OPP can be printed with maximum fidelity to match other decorative surface films.

What about print fidelity? 
“As a décor printer, this stuff is a dream to print,” said Stasiowski. “We use rotogravure printing, with three or four big laser-engraved cylinders that each lay down a single color to create the final design. This is the same process used in fine-art reproductions, time-tested, and usually used for papers for HPL, TFL and foils in this industry. The surface of OPP is so much smoother than paper, these same cylinders produce even higher definition woodgrains than possible on paper.”

He said it is easy to ensure fidelity with the product.

“Even though it’s the exact same cylinders and presses used for TFL decors, for example, it’s a slightly different formulation for the water-based inks,” he explained. “If a customer is matching Premeer to a TFL design that will be used on the same cabinet, our quality control guys ensure that the color and fidelity is dead on. The acrylic top layer is applied on the press during printing, so once cured it’s ready to laminate, no further treatment is needed.” 

Premeer is supplied on rolls. Here again, its thinness is an additional advantage: manufacturers acheive greater yield between roll changes than they can with other, thicker materials, notching another plus in the efficiency column. 

Bookcases done in OPP
OPP film is exceptionally strong, making it ideal for miter-fold applications and high-wear products.

Sustainability and health
Oriented polypropylene also responds to rising concerns about the environment and health.

“OPP overlays offer manufacturers advantages for their sustainability and product wellness stories as well,” said Stasiowski. “We know these are increasingly on the minds of younger consumers and will only become more and more important.”

That’s especially the case when considering potential toxicity concerns.

“Of all the manmade plastics, OPP has the lowest human toxicity, and it doesn’t allow the release of formaldehyde from the cores,” he said. “VOCs released in the material’s production and printing are barely measurable. And the material’s moisture resistance and nonporous surfaces makes it easy to keep clean with just soap and water — no need for harsh chemicals that have high carbon footprints and degrade indoor air quality.” 

OPP with water drops
OPP is water-resistant even at 1.2 mil, but adding a heavier acrylic topcoat further protects the substrate from water damage.

The material has a positive end-of-life story to tell as well.

“OPP itself is fully recyclable. And we know that wood and wood-based substrates actually store more carbon than is released in their manufacture and use,” said Stasiowski. “So, if OPP allows people to use them in more applications and helps them last, more carbon is kept out of the atmosphere for longer. This increases the climate-positive impacts of our industry.” 

For more information: premeer.com.

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Kenn Busch

Material Intelligence organizes educational material exhibits like the Materials Pavilion at NeoCon, creates and presents certified educational content on materials and sustainability for architects and interior designers, and collaborates with design educators and students to nurture new thinking about materials and materiality. Founder Kenn Busch also covers the major materials and design fairs in Europe for the A&D and manufacturing communities, and presents at industry conferences like the Closets Conference and Expo and the Executive Briefing Conference. www.MaterialIntelligence.com  www.ClimatePositiveNow.org