1. Laminate--Is It Plastic?Bottom Line: Cheap, easy, and fast, though compromising on beauty.
Not exactly. The laminate countertop is a distant cousin of laminate flooring: layers of paper treated with resin and pressed together under high heat and pressure. Under this paper-and-resin layer is a base of composite chip wood. The thickest laminate is used for the horizontal work surfaces; thinner laminate is used for vertical areas such as backsplashes. Wilsonart, Nevamar, and Formica are the big names in laminate countertops.
The Number One Reason You Might Want Laminate
Cost. Laminate is one of the cheapest countertop options, with installed laminate countertops as low-priced as $35-$45 per square foot.
The Downside of Laminate
It's easily damaged. It gets scratched and chipped very easily. Not to mention any water that gets under the resin-impregnated surface will cause the wood chip base to swell.
2. Ceramic Tile--A Do It Yourself Job?Bottom Line: Cheap, easy, and DIY, but seams are a problem.
Ceramic tile: an infinite range of designs are possible. You're limited only by your imagination. It's the only countertop project that could remotely be called a do-it-yourself project, as all of the other surfaces require special tools and special skills. Still, installing ceramic tile on a countertop is not for the faint of heart. This is a highly visible surface and any errors or mistakes will stand out like a sore thumb.
The Number One Reason You Might Want Ceramic Tile
Cost. Even cheaper than laminate, ceramic tile is about as cheap as you want to make it. You're looking at a countertop that could be as cheap as $10 per square foot.
The Downside of Ceramic Tile
Grout. The grout continually gets food and crumbs stuck in it, and it's difficult to clean. Not only that, but the grout needs periodic sealing to repel moisture.
3. Solid Surface--Comfortably Middle-of-the-RoadBottom Line: Seamless and solid, but never a DIY option.
You know the names: Corian, Avonite, Gibraltar, and Earthstone. Solid surface is all man-made material, top to bottom. Unlike laminate, there are no layers. The surface you see on top is the same surface on bottom. Solid surfaces are not cheap, but they're not as expensive as stainless steel, concrete, or engineered stone. They're a very middle range choice both in terms on price and aesthetic value, and that's why you'll find solid surfaces in so many homes.
The Number One Reason You Might Want Solid Surface
Sandability. Yes, should you scratch or gouge your solid surface, you can sand it out with very fine sandpaper.
The Downside of Solid Surfaces
It's hard to say anything bad about solid surfaces. In anything, solid surfaces will crack and scorch if subjected to high heat, such as a hot pan.