The printing of realistic designs imitating natural materials such as wood and stone has improved in leaps and bounds in recent years until it is difficult for even the experienced eye to tell paper from real wood or granite.
What held back the development of these decors was not the look of the design, but its feel. It might at first have looked like a genuine piece of ash veneer, but as soon as you touched it, or looked at it from an oblique angle, the deception became more apparent.
Sesa saw the limitations of the printing process a long time ago and realised that a decor must have a tactile reality as well as a visual one.
Marco Santori, chief executive, first showed the world an embossed-in-register tile effect surface back in 1982, but the market was not ready for it. “At that time, the market was geared only for huge quantities,explained sales manager Paolo Rastelli. “It was not until 1998 that we produced the first limestone embossed-in-register tile effect, in cooperation with Uniboard of Canada.”
The panel was displayed at the Surfaces show in Las Vegas in 1999 to great acclaim. Since then, embossed-in-register (EIR) wood-grains and tile effects have gained in popularity in the laminate flooring sector and, frankly, made the older style decors look their age.
The texturing of surfaces, showing features such as the pores of a wood grain, is not so new, but EIR takes this to another level altogether. The secret is to emboss the grain in a totally natural way so that the vessels, pores and grain of a wood appear exactly where they would in the natural product; it feels real.
This process requires a close cooperation between the paper maker, decor printer, impregnator, press plate maker and the press maker – in fact everyone involved in the whole process.
The printer marks the edge of the décor paper with register marks to ensure that it is correctly aligned in the press – so that the texture matches the printed grain or stone features. The paper maker’s and the impregnator’s role is to ensure that the paper’s behaviour with regard to shrinkage and expansion remains predictable.
That first EIR flooring was a tile-effect and here it was important that the grout lines between the tiles lined up.
In addition to all that, the press plate is textured in such a way that the level of gloss is not uniform. Areas of differing matt, satin or gloss finish complete the realistic effect.
It is easy to see why the successful development of EIR took a long time to achieve.
However, it has now achieved considerable market penetration in the laminate flooring sector. “We did not want to wait another 15 years for the next logical development,said Mr Rastelli and that was to move on to the application of EIR in furniture production.
“We decided to show the end product in the market and to go straight to the end-user and show them what can be done.”
Two years ago, Sesa held a ‘private’ showing of its latest ideas in a restaurant in Milan during the Sasmil exhibition. This year, the company decided to hold a similar event in the Grand Hotel Fiera Milano adjacent to the Sasmil fairground and to invite potential customers to see the new range.
“This finish uses the technology to move on from standard melamine finishes – it is not in competition with them. This is a product to substitute for real wood, at lower cost.
“Production costs of this furniture are the same as standard melamine products, but, because they compete with real wood products, they give an opportunity for increased margins [for the furniture producer]. There is a need to find something attractive and to provide margins for manufacturers between cheap furniture from China and so on and the  expensive real wood.”
On show at the Grand Hotel were items of furniture made using the new EIR wood-grain decors. To make the point that these new decors can be used in the same way as existing ones, Sesa displayed samples of existing designs of cabinet furniture, produced in collaboration with four partner companies in the value chain.
The cabinets were made by Jose Saez of Barcelona, a famous Spanish furniture producer; the printed decor paper was supplied by Lamigraf; the furniture was designed by JordiVIDALasociados; and edging was by ServiCanto.
“We are giving new birth to this market – it is time for new concepts and our partners agree with this philosophy,said Mr Rastelli.
The main launch of the new range took place at the Salone Internazionale del Mobile, held in Milan in April.
In addition to the items of furniture, panel samples of various designs were also displayed, showing the effect of differing levels of matt, satin and gloss finishes.
These samples included decor papers by well-known printers Bausch, Schattdecor and Süddekor.
Sesa is an international company, active in markets other than Europe, and sensitive to their different requirements.
“The North American market has different tastes from Europe and, following the success of our event during Sasmil, we plan to hold a similar presentation, geared to the North American market, during the IWF exhibition in Atlanta in August,said Mr Rastelli.
Once again, Sesa has demonstrated the importance of pushing design forward in the decor market and not standing still or being content to compete at one level.
Having seen EIR become established in one market – flooring – it has moved on to test the furniture market with realistic woodgrains which compete with other surfaces at a new level.