When concrete stamping first began, contractors had limited choices in regard to design and color. Typical early stamps were made of aluminum or stainless steel and looked a lot like the cookie cutters that our grandmothers used to make Christmas cookies.
Since the 1970s, however, when stamped concrete was introduced at the World of Concrete, stamping has increased in popularity. Choices in design and coloring have improved to the point that stamping and texturing concrete are limited only by the imaginations of the contractor, the customer, and the manufacturers of stamps and texturing equipment.
Super Stone Inc. has been part of the evolution in stamping and texturing. The company offers more
than 200 stamp designs, texture rollers, and a wide array of color hardeners and release agents, plus textured touch-up rollers. CEO Janine Lutz, whose father founded Super Stone, has been involved with the company virtually all her life. "Decorative concrete really picked up in the 1980s," she recalls. "We started working with release agents and color hardeners and that led to texturing tools and stamp design. Now we offer pretty much everything you need for stamped concrete, and if a customer can't find what they want in our over 200 stamp designs we'll custom-design a stamp to their specifications. Sometimes we end up adding those custom designs to our regular repertoire."
Imitation or innovation?
Perhaps the most prevalent argument against concrete stamping lies in the idea that stamping is an imitation of the real thing. If you want concrete to look like natural stone, for example, why not use natural stone in the first place?
Cost is one obvious answer. Stamping concrete is simply less expensive and less labor-intensive than laying stone or brick or pavers. But there are more advantages than simply saving the customer a few dollars - long-term maintenance, versatility, and an ability to choose color and texture, to name a few.
Bart Sacco, the owner of Concrete Texturing Tool and Supply, in Throop, Pa., points out some of the advantages of stamping. "With stamping we can offer our customers exactly what they're looking for - we're not limited by color or pattern. You can't modify the look of stone, for instance. When you think about it, with all the color and texture combinations, the effects you can achieve with stamping are almost limitless."
Like Lutz, Sacco has experienced the increased demand for stamping and texturing. "Stamping has really gained in popularity over the past 10 years or so. We used to see stamped concrete mainly in commercial construction, but now it's prevalent throughout the industry - commercial, residential, interior, exterior â€¦ you see it everywhere."
Mats, skins or rollers? The rental option
Sometimes there can be too much choice. Most stamping mats leave deep, well-defined impressions. Overlapping textures skins are thinner and leave a more understated but seamless impression. Texture rollers range from those that leave deeper impressions (similar to those left by a stamping mat) to designs that are utilized to replicate the subtle grain in stone or wood or brick. Add the varieties of color and the wide array of options with which to achieve them - integral, acid or water-based stains, colored hardeners or release agents - and a contractor could spend a lot of time and capital finding the combinations that work best for him or her.
That's why, for some contractors, rentals can be an intriguing option. Renting a tool can allow a contractor to try it without breaking the bank on buying it new and untested.
"We rent stamps and tools, and I believe that has increased our sales," Lutz says. "Increasing contractors' ability to find out what works best for them can only be good for business. We also have customers (rental stores, ready-mix companies, and so on) who buy our products solely for the purpose of offering them for rent."
Stamps and rollers are available for rent in most areas. As Lutz implied, stamps might be available for rent at the local ready-mix company or contractor's rental store. Contractors can also find rentals via a quick Internet search.
Mixing it up
Though stamps, seamless mats and rollers create quality finishes when used individually, contractors are finding that using texturing tools in combination with each other often results in richer, more realistic patterns.
"We've seen significant advances in texturing technology over the past few years. The variety of stamps and rollers has obviously grown, but so has the technology of surface preparation and coatings. As a result, contractors' confidence in our products has increased. When skilled contractors combine stamping or rolling with skip trowel or knockdown finishes, they're coming up with some really interesting results," says A. Ray Anderson, president of Concrete Solutions & Supply, based in Fullerton, Calif.
The same is true with coloring, says Tim Cohill, vice president of Cohills Building Specialties Inc., in Phoenix, Ariz. "We've found that blending colors by using different colored release agents tends to deepen the effect of texturing. Combine that with hand staining and shading and you can really bring life to concrete."
Concrete as art
Kelly Paxton, vice president of sales at Matcrete Inc., remembers the days when her father designed stamp patterns in the kitchen. "He's always believed in the potential of texturing and coloring concrete," she says. "The possibilities in stamping and texturing are as endless as one's imagination. And the same is true with coloring. You can customize your colors by combining integral colors, color hardener, acid stains or dyes, antique release agents â€¦ really, any combination you can think of."
"Decorative concrete really took off in the â€˜80s, and it has continued to grow ever since - moving from mostly commercial exterior finishes, to interior, to nearly anywhere you can imagine now," says Cohill. "It's anyone's guess where the next advances will go, but it's a sure thing that concrete options will continue to evolve."
Perhaps Lutz sums it up best. "Some people look at stamping as an economical option, and they're right about that, but they're missing the bigger picture," she says. "Concrete is a blank canvas, and just like any form of art, it is limited only by the mind of the artist and enhanced by creative use of the tools."