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High Gloss vs. Matte Laminate Flooring (Pros, Cons, Cost)

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Laminate floors are becoming an increasingly popular option for residential and commercial floors. Laminates have all the beauty of wood but are much easier to maintain and clean. Laminates come in various designs and styles, but buyers are often uncertain regarding which finish suits their lifestyle best.

High gloss finish has a 45%-75% reflective luster and offers a sophisticated visual appeal. The gloss effect is classic and suits formal settings. Matte finishes are more rustic and suit higher foot traffic areas with children and pets.

Laminate floors are a great alternative to the high cost and maintenance of hardwood floors and come in endless styles and varieties. However, when choosing which best suits your lifestyle, you should consider which finish is best.

You will Learn all differences that exist between gloss and matte laminate floors and hopefully help with your decision-making process.

High Gloss vs. Matte Laminate Flooring

What Is Sheen on Laminate Flooring?

Although many homeowners spend plenty of time considering their floor surface design, not many put as much thought into which sheen best suits the area to be floored. The level of shine has a substantial impact on the aesthetics of your chosen surface, as well as the practical effects of daily uses.

The sheen of your laminate reflects light, and like a mirror, the surface will reflect more light the higher the sheen of the finish. Your floor sheen determines whether your floor will absorb or reflect light and is divided into high gloss, semi-gloss, satin, or matte

High Gloss Laminate Flooring

High gloss laminate flooring reflects the most light and creates an almost wet look with a luster of 75% or above. High gloss laminate sheens have been likened to a piano finish with a mirror-like reflective polish.

The high gloss option is not the most popular due to its susceptibility to marks and scratches. High gloss wear is particularly noticeable between regions of low and high traffic over time.

Learn how to clean High gloss laminate floors in my closely related blog post. 

Semi-Gloss Laminate Flooring 

Semi-Gloss sheen has a reflective shine of 45-55% and works well in ultra-modern settings and sleek and styled areas. The semi-gloss suits areas such as kitchens and dining areas where there may be water nearby.

Although semi-gloss brightens a room and makes for sleek aesthetics, it can be unforgiving of dirt, debris, scratches, or dents. It needs a regular cleaning schedule to ensure that they retain their smooth dimensions.

Satin Finish Laminate Flooring

Satin laminate finishes are a popular choice with a sheen of between 35-40%, which form a middle ground between gloss and matte finish. Although the effect is still classic and elegant, the floor is much easier to maintain and cleaner than the higher gloss options.

The satin finish is more forgiving of dirt and scratches, and high traffic areas are less noticeably visible than the higher gloss options. The lower reflective sheen sets off decor and does not overwhelm a windowed space with light. 

Matte Finish Laminate Floors

Matte finishes are popular in busy households with pets or children and reasonably high foot traffic areas. Matte hides the scuff and scratches best of the three finish options and has 10-25% luster, and reflects a minimal amount of light.

The matte finish has a look of casual sophistication and does not shine even after being cleaned. Matte finish lends itself well to wood laminate and has a more organic wood look than the gloss finishes.

Pros of Matte Finish Laminate Flooring

Unlike gloss finishes, matte-finish laminate floors are resistant to wear and tear and stand up well to scratches, dents, and visible foot traffic wear.

Matte finishes lend themselves to informal spaces such as kitchens and hallways and lend themselves to a more rustic and lived-in feel and suit both commercial office spaces and family homes. With a luster of 25% or less, the imitation wood absorbs more light and appears more natural and organic. 

Benefits of Matte Finish Laminate Flooring

  • Great for family homes: Matte finishes won’t show scratches or wear because it absorbs much of the light that highlights imperfections. It is well-suited for children’s bedrooms and kitchens, bathrooms, and hallways with high traffic. Dogs’ claws are notorious for leaving scratches on high gloss laminate, and a matte finish prevents your pets from slipping and sliding, which increases the claw marks considerably.
  • Color richness: Matte flooring does not reflect light like its gloss opposite, so light becomes more diffuse, and color saturation is visibly enhanced. Color consistency appears more uniform and can make for a more dramatic visual effect.
  • Lower maintenance: Because the matte finish does not reveal dirt, prints, and debris as much as gloss, your cleaning routine can be a bit more relaxed than gloss finish floors.
  • Safer than high gloss: High gloss finishes are notoriously slippery, even when dry. Especially in no-show homes, high gloss finishes can be a slipping hazard. A matte finish can support grained or scraped textures that allow a firmer grip on the floor surface and prevent falls. 

Cons of Matte Finish Laminate Flooring

  • A matte finish can make a room appear smaller: Matte finish laminate floors absorb ambient light and make a room appear smaller, especially if it is a darker colored laminate.
  • Not well-suited for ultra-modern homes: The matte finish laminate is more suited to a rustic, country-style home or office due to its more natural wood surface. 
  • It makes colors more prominent: The matte laminate’s non-reflective surface may cause a floor color to dominate a space visually, especially if the colors are on the darker spectrum.

