Silk Flowers 101: The Ultimate Guide To Modern Artificial Flowers
Silk Flowers 101 originated and its content grew on the basis of our knowledge and experience amassed over the years in finding, choosing and using a vast variety of them in our floral designs . In a series of short articles here we are able to present in-depth details and opinions about all kinds of 'silk' flowers, including real touch (known also as natural, fresh, soft or true touch) flowers and Floramatique. You will not find such an exhaustive material on the subject anywhere else, either in print, or online (unless "borrowed" from us, rehashed and often misinterpreted by newbie "specialists").
Are Contemporary Artificial Flowers Made With Real Silk?
Because so much is involved in making artificial flowers in the twenty first century, and so diverse materials are used, silk flowers term remains largely a generic name, a remnant from the bygone era when synthetic flowers were manufactured from polyester, cotton and silk blends. We therefore use terms 'artificial' and 'silk' flowers interchangeably.
Now you are about to read all you need to know about various 'fake' flowers, includung real touch flowers and the brand name Floramatique® - in the most comprehensive and kept up-to-date series of articles. Enjoy!
What Are The Quality Grades Of Silk Flowers?
Would you like to know how to tell if silk flowers are good quality? We have the answers!
We organized and refined quality grade classification of artificial flowers in 2005. Now you see cited and repeated on the Net term grade 6/ new generation applied to highest quality silk/artificial flowers - we invented it and coined it. We associate that term only with real touch and so far with just a few of Floramatique® flower kinds.
There are six grades of silk flowers, from lowest to the highest quality. Upper quality grades are available to professional florists only, and the ones who know where and how to source. You will not find them in craft or craft chain stores.
Let us first go quickly through the quality grades of faux flowers in a manner you can relate to:
- dollar stores: grade 1, sometimes 2;
- flea markets: grades 1 and 2;
- craft sections of department stores: grades 2 (mainly) and 3 (sparsely);
- individual and chain craft stores: predominantly grade 3, if grade 4, rarely, and at a high price.
Grades 4, 5 and 6 are professional grades, where realistic look in details, higher quality materials used and better made individual components (of flowers) come into play.
Grade 3 is made out of cheaper materials. Therefore shapes do not hold that well and edges (of petals) frail easily. The color is not uniform due to using cheaper dye lots. The texture and consistency of lower quality materials does not allow recreating details with precision in the manufacturing process.
There is a big difference, in appearance and price, once you move from grade 3 to 4.
Grade 4, made with better materials have a pretty realistic look, with all details recreated well (petals, leaves, stems, joints, thorns, etc.), in thickness, shapes and colors. Shapes do not "limp" and flowers have a natural look in color and texture.
Grade 5 are made with such degree of precision that even natural flaws in fresh flowers are copied. Very close to 100% of botanical accuracy and the most lifelike look.
Grade 6, called new generation / real touch of silk flowers offers the ultimate in quality. Not only the look is ultra realistic down to very small details, but a feel to the touch is imitated. The texture of the materials is such that when you touch petals, leaves and stems you have a sense of touching fresh flowers. We include here only some of Floramatique faux flowers, the ones that have sufficient detailed botanical accuracy.
What Are Artificial Real Touch Flowers And How Are They Made?
In order to understand what modern, top quality silk flowers are, you need to know that they are very rarely made with silk. In fact, what is referred today to as real touch (also known as fresh, natural, true or soft touch) silk/artificial flowers of the very best quality and lifelike, ultra realistic in detail look, are blends of complex chemical composites like polyurethane, latex, Poly-chloride vinyl (PVC) and more advanced polymers. They are shaped from sculpted moulds of high precision forming abilities. Amazing elasticity of stems, foliage and buds has been achieved, similar to the bending flexibility of real flowers. Synthetic or natural fabrics (i.e., polyester, cotton and sometimes, silk) are predominantly associated with traditional 'silk' flowers.
Sophisticated coating techniques are employed to give the ultimate top quality synthetic flowers genuine feel to the touch. True-to-life colors are achieved with special layering processes. Original real touch technologies were developed at US universities and technical laboratories, later perfected and tested at industrial level in Taiwan and Japan. Then they were introduced to and adapted at factories elswhere in Asia (predominantly in China and Thailand).
Some 'old school' florists, new to the idea of modern, state-of-the-art artificial flowers (and extremely reluctant to use them in bouquets, as they would have to learn and practice new, not existing before arranging/assembly techniques, away from the 'known and tried' with fresh cut flowers) are bent on using a term permanent botanicals. We prefer to keep it accurate and short: artificial flowers. A rather imprecise term silk flowers will soon fade away and become obsolete in referring to all 'fake' (faux, synthetic) flowers.
