Our 2021 Guide To Imprinted Concrete

If you are looking to pave your driveway, you’ll have seen that there are lots of options. One of the newest ways of paving a drive, having taken off in popularity in the 1970s, pattern imprinted concrete is a durable, attractive, and efficient way to breathe life into a tired-looking driveway. 

But there is a lot to learn about this method before making a commitment. While we are confident that imprinted concrete is a viable solution to your driveway needs, we’d like to cover some important topics to help you make a decision.

What Is Imprinted Concrete?

Pattern imprinted concrete or simply imprinted concrete is a type of driveway surface that first came to light in the 1950s. Although, at this time, it didn’t have a great deal of interest and it wasn’t until the 1970s that people really began to notice the aesthetic and practical purposes of this method of creating a driveway. 

You’ll sometimes hear imprinted concrete being called stamped concrete and this is because of the way it is installed. Unlike other methods of paving a driveway where patterned slabs or blocks are laid on top of a foundation, imprinted concrete begins with pouring wet concrete directly onto the foundation. At this stage, it has no pattern or shape. 

When the concrete is laid down, colouring is applied as well as a hardening agent. It is at this point that large ‘stamps’ are used to input the pattern. There are a wide range of finishes and designs you can choose from making this one of the most versatile methods for driveway paving. 

Types Of Imprinted Concrete

Even if you have not been familiar with imprinted concrete up until this point, you will certainly have seen it when you have been out and about. This method of surfacing outdoor ground is widely used in things like outdoor marketplaces and pedestrianised town centres. But it is very popular for domestic properties and provides an excellent way to improve the curb appeal of your home. 

Imprinted concrete comes in a range of styles but in the UK, the ashlar effect and herringbone brick are among the most popular. It is also possible to have a cobbled effect often called London Cobble as well as neat tiles for a more uniform finish. If you want to go in the opposite direction, random stones in different sizes and shapes are a good option to go for. However, it isn’t just mimicking tiles, there are possibilities to create a specific texture and we have even seen people using beer crates to create a totally unique pattern! Although this might not be the best DIY hack we have ever heard!

What Are The Advantages Of Imprinted Concrete?

One of the biggest advantages of installing imprinted concrete is that you are able to cover a much larger area in one go than other methods such as block paving. For this reason, it is deemed much more efficient and you will have your new driveway much sooner. 

If you want your driveway to stand the test of time then it is important that it is structurally sound. Placing down a foundation before installing the driveway is imperative and if you hire a contractor, they will be able to discuss your options for this. Most commonly, where imprinted concrete is concerned, a mesh foundation will be placed down after the sub-base as a way of offering reinforcement. For this reason, a pattern imprinted concrete driveway is far more solid and will resist movement in a way that other driveways cannot. 

Moreover, imprinted concrete driveways are sealed with silicone and this makes it very difficult for anything from underneath to penetrate through to the surface. If you’ve had issues with weeds in the past, opting for imprinted concrete will see this as a thing of the past.

Pattern imprinted concrete is incredibly low maintenance. Other than regular sweeping and cleaning, you will be able to enjoy your driveway without the hard work. The only other maintenance that is needed is to apply a coat of sealer every few years to protect the surface, although this is something you can hire a contractor to do. What’s more, this type of driveway comes in so many choices where colour and pattern are concerned that it is generally much more aesthetically pleasing than other types. 

Where price is concerned, imprinted concrete is generally less expensive than other types of paving. For example, when you are buying block paving, you will pay for each individual block instead of a mass of concrete and colour. While the cost of your driveway will cost anywhere between £25 and £130 per square metre but this will depend on several factors including size, colour and the labour costs charged by your contractor. 

Are There Any Downsides To Using Pattern Imprinted Concrete?

Imprinted concrete is certainly a very practical and good-looking way to pave your driveway but nothing in life is perfect and there are a couple of disadvantages to choosing this method that you must keep in mind. 

Primarily, there is the additional cost of having a drainage system installed since imprinted concrete is not permeable like some other types of driveway. There are restrictions in place in the UK surrounding installing driveways in relation to permeability so it is worth looking into this before handing over any cash to a contractor.

Moreover, if you lay an imprinted concrete driveway down over pipework or other underground utilities and maintenance work is ever required, you will find yourself in a sticky spot having to lift the surface, which will be very difficult to repatch. 

Generally speaking, imprinted concrete driveways are very durable and resistant to damage. However, there is always the risk of something happening and in some cases, these driveways can be prone to cracking. There is not much that can be done to remedy this and so lifting the entire driveway and redoing it is typically the best solution. While you can carry out patch work, this is not easily blended back in and can look worse than the crack in the beginning. 

Is Imprinted Concrete Better Than Block Paving?

If you are tossing around the idea of using imprinted concrete vs block paving then one of the first things you should consider is which you prefer the look of. Each method of paving has its pros and cons but at the end of the day, you will have to look at your driveway and enjoy what you see. There is nothing worse than laying a driveway because of cost or practicality only to realise that you hate the way it looks.

While aesthetics are a concern, it is also important to consider a few other points when choosing between imprinted concrete and block paving. One of the most obvious things in favour of imprinted concrete is that there is really no limit on how the driveway looks. However, where durability is concerned, block paving has the upper hand. 

Block paving won’t become damaged through water, frost or other elements and once down, there is very little maintenance, never mind having to think about replacing the surface for the foreseeable future. On the other hand, as we have mentioned earlier, there is a risk of cracking with imprinted concrete. 

Moreover, if there is any work that needs to be done underneath your block paving, it is possible to remove a few blocks and replace them when the work is done without affecting the overall look of the driveway. 

