Creating Cost Effective Sample Boards How do you create sample boards that do everything they’re supposed to?
July 1st, 2004


July-August 2004

In contrast to the practice in other industries, floor covering manufacturers and distributors typically decide how their products will be displayed in retail or commercial channels. This requires them to consider a number of factors when deciding how to introduce a new line, breathe new life into an old one, or display products to their full advantage. The specification and design of a sample board is important because it plays many crucial roles:

It must be an effective selling tool, conveying brand and product information on the showroom floor, in the consumer’s home or at the architect, designer or builder’s office.

It should withstand normal handling without losing its sales appeal. It must be functionally efficient – sized to accommodate the product and designed for the consumer, sales person, architect or builder to conveniently carry it.

It must convey the desired image. Plain boards are inexpensive and look it. Well-designed and decorated boards enhance the product image.


The specification process

The sample board specification process requires knowledge of merchandising, materials and manufacturing. In essence, it requires deciding that the board has to do and then designing its necessary characteristics.

The functional design starts with basic criteria. The typical sample board is housed in a display, usually showing only one side with the samples attached. The board is designed for the consumer to take home or to the office for evaluation, so weight and board strength are important. Sell copy may be desirable on the back panel. The merchandising program may require a novel shape. There is often a family of items and a need to create some family resemblance as well as competitive differentiation between products. The board must convey a finished, neat, clean appearance, send the right message, and draw customers.

As a practical matter, sample boards for heavier materials such as tile are between 18- by 18-inches and 26- by 38-inches. Any bigger and they are hard to lift and carry; any smaller and they cannot carry much product sample. As a rough guide to the weight of the board itself, allow about one pound for each square foot of MDF and tempered hardboard, less for pasted chipboard.

Sample board material depends on the desired characteristics of thickness, rigidity, color, weight, etc.

Pasted chipboard is least expensive but less durable than other options and not as smooth a mounting surface. Boards must have a straight edge because chipboard must be die cut. It’s available in any thickness up to ¼-inch, but 3/16-inch is most common.

MDF (medium density fiberboard) is usually in 3/15-inch thickness but available in other calipers. More expensive than chipboard but more durable, MDF has various qualities of color, density, etc., based on the wood and resins used in its manufacture. Boards with a higher internal bond and made with high-quality northern woods are desirable. MDF is sanded for mounting printed labels. It must be machined on wood working equipment.

Tempered hardboard is available in 1/8-, 3/16-, and ¼-inch thicknesses and can be smooth on one or both sides. More expensive than MDF, it must also be machined. It provides a smooth mounting surface but is dark brown.

Solid plastic is available in various colors and thicknesses. Edges and contours can be shaped. Light and rigid depending on size and thickness, plastic has superior resistance to corner damage when dropped. It is more expensive than MDF for comparable thickness.

Solid wood is appropriate for heavy products (grouted tile), special effects, to meet the desire for a rich look or for competitive differentiation.


Sample board edges can be straight or contoured (usually bullnosed or “diamondized”); corners can be square or rounded. However, a “diamondized,” contoured edge, rounded corners and a contoured hand hole is the high quality industry standard.

Hand holes are the key functional attribute of a sample board. The most user-friendly hand hole has a “diamondized” edge and is at the top or side of the board for balanced carrying. The hand hole is typically racetrack shaped, but can be any other shape as well. The board’s graphic design must take the hand hole into account.

Most sample boards use offset printed sheets mounted on one or both sides. Covering both sides reduces the chance for moisture absorption and warping. Pre-mounting these label sheets leaves clean lines after shaping for a more finished appearance.

How will the completed board look?

The circumstances of the board’s intended purpose guide the designer. If the board will be fixed in a display, graphics will be included on only one side. This is less expensive, but requires the designer to squeeze all copy onto one panel. Removable boards or loose builder boards have two panels for additional room scenes, educational and informational copy. Be advised that printing more panels is more expensive.

Unless the board is painted or pre-laminated with a finished surface, it must be printed. The more designs, the costlier the printing. Backside printing and extra colors add cost. A good film laminate in a matte or gloss finish protects printing from scratches, fingerprints and moisture absorption and results in a quality look, but can also add cost. Foil laminates, embossing, fluorescents, gold stamping, and spot engraving are possible but at additional cost. One-time prep costs for image manipulation, color matching, and the like can also add significant cost and should be a factor in any design decisions.

The bottom line is the need to balance design and board costs early in the process to get the most merchandising impact from your dollars.

Prepared by NS Converters, LLC, Sample Board and Display Panel Division, Wayland, Massachusetts, (508) 358-9151.

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