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The CIAMO Blog

Why Can't the Closet Industry Match Laminates, Edge-banding and Thermofoils?

 by Ronnie O'Leary ~ Dixie Plywood ~ CIA Board Member

Why are there no exact matches?  The tape is too light, the foil doors are too dark, the board is too shiny etc. Why can’t manufacturers just get it together? 

In my 23 years of being a distributor in the building materials industry, almost every closet owner has asked me: 

"Can I get a better foil/edge tape match?"

Unfortunately, it’s a complicated question, and I certainly can’t explain all of it in this article, but I will try to give a good summary here. The short answer is this: exact matches are not a one company problem. 

There are 4 separate companies that are involved in this process:

  • Printer: paper supplier

  • TFL manufacturer

  • Edge tape manufacturer

  • 2D manufacturer (foil for doors and moldings)

Then there are the problems with match development:

  • Expensive per color to develop.

  • Difficulty of getting the color “exact” between all 4 manufacturers.

  • Large minimums required.

  • Lighting, durability, and panel processing each present a different set of problems to overcome.

  • A portion of new developed colors, in spite of testing across a wide variety of markets, just don’t sell.

The first problem is expense It can cost $100k, $500k, even 

$1 million+ for the investment in a new manufacturing line. We can all understand that if somebody invests that much money, they are going to want a return on their investment as fast as possible. That means that new colors have a higher cost and are sold at a premium. 

Can the manufacturers develop a design and sell it at a price the market will accept? Sometimes they succeed and sometimes they don’t. 

We made some really good progress in the early 2000’s between Dixie Plywood and Funder America with the DixieLam Synergy program. But, it hit a major road block in its next development after 2008. 

There wasn’t a lot of excitement for higher end wood grains to support those new colors, and to be honest, we lost a lot of intellectual capital in that 2008-2010 downturn.  The new colors that came out during that time really weren’t that good, and as a result, didn’t make the money they had in previous years.  Another issue that has suppressed new designs these last few years is that we have been in a white and grey phase.  Twenty years ago, most closet companies were 50/50 on white vs. specialty colors. Now it is closer to 85/15.  With white being the “in” color right now, it’s been difficult to get the price and volume demand for new color development.

The second problem is the development of the matches to an acceptable level. It starts at the Printer using water-based inks for the TFL manufacturer, HPL manufacturer, and other treatment (polyester) wrapping grade paper.  Doors and moldings use a wide variety of materials for wrapping grade films and thicknesses: Polypropylene, PVC, and PET.  Higher durability and deeper embossing PVC and PET require films in 6mil, 8 mil, and in some cases 10mil films.  All of the above paper processes use different resins, lamination conditions, and methods of achieving the final texture.  This is a quick explanation for the whole printer industry that would require a lot more space to completely explain, but for now we will move  on to the next step.

The panel produced by the TFL manufacturer starts out as a digital picture of the target design, printed on thin paper and then “treated” with melamine resin so it can be pressed to the board.  They have to make the panel surface hard enough to not scratch, but soft enough to not chip during processing.  This balance can change the color. Once the TFL manufacturer produces the design, samples get sent to the edge tape and 2D manufacturers for matching.

Edge tape is PVC or ABS, basically plastics that are printed with

solvent based inks. 

Think of edge tape starting out as a “cake mix” trying to match that TFL.  It is manipulated to match the board for color, grain pattern, and texture.  This is a trial and error process that is expensive and time consuming.

The 2D companies also have a fair amount of trial and error.   These guys can produce a foil at their plant that looks to be an exact match to TFL, but sometimes changes at the next step. For example, a door company takes the foil and produces the door and it no longer matches.  Factors such as heat, glue used, depth of profiles, and the stretching of the foil into the door or molding can change the appearance. 

In the labs, all three of these designs can look like dead on matches, but when they get out in the field, they all look a little different.  Light absorption plays a major factor in this which is difficult to explain to end users.  Even under sunlight, TFL, edge banding and 2D foil absorb light differently. Different paint colors on the walls, windows, light fixtures will all be absorbed differently. What may have looked great in the lab changes with all of these other influences.

The minimums are also a problem. The development of a run can’t be done one sheet at a time.  Sometimes more than 30,000lbs of paper is needed to be produced for a run.  That equates to roughly 40 trucks of one color or a VERY costly miss if the color doesn’t sell. 

It is a difficult process.  To say that the mills haven’t tried or can’t get it together isn’t fair.  I deal with a wide variety of customers, some that sell $10k a year and some that have over $1 billion in revenue.   They all have one thing in common, they want a return on their time and money.  It is the same with the mills.  They have to be reasonably sure they are going to get a return on their investment.

There is good news: 2024 is going to see the launch of some new designs!  However, there are a few things we need to keep in mind.  The closet industry doesn’t just compete with each other, we compete with furniture companies, store fixtures, flooring, and other industries that do not require this extra investment. It has to be economically feasible for these mills. What price can we live with? How picky are we going to be in this next phase of development?  Can we sell enough to make it viable for these mills to continue to make the investment for better and better colors? 

There is a lot more that could be said on the development of colors, matching, pricing, etc. that I didn’t answer here, so feel free to email me and I will do my best to help.  

Thanks for reading and look forward to seeing all of you at the next Summit in Charlotte, NC!



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