Plastic laminate tops known better by the brand name Formica© have been available for roughly the past 50 years. These counters are typically fairly durable and inexpensive. This material comes in many different colors and patterns. Laminate counters typically have visible seams and are not renewable if stained, scratched or chipped.
Laminate counters consist of a wooden core material which is usually particleboard. This core material is then covered with a plastic veneer which is either 1/32″ or 1/16″ thick. The material thickness depends on what type of counter is being made.
If the countertop material is being wrapped around the edge the material must be thinner. This type of counter is typically called a post-formed top. These tops have a rounded edge appearance without the telltale black line often associated with laminate counters. The disadvantage of this kind of counter is that any counter which must make a 90 degree corner will have a large seam on the diagonal. Another drawback of post formed tops is limited widths and sizes in custom applications.
Custom laminate counters typically use 1/16″ thick laminate and can be built in a variety of ways. The standard custom laminate counter will have a square or self edge. Self edge counters do show the black line on the front edge but will not have large diagonal seams in the corners. Also custom counters can be made in most sizes to accommodate many different custom applications. Custom counters can also be made with a variety of different front edges to hide the black seams associated with laminate. These edges can be made out of wood or plastic laminate edges which are beveled and will give the counter and nicer appearance. However, this type of counter will be more costly than either post formed or a custom self edge laminate top.
The third type of laminate counter is a custom self edge or beveled edge counter using a solid color laminate. These newer solid color laminates are 1/16″ thick and have the color going all the way through the material. This allows the counter to be built without black lines like normal self edge laminate counters. However, if a white or light solid laminate is used over time the seam between the edge and the top tends to blacken to a certain degree. These tops are also typically the most expensive of laminate counter tops.
Tile counters offer a fairly durable surface and extreme flexibility in design with thousands of different colors and patterns that can be used. Tile counters are slightly more expensive than laminate counters and more durable. The drawback of using tile counters is that over time edges of tiles may chip and the grout between tiles requires continuous maintenance. The type of tiles and grout used to make the counters will also impact the overall durability of the finished product.
Tiles made from some natural materials such as marble or limestone may tend to stain more easily than glazed ceramic tiles. Tile counters are also being made with quartz tiles which have a stone like appearance and are fairly scratch and stain resistant.
Grout lines have traditionally been the weakness of tile counters. These areas tend to accumulate dirt and require sealing and cleaning to keep the counters looking good. However, some manufacturers now offer an epoxy based grout that is very stain resistant and should require less maintenance.
Solid surface counters are known best by the brand name Corian©. These are counters which are made from thick sheets of either acrylic or polyester plastic. This thick plastic when assembled properly has very inconspicuous seams which many times are invisible. These thick sheets allow complete customization of counters with almost limitless possibilities. Because the seams are smooth and inconspicuous the counters can be made with a variety of different borders and edge stripes. These counters come in many different colors and patterns and can be shaped with many decorative features. Solid surface counters also have the added design option of integrated sinks built into the counter. These built in sinks provide a smooth “seamless” transition between the counter and the bowl.
Aside from the many design possibilities made possible with solid surface is the practical side. Many manufacturers of solid surface material guarantee their material for 10 years against defects. Additionally, most solid surfacing material is not porous and will not stain into the counter. Marks left by staining materials such as ink, grapejuice, wine, etc. Can easily be scrubbed off with an abrasive pad and household kitchen cleanser.
Solid surface material is also completely renewable. Therefore, if someone does cut on or mar the surface, these marks can be easily removed by the homeowner using fine grit sandpaper. The one drawback to solid surface materials is that they are not designed to handle extremely hot temperatures. Items should not be take directly out of the oven or off the cooking surface and set directly on the counter. Instead a trivet or hot pad should be used. However, the material is renewable if something like a burning cigarette or match is left on the counter surface.
Solid surface material can be either 1/2″ or 3/4″ thick depending on the application. However, most residential applications on require the use of 1/2″ thick material. This 1/2″ thick material is then stacked up around all exposed edges and assembled with adhesive. Once the adhesive dries the counter are ready to be cut and sanded into almost any shape. This counter is then put on a wood perimeter support and glued with silicone to the cabinet tops.
Counters made with solid surface material are available in several different finishes. The material can be left with a matte finish which is the most practical choice for heavy use applications such a kitchens. However, solid surface material can also be buffed to either a semi gloss or high gloss polished finish. These finishes may amplify the beauty of the counter material, but also tend to show more scratches and require more maintenance. In lower use applications such as some furniture tops or bathroom counters these finishes may be appropriate.
Counters can also be made out of solid stone material. These counters can be made out of natural stone such as granite, marble and limestone or man made stone products such a concrete or granite composite materials. Most stone counters have a high gloss polished finish that amplifies the natural beauty of the stone. These counters typically are fairly durable and stain resistant. Yet some materials may be more prone to staining and structural problems than others. Natural stone counters tend to be among the most expensive kinds of counter tops and typically carry no guarantee.
Natural stone counters typically have visible seams and do not have the option of integrating sinks as with the solid surface tops. However, because granite is solid color all the way through undermount style sinks can be used which at least eliminate the top exposed sink rim. Also, due to the solid nature of the material many different edge treatments can be cut into the stone.
Counter surfaces made out of material such as concrete are being built on a limited basis. These counters tend to have an “industrial” appearance and may need to be sealed to prevent staining. These surfaces can be done in a wide variety of sizes and shapes and the concrete can be tinted, even painted to add an artistic touch to the surface. These counters can be as expensive, if not more so than natural stone materials.
Cambria, Silestone and Zodiaq are all Quartz counter top brands. Quartz counter tops are 94-95% Quartz crystals bonded together with resins. The Quartz counter tops are very stain, heat and scratch resistant. Because the Quartz is bonded together with resins there exist no fissures such as there are in granite for stain and bacteria to get into. Also, it is very hard to scratch and hot pans may be put right onto the surface. Quartz counter tops give a Granite-like counter top without any of the granite maintenance. Quartz counter tops also have the option of an under-mount sink cut out like granite which totally does away with exposing the lip of the sink.