Materials used for wainscoting include solid woods, PVC plastic, embossed metal or ceramic tiles. Some wood-like materials are embossed MDF, hardwood veneer, embossed gypsum board and drywall.
Solid woods are the most popular types of wainscoting because they are versatile and protect the wall on which they are applied. PVC plastic is smooth and easy to paint and can be made into bead board. It is not possible to make PVC look like wood grain, but it does not warp or rot. One popular embossed metal to use for wainscoting is stamped tin. It can be mounted easily on ceilings or walls, but is easy to dent unless it is plastered before mounting.
Ceramic tile is as widely used as wood, especially in bathrooms where wood can become damp and rot. There are tile bead boards that have a classic wainscoting look, and there are profiles that can be used as cap and base moldings. Tile is durable and water resistant.
Embossed MDF is applied in 32 by 48 inch sheets that are contoured with three raised panels on the surface. It is usually capped with a chair rail but lacks the shadow lines that stiles, rails and panels create and cannot be adjusted for wall lengths. Shaped MDF is more versatile than embossed MDF and more stable than solid wood. Drywall is pre-pressed into the wainscoting shape and cannot be changed once it is applied without tearing down the whole wall. Drywall is not as strong or protective as other types of wainscoting.