Technical Series: Board Materials

For the next instalment of our technical series, we look at different board materials. Sustainability refers to practices that do not deplete natural resources. Sustainable development, production methods and sourcing practices take a long-term view, aiming to meet the needs of the present without compromising the future. This is integral to our unique Quantum Zero design methodology. Below, we outline some of the most common board materials we encounter in retail design

Plywood is very strong, takes screws and fixings extremely securely and resists moisture well. It’s the most expensive of these common board materials so for retail furniture we would only normally use plywood where these qualities are important. Although it is sometimes used because with its wood grain surface and layered edges it can be an attractive material that only requires a clear finish.
MDF is a good ‘all round’ material that is strong and can be reasonably securely fixed (although care should be taken as small screws can become loose over time). Moisture can cause problems but if consideration is taken into the design (with particular attention to the edges) then this should not be a problem in most retail environments. It can be finished in a variety of ways and there are coloured variants available that give more creative opportunities. It’s the most common board material used in retail furniture as it is cost-effective and suitable for most applications.
MFC is a cheap material that has very limited use in a retail environment. It doesn’t take fixings well at all and is easily affected by moisture. When cost is the most important factor it can still be used effectively but care must be taken in the design. If used in the same way as MDF or plywood, with no steps taken to compensated for its weaknesses, then it will likely fail.

Melamine faced board materials (usually MDF or chipboard) are a useful and cost effective way to produce furniture with coloured surfaces. The boards come ready for manufacture with a thin coating of coloured melamine so there is no secondary finishing required (except for the edges). The coating is very thin however so is not particularly resistant to damage and the ‘depth’ of the colour is not always of particularly high quality. For these reasons, it is generally used in retail furniture in where a high-quality finish is not essential or in areas that are not vulnerable to high traffic – such as cash desk cabinets. A good range of colours are available – though choices of texture are limited.

Laminate (or HPL) is applied as a secondary finish to a raw board material. This makes it more expensive than a pre-finished board however due to be much thicker than a melamine coating it creates a robust surface finish with a higher quality look and feel. It can be applied to the board before the board is machined or later, during the fabrication process, although this is a more labour-intensive process. A huge range of colours is available with good options for texture and gloss level as well. Some of the more expensive laminates can be used where a really premium finish is required.

Fundamental to knowing why different materials are used, we’ve outlined the basic board materials you may commonly come across, but there are many more options available. Which board material is the most sustainable option for your design depends on a wider criteria than just the material attributes. At Quantum4, our unique Quantum Zero sustainable design methodology empowers you to create a visually stunning, functional and exciting retail experience whilst ensuring that all aspects of sustainable design are considered from the outset. We will ensure you make the right choices for your design needs. For more information: