The invention relates to a method and apparatus that provide an environmentally low impact method of forming patterns or images on flooring materials. Previously such patterns or images were created by either applying a printed film, or printing directly onto the material surface, methods that are prone to wear and abrasion. These processes, together with the practice of acid etching patterns into surfaces, have ecologically undesirable implications in the handling and disposal of the chemicals and waste products.
The invention seeks to provide a eco-friendly and green solution to these problems. It provides a method of etching a pattern into the surface of a flooring material by computer-controlling the movement of an energy beam over the surface of the material or, alternatively, moving the material under a target zone of the laser, Different types of laser, preferable either carbon dioxide or solid state, will create different effects over a range of surfaces. The speed of movement of the impact point over the surface of the material and / or the intensity of the beam can be altered to create variations in recessed depth and tonal or texture variations in the etching.
It is also possible to impregnate the material with a substance that changes colour or shape upon impact of the laser beam. Because the material is etched, and no ink is applied to the surface, the wear resistance of the pattern and/or texture created in the surface is very high, adding value to the material.
Additionally, the power and speed of the laser beam can be altered to cut a pattern out of the flooring material. By cutting an identical pattern out of another contrasting material, which is then placed in the original recess, a design of different colours and / or textures in the flooring is created.