Making Opaque Materials Transparent

Making Opaque Materials Transparent

posted on 04/16/2012 by Grace Jeffers

In a recent post I discussed Alkemi, a material made by Renewed Materials LLC.

I wrote: “It comes in a thick sheet, much like Corian-type solid surfacing, but it has a translucent quality more like a 3 Form-type product.”

But Demir Hamami, owner of Renewed Materials promptly corrected me! Hamami wrote:

"Solid Surface" is a distinct product term or identity set by the International Cast Polymer Association (ICPA), and the American Composites Manufacturers Association (ACMA). Solid surface is made using polyester or acrylic and bauxite. Since ALKEMI does not fit or follow this, ALKEMI is truly and correctly an alternative recycled surfacing. While ALKEMi incorporates recycled solid surface materials in its matrix, it also contains recycled aluminum, recycled acrylic and recycled polyesters, as well as various other recycled waste materials.”

“The fabrication and installation methods are similar to methods used for solid surface, rather than for stone. As such, we suggest that ALKEMI be fabricated and installed by qualified solid surface professionals. However, there are techniques unique to ALKEMI and different to those of SS. For this reason, we strongly recommend that the fabricators thoroughly read and follow the ALKEMI Fabrication Methods posted on our website.”

So this leaves us with the question: “What is solid surfacing?” I reached out to John Busel at the American Composites Manufacturers Association, the trade organization that oversees such materials, for clarification. This is the organization’s description and explanation of solid surfacing products, cast polymer and cast stone.

Solid Surface Products

Solid Surface products are manufactured with high performance resin systems such as acrylic and unsaturated polyester. They have high filler content and do not have gel coats. These materials are used primarily in counter top and wall panel applications. A design benefit of solid surface materials is their ability to be machined to like wood, though special equipment and fabrication procedures are required. They can be precisely cut and bonded to fit nearly any surface shape. Solid surface materials can also be routed for decorative edging which can be applied with specially formulated adhesives. Since the color goes clear through the product, scratches, chips and stains can be easily sanded out. Solid surface materials are sold under a number of brand names including Avonite, Dupont Corian, Fountainhead, Gilbraltar, Nevamar, Surell and Transolid. A growing number of small producers and fabricators are also offering solid surface materials.

Wilsonart Solid Surface, from their Riverstone series

Avonite Solid Surface

Panelite's Cast Polymer series

Cast Polymer

Cast Polymer is the umbrella term used to encompass cultured marble, cultured granite, cultured onyx and solid surface products used in a wide range of household and commercial applications. Some of these applications include: counter tops, lavatories, vanities, shower receptors, bathtubs, enclosure sets, fireplace surrounds, window sills, wall panels, floor tiles, whirlpool baths and molding accents.

Cast polymer products are man-made, chemically–bonded, mineral-filled, polymeric materials which are molded and hardened to a solid material in a variety of shapes that meet diverse design needs. The manufacturing process permits a range of uses almost impossible to achieve with quarried stone. Cast polymer is stronger and less brittle than quarried marble; it is more durable than porcelain. Cast polymer products resist mildew and stains and are easily cleaned with non-abrasive cleaning agents. The one-piece, seamless construction of cast polymer is easy to maintain and resistant to breakage.

Today's cast polymer products offer improved construction, top-notch raw materials, and superior quality control standards. The result permits a total kitchen and bath concept with products that last longer, look better – yet still allow freedom of color and design-versatility at an affordable price.

Panelite's Cast Polymer series

Cultured Marble, Cultured Onyx, Cultured Granite, Cultured Stone Products

As their names imply, these products have the look of genuine marble, granite or onyx. Cultured marble, granite and onyx products are usually manufactured with a high-gloss coating, called a "gel coat," applied during the manufacturing process, which becomes an integral part of the cultured marble, granite or onyx product. Colorants may be added to the polymer/filler matrix in a manner which provides "veining" which mimics the appearance of natural products. The polymer casting process yields a rock hard, durable product which takes on the look and feel of the natural product.

We hope these definitions bring clarity to a class of opaque materials!

Grenite, cultured stone from Saint Gobain