Wood veneers and laminates are among the most commonly used decorative materials for surfacing cabinetry, furniture, walls, ceilings and much else. Wood veneers are thin layers of wood precisely cut from a thicker log while laminates are multi-layered sheets of paper and plastic resins glued together into one. Both veneers and laminates are pasted on a sub-base of solid wood or wood composite plywood board or MDF (medium-density fibre board) that is usually the original surface (of cabinetry, tables, etc.).
Are you unsure about which one to choose – wood veneers or laminates? Read on for some clarity. In this article, both will be judged on the basis of durability, aesthetics, affordability and ease of maintenance.

Wood veneer

Pro: Looks great
As veneer is derived from actual timber, each sheet is different from the other. Embedded natural patterns offer a more organic and high-end look, one that only a solid wood surface possesses.
Wood veneers can accentuate any space; see how the caramel-toned veneer adds elegance and high style to the whole space!

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Pro: Can be stained and textured as required
Just like solid wood, veneer sheets can be coloured and polished to achieve the intended hue and grain that goes with the design theme.
I love how soft recessed light amps up the understated charm of the smoke-stained oak veneer.
Pro: Lasts long. Though strength and overall appeal of the veneer application is largely dependent on workmanship, quality installations last long … and longer. Veneers are likely to stay intact for a minimum of 15 years if installed and maintained properly.
Pro: Is eco-friendly
Veneers are a renewable resource and they go a long way in economically replacing solid wood applications. One log of timber produces a number of veneered wood slices, boosting its cost-effectiveness. Not only that, pricey veneer sheets can be backed by an inexpensive wood board or plywood board to achieve the desired rich look within a budget.

Con: Not resistant to stains and scratches
Veneer sheets are softer than laminate sheets. Once the polish layer wears off over time, the veneer becomes susceptible to abrasions. The veneer sheet may bubble or warp if moisture seeps into the core material or if the top layer is exposed to heat. So they are not great options for kitchens, bathrooms and other wet areas.
Con: Requires timely polishing
To keep up the lustre, veneers need to be repeatedly polished (a process of spraying or painting the polish material in order to regain any lost colour or texture). Depending upon the thickness of polish applied, the surface can be sanded and repainted to cover warps or tears.
Con: Some can be high-priced. Slicing of veneer and installation of the sheets over any surface requires skilled craftsmanship. This extra effort makes them expensive in comparison to laminates. Furthermore, some premium veneer sheets can cost a bundle.

Pro: Is affordable. Laminates are machine-made products and are, therefore, easy to produce. Their cost of production is low and they are widely available.

Pro: Available in a variety of colours and designs
Since laminates are pre-printed, one cannot find natural variations in the sheet like one does in wood veneers. However, other endless designs can be manufactured to choose from.
Due to availability of both glossy and rough textures, laminates can replicate almost all surface finishes including wood, stone, marble, leather and more.. Some digital printers produce personalised prints on the sheet too.
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Pro: Is strong and easy to maintain
Laminates are produced by compressing two or more layers under high pressure, resulting in highly durable and impervious sheets. Laminates tend to fight heat, moisture, stains and scratches better than veneers, making them easier to clean and take care of. Therefore, they are great for high traffic and damp areas like kitchens and tabletops. Most laminate manufacturers provide a minimum warranty of 10 years on their products.
Con: Looks cannot be altered
Most laminates are coated with a thin transparent plastic protective sheet above the printed decorative layer. Unlike veneers, they cannot be sanded, stained or textured according to demands of the design.
Con: Is non-renewable and sometimes toxic
A laminate sheet contains plastics and resins. Some resins give off harmful gases.
Con: Is prone to clipping at edges
In most veneer installations, the corners and seams are sealed by the polishing material. On the other hand, the edges of laminate applications remain open and sharp. Inferior workmanship often leads to clipping and breaking of hard laminate sheets which can only be solved by replacing the worn sheet by a new one.