All-purpose laminate is the great imitator, which means that you can get the look of just about every other surface material for a lot less expense. Solids in every color of the rainbow, realistic wood grains, and stone look-alikes are the most popular, but there are also brushed metals, textures, patterns, and customizable options.
An eased (squared) or bull nose (rounded) edge are common edge finishes for laminate surfaces, but fancier treatments such as beveling, ogee, and waterfall edges let you match your countertop style to that of your kitchen.
If you don't like the color change that occurs at points where laminate pieces are joined, there is a solid-core alternative available. It's more expensive, but it also allows you to layer colors for contrast and shape the edges for a decorative effect.
Laminate comes in several grades. Like other materials, the higher the grade, the better the performance. With care, laminate can easily last 10-15 years.
The top layer of laminate, plastic melamine, is virtually impenetrable, making a laminate surface ideal for the wear-and-tear of everyday cooking. However, laminate can chip and scratch -- even worse, it scorches. Accidentally set a hot pan on your laminate countertop and you'll have to think about replacing it or learn to live with an unsightly blemish. A few patterned and textured laminates camouflage minor scratches and spots. Lighter laminates can fade and yellow.
Laminate is one of the least expensive of countertop options and sometimes three to four times less expensive than other countertop materials. This is reason enough to consider laminate for an affordable update. One of the best features of laminate is that you can mix and match to your heart's content -- without breaking your budget. Laminate starts at $20 a linear foot; higher grades cost as much as $40-$60 a linear foot.