Drainage is also less of a worry when installing block paving since these blocks are permeable and so there is no need for an additional drainage system. That said, block paving does have a tendency to shift and even sink. This is an aesthetic issue but can decrease the stability of the driveway over time. 

Of course, block paving is also considerably more expensive than imprinted concrete so if you are looking to save money then the latter will be the better option. But overall, either option will serve you practically with imprinted concrete being much easier on the eye. 

Things To Consider When Installing Imprinted Concrete

While most people will hire a contractor to take care of the ins and outs of installing an imprinted concrete driveway, it is important to have a good grasp on things. This way, you will be able to better work with your contractor and understand what is required to successfully install a driveway that will stand the test of time. 

Things That Might Go Wrong

In most cases, a reliable contractor will be able to lay an imprinted concrete driveway with very few problems. However, by its very nature, pattern imprinted concrete is susceptible to certain issues. Being aware of these before installation can go a long way in avoiding them.

To begin with, it is important to have a good mix with your concrete. If you are tackling the job yourself and have never mixed concrete before, it can be tempting to think that it is as easy as throwing the components into a drum and giving it a good mix. But this is not the case. 

In concrete, you need a blend of cement, sand and an aggregate. However, the size of the aggregates used will depend on the quality of the mixture. Somes mixes are good and some are downright terrible and you really don’t want the latter on your driveway. If you use aggregates that are too big, there is a very significant chance that they will show up through the surface. When creating a pattern imprinted concrete driveway, a smooth and even surface is essential and any aggregates that are exposed will ruin the aesthetic.

There is also the risk that your mixture may become too runny if you add too much water. The result is a sloppy mix that is almost impossible to work with. When you are imprinting concrete, you will need to have a very fine balance between the mixture being too thick and too sloppy. Working with an experienced contractor will help to ensure that the surface is easy to work with.

One of the most significant problems with imprinted concrete is that it is not a permeable surface so water will pool on it if it is unable to drain away. Puddling in certain areas will be a very serious issue especially if this is outside of a doorway or where you park your car; nobody wants to step out of the driver’s seat and end up with wet feet!

However, this issue can be solved by working with a contractor that has a wealth of experience and pays attention to detail. If your contractor uses boards to kneel while working on one area of the drive, this can cause there to be dips which will mean puddles on the surface when it is done. It is important to lay the surface down quickly so that the texture of the concrete remains perfect for printing but not so quickly that an even finish isn’t achieved. 

When it comes to printing, there are a lot of things that can go wrong if the job is done by someone without the relevant experience. For example, starting the printing process in the wrong place can lead to a disaster. Moreover, installers will need to apply just the right amount of pressure to get a consistent and detailed pattern. 

When applying pressure, it typically takes nothing more than placing the mats down so that the pattern lines up perfectly and walking over the surface. However, it is essential to ensure that there aren’t any dips because, as we mentioned earlier, this can lead to puddling. Once you are satisfied that the print has been achieved, additional care must be taken when lifting the mats so that they do not disturb the pattern. 

Think About Print Quality

The last thing you want is to stand back to admire your new driveway only to find that there are imperfections or the print quality isn’t what you imagined. The number of mats used can make life easier but it is essential that your contractor has at least one flexible mat among his rigid ones to accommodate curved areas or those that are a little trickier to access. 

Moreover, it pays to think about the weather conditions. When it is warm and sunny, the concrete will dry much more quickly. Again, having more printing mats so that more area can be covered at once is a good way to ensure this doesn’t become an issue. 

Will The Driveway Be Durable?

After you have had your imprinted concrete driveway installed, you will expect it to last for many years, right? To ensure that the driveway is as durable as possible, there must be a decent foundation and this involves using the correct sub-base as well as a high-quality concrete mix. Everything should be well compacted to create a more stable and robust surface. 

When deciding on the right materials, it is a good idea to think about how the driveway will be used. If heavier vehicles will park frequently on the drive, it will require greater strength than a decorative driveway that is rarely used. But don’t forget that even foot traffic will wear the surface over time. 

Imprinted concrete driveways are susceptible to cracking but this can be avoided with expert installation. While it cannot be completely eradicated, using the right amounts of concrete can help. It is widely accepted that around 300kg of cement per cubic metre is sufficient. However, this amount will increase if laying the driveway in colder weather. 

The durability and resistance to cracks can also be increased by ensuring the right thickness. In a domestic situation, your imprinted concrete driveway may need to be up to 175mm especially in high traffic areas. 

Some contractors may install contraction joints in specific places so that, if cracking does occur, it can be controlled. However, this isn’t something that is offered as standard and is an aspect that you will need to discuss with your installation expert. 

Keeping A Consistent Colour

To achieve a perfect driveway, you will need the colour to be consistent across the entire surface. To do this, the right amount of colour surface hardener and release agent needs to be applied and this is, yet again, something that a reliable and experienced contractor won’t have an issue executing. As a general rule, it is agreed that 2.5kg of surface hardener should be applied for every square metre of concrete. That said, high traffic areas may benefit from even more. 

While incorrect amounts of these key components may produce less noticeable results on small areas, for larger projects, the uneven colour will be very obvious. This is because the difference in each concrete batch will result in slightly different colours but the surface hardener will rectify this and make everything blend and look even. Check out our article about removing stains from concrete

Conclusion

Pattern imprinted concrete has become a very popular choice and is seen on driveways around the world. Not only does it provide you with something that is very easy on the eye but it is one of the most affordable options. However, there are pros and cons that are worth considering such as less durability than other driveway types and the risk of puddling if the driveway is not laid correctly. 

To ensure that you end up with a high-quality driveway that will stand the test of time, it is critical to work with an experienced contractor who can talk through your options and complete the job to a high standard.