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If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then laminate flooring is a clear winner. In any contest, laminate gets today’s award for congeniality.

Today’s laminateis a talented as versatile as it is beautiful, with new looks and time-honored classics listed among the entries. Every complexion and every accent you could think of from around the world are likely to be found on laminate floors today.

Besides being good looking, laminates are engineered for long, trouble-free wear, with residential grade laminate capable of standing up to moderate commercial use. Surface wear technology, combined with multi-ply design, make laminate one tough competitor.

Much like the early beauty contests, photography play a big role in laminates charm. Underneath the surface and wear layer is the décor layer. The image we see is actually a very high quality photograph reproduced precisely to replicate the look of classic, exotic or rustic wood, ceramic tile, quarried stone or any man-made design. Virtually anything that can be photographed can be converted to a laminate floor.

As delicate and precise as the photo image is, it’s the strength of the clear surface wear layer atop the image which keeps laminates beauty from aging and scarring.

Beneath the photo image and the wear layer is the core that provides dimensional stability and determines the method of installation—whether by mastic or by one of the snap/click-together glueless systems.

Underlayments—a cushion like material between the laminate and the subfloor—keep the floor from shifting, protect against moisture, and insulate against sound. To eliminate seams and further protect the floor from moisture, individual laminate planks join tightly together by means of very precise tongue and groove system.

The latest look among laminate’s beauty contestants are the embossed surfaces that offer textures to the surface and even more closely replicate the looks of wood, stone or tile—a 3D look if you will. Very high end embossment is registered; that is, each line, ripple, stipple and texture is placed directly over the photo image. The same way for example, the grooves in the wood follows the grain.

Because laminate is man-made, you are not limited to the standard sizes of wood strips or plain tiles. Both individual laminate pieces and factory-made laminate panels can be combined in patterns from simple to sophisticated, reminiscent of fine marquetry. Squares, blocks, strips and insets combine for compelling floor layouts with mixed and matched shapes, sizes and colors.

As with all beauty competitions, it’s the details that make the difference. When planning for a laminate floor—especially if you’re doing it yourself—remember the finishing touches. These include baseboards and a molding to cover joints between floor and wall. If your laminate floor butts against a wood or tile floor in another room, you may need a threshold to cover the seam since the flooring heights are often different.