On the other hand, some florists who fairly recently discovered and embraced real touch flowers list on their sites natural touch, fresh touch, true touch and soft touch flowers as separate 'brands'. These terms (but one) are in fact just commercial names for real touch 'fakes', referring to the general category of artificial flowers that imitate the real feel to the touch. The only name that was never used in the past by importers/ suppliers in America, Canada and overseas is natural touch. It was coined (circa 2007) by the trend followers, not wanting to use what we have been describing since our introduction in artificial bridal flower arrangements in 2003 as the new generation/ real touch. As a matter of fact, before 2006 you would be hard-pressed to find a manufacturer or an importer anywhere in the world using any of the aforemontioned terminology (in their catalogs and/or product descriptions).
Each of manufacturers of real touch flowers, regardless of which particular commercial names are used by them and/or direct importers, makes both more and less lifelike flowers. They vary in botanical accuracy and quality depending on kinds of flowers they choose to produce. For instance, the same factory can make an excellent line of ultra realistic roses but not so great orchids, or vice versa. Research and development, complexity of adapted technology, manufacturing processes and machine tools utilized, scientific and engneering know-how and quality control levels are the factors deciding on how 'good' certain synthetic flowers are. Therefore, the quality of real touch flowers varies not only from one manufacturer to the other but also from one specimen to the other, even under the same commercial name.
Classification of quality grades of 'silk' flowers (review it again) we devised in 2005 clearly describes the requirements of grade 6/ new generation inclusion - we place only the authentic real touch and the best of Floramatique® faux flowers there.
Most of the artificial flowers available today (called also permanent botanicals, faux, fake, synthetic or, traditionally: silk) are produced mainly in Asia, but with the use of patents, fabrication technology and machine tools originating from America and Europe.
What Are Artificial Flowers Known As Floramatique®?
A relatively new method of fabricating artificial flowers from the polyether polyurethane (PEU) has been in existence since 2006. The flowers manufactured with this technology are sold under the trade name of Floramatique. They originate from only one factory in China, that holds the patent. We have been using Floramatique products selectively since the second part of 2006, shortly after they were introduced. Now we can present our own and solely our own assessment of them, as Hibiscus Florals' opinions derived from our observations and employing them (selectively) in creating our bridal floral arrangements.
A Simplified Description Of Floramatique® Flowers Fabrication Process
A mixture of polyether and polyurethane compose a light-weight foam (with chemical additives like foaming and cross-linking agents, stabilizers, etc.) that is poured into the molds to form artificial flowers' components. Paste in various colors is injected directly into the foam, then additionally sprayed onto the surfaces (of stems and leaves) and heated (to bake in the desired colors permanenty). It is not done manually - the process is computer-controlled.
This very supple material resists pretty well damages caused by squeezes and collisions, and is relatively stable at ambient temperature variations. However, the polyether polyurethane's low density chemical composition (at least in presently available in the market Floramatique's line of artificial flowers) has limitations - it cannot be effectively and precisely formed below certain thickness, otherwise it will tear off very easily. Therefore, it does not give good botanical accuracy in imitating flowers of intricate composition and with relatively thin and/or varying in thickness petals in nature. Therefore, most of Floramatique flowers like roses, peonies, lilies, most types of orchids, etc.. are not realistic enough to give a full visual impression of precise replicas of fresh flowers - their petals are too thick and the level of detail is not sufficient (to classify them as new generation/ grade 6 top quality artificials).
Floramatique synthetic flowers compete very well, but with just a very few types of their real touch faux counterparts in, i.e., calla lilies and tulips (flowers that are fairly thickly built and "meaty"). And their botanical replicas of calla lilies and tulips, which we utilize in our custom and non-custom designs, have also a lifelike look and their feel to the touch do resemble fresh flowers, indeed. Therefore, we place Floramatique line of botanically correct in every detail calla lilies and tulips also in the grade 6/ new generation quality category (please see the quality grades' discussion in sections below).
Real Touch And Floramatique® Flowers - Which Ones Are Better?
We have seen and physically examined a full line of currently made Floramatique® permanent botanicals. As a result of our comparative observations over time we conclude that real touch technologies still offer more choices of truly new generation artificial flowers, delivering on the promise of being botanically accurate in appearance and precisely made replicas of fresh flowers. But some florists new to 'silks', who do not really know what authentic real touch flowers are (as they have not seen/ used many of them) spread a false claim on the Net that all Floramatique flowers are the best there are in artificials.
Floramatique® is a promising technology and made lately great strides in further improvements of the material and fabrication processes. And we have already seen their excellent quality products, new for 2012, truly competing with the proven real touch flowers.
