Wood is a fickle material, and what can be fun for a woodworker can be a headache for an architect, industrial designer or interior designer. I'm talking specifically about board selection. Whereas a woodworker might relish the challenge of working around defects in boards, a designer might require the complete absence of them, or a slightly different coloration, or a more pleasing grain direction that Mother Nature seems unwilling to provide.
To address this finicky designer market, companies have begun using inkjet printers to digitally create highly tailored facsimiles of wood. As one example, Wilsonart maintains their own digital library of woodgrains and can create laminates on-demand that are highly convincing, at least to the eye; everything from planer marks to sawblade scars to weathering is reproduced with stunning fidelity.
"Antique Limed Pine is a white washed wood of varying sized planks. A rustic beauty with warm white and browns mixed with cool grey and charcoal." "Repurposed Oak is a sun kissed barnwood. It has a beautiful warm patina that is the perfect rustic look." "Repurposed Oak Planked is an oak barnwood that is planked with light and dark naturally occurring color variations." "Antique Barrel was once an old oak whisky cask. The distressed markings and fawn color elevates this design to a refined industrial look."
Here's the same "pattern" as above, but with a slight color variation:
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In general, you get four to five feet before the pattern starts to repeat. Some, as with the Antique Limed Pine, repeat randomly. If you just glanced at the photos above, you may not have noticed the repetition; but if you go back and look more carefully you're sure to notice it.
But will your customers?
If you want to learn more about companies using inkjet printers to simulate natural wood, Bill Esler's got an article about it over on Woodworking Network.