The Pennsylvania Slate texture series works harmoniously with natural stone. Its low texture and smooth joints allow furniture to sit well.
Chris McMahon The Pennsylvania Slate texture series works harmoniously with natural stone. Its low texture and smooth joints allow furniture to sit well.

Changes that include new tooling and vertical stamping point to a maturing stamped concrete industry. There are larger tools for expeditious imprinting, border tools that offer opportunities for details, and stamps with varied textures to increase realism or enhance the existing properties of concrete. Concrete artists continue to find new uses for older tools. "Stamping has come a long way," says Bernard Panzak, a principal, with the landscape architecture firm Glackin, Thomas and Panzak, Paoli, Pa. "It was viewed as a more economical way to upgrade paving without spending for a true or real stone upgrade.

Now, the state of the art, the coloration possibilities, and the new stamping tools-particularly the seamless texture stamps-have taken it from second class status to an art form." Seamless texture mats may be used without a particular pattern to add texture and color but maintain the integrity, look, and feel of concrete. "Also, the seamless texture system allows the viewer the opportunity to say this is not flagstone, cobblestone, or brick. His imagination can conclude that it is a rock outcropping," says Panzak.

Expanding Realism

Searching for a more realistic look led Chris McMahon, of Architectural Concrete Design, Levittown, Pa., to create a plethora of slate textures, which L.M. Scofield developed into a 30-piece set of imprinting tools called the Lithotex Pavecrafters Pennsylvania Slate Tool Stamp series. McMahon points out that in a stack of natural stones, no two stones are the same. The multi-textured tool is manufactured in square and rectangular shapes; each piece can turn 360 degrees and is sized in a 6-inch increment to fit with another tool. "Once workers become accustomed, it takes less forethought to use these tools. Pick them up and put them down and the variation and direction happen naturally," says McMahon. Alternatively, McMahon recommends workers practice with the tools before stamping concrete. To increase the realism, McMahon's installations include varied texture, few or no repeating patterns, and are finished with a nongloss sealer.

Going Vertical  

Butterfield Color, Aurora, Ill., adds to the vertical application of concrete with the Cantera Vertical Wall Mix for stamping and their Cut Stone Form Liners for steps. The vertical mix is a polymer-modified cementitious system that is applied to concrete walls, concrete block, and even over wood or drywall. "Doing an application over concrete requires opening the surface with an acid wash or light sandblast, applying a scratch coat with a rough broom finish, and then applying a primer. Follow it with integrally colored overlay material and you are ready to stamp," says Butterfield's Jerry Garceau. Butterfield Color offers stamp patterns for the walls-Topstone, Weathered Edge, Riverstone, and more.

The flexible and reusable Cut Stone Form Liners allow contractors to create steps that cantilever over the risers and have edges that mimic cut stone. It makes an innovative addition for walls, countertops, pool copings, patios, and driveways. The edging accommodates 1½- to 4-inch-thick concrete, sending the message of real stone when used with stamped concrete.

Concrete Coverup

Used either vertically or on slabs, Thin Crete can duplicate nearly any desired appearance.
Increte Systems Used either vertically or on slabs, Thin Crete can duplicate nearly any desired appearance.

A special thin overlay developed by Increte Systems as a coverup for existing concrete is called Thin-Crete. Applied at ¼ to 3/8 inch thick on slabs or walls, it actually is stronger and more durable than the concrete it covers. Since it is installed so thinly, it does not cause problems with existing doors or adjoining surfaces and can duplicate the look of stone, slate, or even wood. It comes in many colors and can be stamped or carved to create nearly any appearance desired.

Four years ago Shawn Daniels, of Custom Concrete Creations, Buffalo, N.Y., created a prototype border tool to imprint concrete and wrap around corners-part A rotates around part B to accomplish the radius. Now the patented two-part tool comes in nine different designs. The original Grapevine and Fleur-delis patterns have expanded to American Indian, Greek, and Italian designs. The tools come in sets of four or five, permitting 5 linear feet of layout.

Daniels' placement usually includes the use of the textured seamless skins to customize large interior fields of concrete. He does not imprint a pattern, but rather establishes it with sawcut joints. The sawcuts can be deepened for crack control; no additional joints interrupt the pattern. Color and an added border or center focus piece individualizes the installation. Using large skins to texture the concrete and an imprinted border that requires minimal hand-stamping is labor efficient. The work is placed monolithically and the borders priced as an extra. Daniels recommends this method not only for its beauty but also its profitability.

Retro With Stamps

Ralph Gasser, Concrete by Gasser, Redding Calif., says the old "cookie-cutter" metal tools offer alternatives that should not be dismissed. "Metal tools, such as the old European Fan pattern, with grout still make beautiful installations," says Gasser. He stamped a backyard garden wall with the old "Chicken Feet" metal tool, which still is sold by Matcrete, Ontario, Calif., as well as a few others. "It's a tool about 18 inches long and looks like twigs off a stick," says Gasser. "The twigs fit together uniquely and create any stone size." The concrete was sprayed onto the block wall Gunite-fashion with a "Twister" machine. After the stamping, the wall was sponge-finished followed with a terra cotta stain. The subtly layered patio used a seven-sack, 3-inch-slump sand mix and was textured with crumpled plastic, hand carved, and sponge finished. All the work was done the same day-the carving within two and a half hours. Gasser cast legs for a bench using Sonotube. He placed Styrofoam inside to cover the spiral interior ring. After the Styrofoam was stripped out, the void was chemically stained in brown and black.

New Stamp Technology

Nasvik brothers, Jon and Paul, of Ideal Imprints, Hudson, Wis., have added a new dimension to tool design-"Pattern Mats." The large 4x4- and 5x5-foot square mats texture and imprint a pattern. Texture Mats eliminate common problems associated with typical stamping: alignment issues and the squeeze-up of concrete between stamps. Because the pattern is placed in the middle two-thirds of the tool, it looks like unconnected islands of pattern. But, when the tool is removed workers use a joint roller on a long handle to "connects the dots" adding to the nonrepetitive look of the installation. Because the tools overlap and are completely textured, they don't lead to the differing elevations, or "steps," common with most stamps.

The Ideal Imprints system includes: (1) lightweight, flexible Pattern Mats with registration lines on their back side for making tool placement easy to understand; (2) a lighter, trowel-shaped "pounder" with a flexible handle so the plate lands flat every time; (3) a joint roller on a long handle for fast, easy, and accurate hand tooling; and (4) "foot floats" resembling snowshoes with texture on the soles. The shoes distribute weight and allow workers to stamp slabs shortly after concrete is placed.

Advancing Creativity

It's been said that stamped concrete is the entry level for decorative concrete. As with every art form, though, creativity expands the product and its application. Experiment-try new tools, try old tools in new ways, combine patterns. Or try wiping away areas of pattern to texture and free form the joints, or sandblast surfaces and add stain accents. "People that know what they're doing combined with a design that plays to the strength of the medium can make stamped concrete excel and sing," says Panzak.