Nevertheless, Floramatique calla lilies and tulips are the best so far made, botanically accurate and with a real feel to the touch new generation artificial flowers. They initially came in scented (we do not use) and unscented versions. And their 'factory' colors are true-to-life, with displayed gradation of the color shading and hues (i.e., Floramatique mango calla lilies).
Man-made flowers cover a broad spectrum - from low-end to very high quality. You can observe the same wide range of quality in silk flower arrangements available from online and off-line florists.
Which Silk Flower Arrangements To Choose?
Low-end faux flowers are sometimes dotted with tiny balls of acrylic to imitate droplets of water (dew drops) and can be bought cheaply. The petals of poor quality fake flowers do not hold their shapes and often fall off the stems. Upon close examination the dyes are mostly uneven and the edges easily fray. When used in silk floral arrangements, they appear very fake and tacky.
If quality is not a big concern for you, then many low value artificial flower arrangements can be found on auction sites where bidding prices start very low. Indeed, the price range may be a good indicator of the quality level you get.
Medium quality range silk flower arrangements may look like the "real McCoy" from a distance (and on online pictures without an adequate zoom-in feature, despite how well photographed) but do not pass the test of credible lifelike appearance upon closer scrutiny. Therefore, many online claims of "highest", "premium", "finest" or "deluxe" quality silk flower arrangements cannot be substantiated, if not supported by a presence of high resolution, detailed, close-up pictures.
High quality silk flowers in arrangements have more lifelike appearance, ranging from pretty realistic to ultra realistic. Their stems are individually wired and wrapped, and require little effort to bend and work with. Top of the spectrum silk floral arrangements are the ones you can see up close at some exclusive hotels, upscale restaurants, art galleries and high-end boutiques. They are custom made and can be often mistaken by an untrained eye for fresh ones. We utilize the same top quality artificial flowers in silk flower arrangements we create for our customers.
The most diligent manufacturers of artificial flowers carefully examine how individual blooms resemble their natural counterparts. Then they scrupulously recreate their botanical accuracy by using cutting edge technology processes.
Take a look at the lifelike grade 6/ real touch mango calla lilies used in our Mango Tango Collection (in
the photo to your right) that brightened so many destination weddings of our customers. This is our original, 'timeless' 2004 package design (which we re-launched in 2007 as New Mango Tango Collection with addition of amazing Floramatique® calla lilies). You will find it here very difficult to distinguish these callas from the fresh ones. These artificial tropical flowers consist of the advanced polymer mix (with the outer real touch surface coating) so they have lifelike elasticity and the velvet-like softness (as the fresh cut calla lilies)
You can see an example of another very advanced flower manufacturing technology, Floramatique® - in the lower picture left below. Holly from Austin, Texas used a depicted magnificent mango callas bouquet of our design at her beach destination wedding. These unbelievably realistic and lifelike Floramatique® calla lilies are also of the highest grade 6/ new generation quality.
Some online florists experiment lately with dyeing synthetic calla lilies and other flowers with uniform and strongly defined colors, trying to achieve more "tropical" look. They think that, by doing so, they broaden a variety of exotic colors for artificials. In fact, that often results in quite odd and unnatural in appearance colors, never seen in flowers growing wild and cultivated in near-equatorial and equatorial latitudes (except rare hybrids). What gives us a right to say so? Well, our main designer was brought up in the real tropics. Therefore, beside having seen over the years of her childhood and youth a tremendeous range of flower species, she knows which colors are true-to-life and which are not, and for what particular flowers.
A Word Of Caution: Inferior Quality Of Artificial Flowers, False Claims & Deceptive Information
Fake, counterfeit real touch artificial flowers appeared on the market by the end of 2005. Their petals have more rubbery feel to the touch, instead of a more natural one. They do not have that high-tech coating, giving them fresh to the touch feel, applied. As they are made out of common materials, like plain rubber, industrial-grade latex or hard polyester, their petals are more rigid - a far cry from the bending flexibility of authentic real touchartificial flowers. They are also often imprecisely cut from the mold and you can see that by examining closely edges of the petals.
You can see lately some better made rubber, foam and latex knockoffs at craft stores, even with soft touch and/or true touch tags attached. Their petals and leaves are not thin enough and not flexible enough to resemble those of fresh cut flowers and their level of botanical accuracy is not sufficient enough to pass as grade 6/ real touch flowers.
Then there are what we call second rate real touch flowers. Although their petals may in fact resemble the real/ natural/ fresh feel to the touch, the quality of the other components is visibly inferior ('fake' looking). Their stamens, stems and joints are usually poorly assembled and glued. These cheaper versions are being often presented by 'newbie' florists, who have not yet seen many authentic, premium quality artificial grade 6/ real touch flowers, as the true McCoy.