Pros of Gloss Finish Laminate Flooring

Gloss laminate finishes are modern and sophisticated and lend themselves to more formal dining rooms and living rooms. The downside to the sophisticated ambiance of high sheen laminates is that they are unforgiving of the dirt and debris, smudges, and scratches of everyday wear and tear. 

  • Aesthetically appealing: High gloss sheens can use their reflective capacity to transform smaller living areas into a light and open visual appeal. 
  • Gloss lends a sophisticated air to formal areas: The high sheen of gloss laminates is an elegant choice for house areas such as dining rooms and living rooms.
  • Gloss can be used in high moisture areas: Gloss laminate flooring is spill and splash resistant due to the waterproofing lacquer used as a surface barrier.

Cons of Gloss Finish Laminate Flooring

  • It can be a slipping hazard: Gloss finishes are notorious for their slippery surface, even when dry. It is not ideal for high foot traffic areas or bathrooms.
  • Gloss shows dirt and debris easily: The reflective nature of glossy laminate flooring makes it highlight any surface imperfections or dirt. Glossy laminates also show wear and tear more easily between high foot traffic and low traffic areas in the office or home.
  • Prone to scratches: The smooth wood surface of a gloss laminate is not ideal for busy family areas with pets and children as it highlights scratches, stains, and scuffs very easily.
  • Increased maintenance: Gloss laminates need to be cleaned more often than matte laminates due to increased visibility of dust and prints. 

How Is Laminate Flooring Made?

Laminate floors are sometimes called wood laminate floors. However, generally, they only use pressed wood particles in their core or have the appearance of wood due to the highly realistic image layer. The image layer mimics the aesthetics of wood in a photograph-like layer encased by a transparent protective overlay. 

The numerous layers that make up a laminate floor are fused in a high pressure, high-temperature process that results in a solid flooring piece. There are two main ways of constructing a laminate floor which are the direct pressure (DP) and high pressure (HP) methods.

Direct Pressure Laminate 

Direct pressure laminate typically has four layers:

The Stabilizing/Backing Layer

This layer is at the bottom of the laminate and provides stability to the backing board. Many laminates offer a moisture barrier on the backing layer’s surface that encloses the core material in a watertight seal.

Core Layer

The core layer provides the depth and structure and provides stability for the surface layers. It is typically made of High-density Fiberboard (HDF), made up of wood fibers combined with a resin binder and formed in panels under high pressure and heat. The core layer also functions to dampen sounds such as footfalls and softening walking impact.

The Decor Layer/Photo Layer

This is a decorative paper sealed with a melamine resin. This layer gives the laminate its distinctive appearance and can mimic wood, stone or marble, or even paint effects. The photograph allows images such as wood grain to follow a repeated pattern to enhance your home’s aesthetics.

The Overlay/Wear Layer

The overlay is a resin-based clear coating that forms the uppermost layer of the laminate and provides the walking surface. It is typically made from melanin or aluminum oxide to provide a durable outer coating to protect the floor from moisture, scratches, UV damage, and fading. The overlay provides a selection of sheens or finishes such as high gloss, semi-gloss or matte.

These sheens are fused in a high-pressure process of 600 lbs per square inch at temperatures of 400℉. The upper layers and lower layers are pressed together around the core layer in the direct pressure process.

High-Pressure Laminate 

The high-pressure laminate process teats the backing and upper layers separately before fusing them directly to the core. Typically the HPL process adds the fifth layer, which presses the photo layer and overlays onto a high-strength paper. The layers are only then pressed in the core layer under a secondary high-pressure laminate process. 

This process makes a much stronger laminate and is suited to high traffic areas with increased wear and tear. The HPL laminate can be made to various thicknesses of increasing durability and cost ranging from 6mm to 14mm thickness. Because the HPL process is more labor-intensive, it is a more expensive option than the DPL system.

Once the HPL or DPL lamination process is completed, the manufacturer has the option of imprinting a variety of textures onto the sheets to mimic the photo/decorative layer and enhance the authenticity of the surface. The manufacturer uses specialized machinery to cut the laminate into tiles or planks and provides the tongue and groove locking system into the edging.

What Are AC Ratings?

Abrasion Criteria or AC refers to the durability and resistance standards of a particular laminate flooring. The European Producers of Laminate Flooring (EPLF) are an independent body that tests the quality of laminate floors and provides a rating that indicates a laminate’s resistance to stress and abrasion. Thes test includes:

  • Stain resistance
  • Impact resistance 
  • Heat resistance
  • Scratch 
  • Scuffs
  • Foot traffic
  • Effects of castors
  • Swelling of edges

The laminate must pass all of the tests, and failing one test disqualifies the product. The rating follows an R1-5 system and is a good indicator of the flooring’s suitability in-home vs. commercial settings.