Stay away from online 'silk' florists, new to the highest quality artificial bridal floral arrangements, trying to tell you that others charge much higher prices for the same bouquets as they (can) make. In fact, they may offer you amateurishly crafted, often poorly constructed (where a few pins in a ribbon wrap is all that holds an arrangement together), with a very limited choice of flower kinds and colors, with second rate real touch flowers.
Some deceive you further by mixing in their bouquets inexpensive rubber and latex real touch knockoffs, often vinyl, velvet and foam flowers, and even traditional 'silks', while trying to pass them to you as authentic real touch flowers, and/or "specialty" flowers, even in idividual product descriptions on their sites. More often than not you can easily assess what they can really create by looking carefully at pictures of their work, while paying close attention to the number, selection of flowers and design complexity level (if any) in their bouquets. If their arrangements' photographs are not large enough to see the flowers' small details, they may be intentionally concealing their true, inferior quality.
- You could look at pictures of, for example, "fresh alternative" wedding flower arrangements. Fresh alternative is a vague and potentially very misleading term (never properly defined for the flower content and quality differences), that one of online florists was using for quite some time. As a result of the marketing deception, run for years, many brides who purchased their "fresh alternative" bridal floral arrangements were convinced that they were getting all real touch flowers in them. But they could have not known that they were conned even after receiving their flowers, not having seen before in person authentic real touch flowers and not having compared them physically to ordinary, higher quality silks, or real touch knockoffs.
- Be very cautious when dealing with online sellers who display photographs of fresh cut flowers' designs (not theirs), either posing as silk floral arrangements, or added for "inspiration"/"ideas". Moreover, publishing someone else's pictorial and/or written material without clearly indicating the source of each photograph and text is a copyright infringement.
Beware of 'newbie' online silk florists assuring you that they have been "specializing" in real touch/ fresh touch/ natural touch and/or Floramatique® flowers for a considerable period of time, but their websites (with hardly any work shown) have been online for no more that two years.
Do not be mislead by fresh florists advertising online (craigslist, kijiji, etc.) that they also "specialize" in high quality silk wedding flowers, and in real/ natural touch and Floramatique flowers in particular. When you visit their websites you may not realize that all or most of arrangements displayed in their pictures consist of fresh cut flowers only or the artificials/fresh mix.
Artificial Flowers: How It All Started
For as long as humans walked the earth, people have been trying to recreate Nature's flowers using many kinds of materials.
Some of the artifacts found in ancient caves indicate that we made artificial flowers from wood shavings, stones and even human hair. Today, hand-crafting of flowers is still an art.
Our interest in copying these wonders of nature has been rekindled to the point where some contemporary manufacturers work at attaining the "botanically correct" look for artificial flowers they make. They compete with each other to get as close to the real thing as possible, and constantly amaze and surprise traditional florists, who know their craft and materials well.
Advantages Of Floral Arrangements With Real Touch Flowers
The technology for making artificial flowers that imitate nature to pretty fine details has been in existence for just several years. And it has been improving rapidly but steadily. It remains to be seen what new levels of detail accuracy with silk flowers will be achieved by our suppliers using modern machine tools and expert know-how. At present, artificial flowers of new generation / real touch and (some of) Floramatique® quality are the pinnacle of the ultra realistic look and genuine feel to the touch.
Hibiscus Florals is thrilled to be in the forefront of this exciting and growing business. Creating beauty with 'silk' floral arrangements for weddings is our passion, and we are very good at it. The convenience of everlasting artificial flower arrangements is not overlooked by our satisfied customers. Especially by our destination brides who often praise us for relieving their stress by providing them with maintenance-free bridal bouquets of silk flowers and other wedding flower arrangements they can travel with.
Using high quality synthetic flower arrangements for wedding ceremonies and receptions, and to decorate living or work spaces, as the great alternative to real ones, is a growing trend. By buying 'silk' florals you can make an environmentally conscious decision. No water, soil or fertilizer has to be used to grow and keep them alive, unlike for the fragile and perishable wonders of nature; and that for just a moment in time.
Jackie & Mark, Owners of Hibiscus Florals
This article is a copyrighted material. It was written on the basis of extensive travels, research, studies and first-hand experience of the owners and staff of Hibiscus Florals. Therefore, it is our company's proprietary intellectual property. We uploaded the original, first verion of the article onto our site in May 2005 and we have been updating it ever since. Any unauthorized use/copying it in excerpts or in full, writing variations/modified versions of is prohibited.