A1 Low foot traffic areas such as bedrooms
A2 Medium food traffic areas such as living rooms
A3 All areas including high traffic hallways and kitchens
A4 All areas including some commercial settings
A5 Heavy-duty traffics areas such as commercial settings

NALFA Certification

The North American Laminate

Flooring Association is a third-party independent testing agency that provides the NAFLA Seal certification for laminate floor quality. The ten-point testing system is a thorough process that includes:

  • Static loads
  • Light resistance
  • Heavy resistance
  • Stain resistance
  • Large ball resistance
  • Small ball resistance
  • Light resistance
  • Cleanability
  • Castor chair resistance
  • Surface bond

Laminate flooring with both a NALFA seal and an AC rating is a good reflection of a high-quality laminate product that will withstand wear and tear and has durability. The NAFLA Seal also includes a CARB air quality certification that ensures that laminate has passed the levels of airborne toxicity of emission such as formaldehyde.

Best Matte Laminate Flooring 2020

Although you might find laminate flooring in the $1.00 range per square foot, generally, the product does not carry the mid to high-end products’ certifications and warranty.

The last thing you want to do is replace your laminate after a year or two. Bottom of the range laminate flooring ends up costing you more in replacement costs in the long run, when a high-quality laminate may last you up to 25 years.

Pergo Laminate Flooring

Pergo is behind the invention of laminate floors and has built up a solid reputation over three decades. Mohawk bought out Pergo in 2013 but has continued to provide a high standard of flooring. 

Warranty

Pergo guarantees their floors against wear, stains, and fading caused by sunlight for up to 33 years, which is the most extended guarantee on the market. They have patented TitanX™ surface protection to protect their laminates from wear, scratches, and fading. Pergo uses a click joint system and moisture resistant core materials to make their flooring highly durable and suitable for most indoor environments. 

Selection

Pergo offers a wide selection of designs and surface finishes to suit all commercial and living areas. Pergo offers laminates to suit a variety of areas from AC1-AC5 ratings, which suit both residential and commercial needs. Pergo has several embossing techniques on offer to match the laminate print and enhance realism.

Price

The average cost of a Pergo laminate floor is around $3.00, but they offer both entry-level and deluxe versions between $1.50 to $5.00 per square foot. Expect to pay between $3-$22 per square foot depending on the materials, contractor fees, and the size of your floor space. 

Shaw Laminate Flooring

Shaw Laminate flooring has been around for over forty years and has built up its reputation for durable and high-quality products. The Shaw range features some of the highest water resistance on the market with their Repel range of laminates.

Their glueless installation options of VersaLock and LocNPlace allow buyers to easily remove and replace flooring and make installation quicker and easier. 

Warranty

Shaw offers 15 years, 20 years, and 30-year warranties for residential laminate floors. They also provide their patented Optiguard sealant, which is pliant and prevents the ubiquitous scratches of traditional gloss finishes from penetrating the laminate itself. This barrier increases the Shaw laminate range’s longevity and makes their flooring viable for high foot traffic areas.

Selection

Shaw has an impressive selection of 24 different lines with hundreds of options for residential and commercial settings. They provide a variety of AC levels to choose from as well as mixed width and longboard options. All Shaw laminates carry a Greenguard certification that goes beyond the CARB 2 requirements.

Price

Shaw’s prices range between $2.50 to $3.75 per square foot without installation costs. The average price for labor to install laminate flooring is around $1.72 per square foot and may make up to 50% of your final costs. 

Tarkett Laminate Flooring

Tarkett puts 140 years of flooring experience to good use with its laminate flooring range. Their durable laminate flooring is highly resistant to scuff and scratches due to their melamine protective layer.

They incorporate a patented ANGLE LOCK and UNIFIT click system to aid installation and offer high moisture resistance levels.

Selection

Tarkett has an extensive laminate flooring collection with classic wood designs enhanced by specialized embossing techniques. They use the Plus Effect to make their wooden floors appear organic and realistic with simulated wood grain. The Tarkett range offers both contemporary and classic lines to suit commercial and residential requirements.

Warranty

They have various warranty systems for their laminate flooring range and have a residential lifetime warranty of 25 years for their premium Aquaflor range. The Aquaflor range is highly water-resistant and offers a 24-hour moisture protection warranty, one of the best moisture warranties on the market. 

Price

Tarkett offers a great entry-level laminate range, all the way up to their commercial-grade flooring. Expect to pay between $0.99 to $3.29 per square foot without labor. Extra cost may include underlayment, transition strips, and other supplies and an average of $1.75-$2.50 per square foot for labor.

Wrapping Things Up

Laminate flooring not only provides stunning visual effects but is easier to maintain than wooden floors and retail at a fraction of the cost. With advances in technology, laminates have an extended lifespan if appropriately maintained and could last you over 33 years. 

With embossing techniques, it has become increasingly challenging to tell modern laminates from genuine wood. High gloss and matte finishes both have their pros and cons, and it is up to your individual preference to decide which best suits your lifestyle.