Ceramic tile is possibly the most recognizable type of tile there is. Typically comprised of a white clay body (or bisque) and a baked on glazed surface. Historically, ceramic tiles were used to adorn important buildings and were reserved for the wealthiest. Increasing technologies of the 19th and 20th centuries made glazed ceramic tile an affordable option for all. Glaze color and finish options are infinite, while the clay is able to be cut and molded into a huge variety of shapes, sizes and textures. However, the glaze on ceramics can scratch or chip, revealing the white clay-body underneath and is best suited for wall applications or floors with minimal foot traffic.
Porcelain tile is technically still part of the ceramics family, but the bisque is comprised of slightly different materials and fired at a higher temperature making it more dense and durable. Porcelain tile is a great flooring product that is non-porous and won’t stain. It is very nearly impossible to scratch, chip or break once installed. Many types of porcelain are considered “color-body” or “through-color” meaning that the bisque is a similar color to the surface finish, so if it does happen to chip, it is much less noticeable. Improving printing technologies have made it possible to create porcelain tiles with sophisticated, realistic looking patterns and textures. Wood look planks or slate and marble replicas can look like the real thing, without the maintenance. Large format sizes reduce the amount of grout lines and create streamlined, modern spaces.
Terra Cotta is another fire-baked, clay-body tile but unlike its ceramic and porcelain counterparts is often left unglazed or with just a clear finish on the surface, letting the distinct orange-red color of the clay show. Hand-made imperfections give terra cotta tiles a natural artistic and rustic feel. Unglazed terra cotta tiles are very porous must be sealed regularly and are not well suited to wet areas. The softer nature of the bisque requires that the tiles be thicker than most other tiles, so consideration needs to be made to account for this during installation.
Concrete tile is currently a huge trend in the tile industry, and many people feel it has a very modern look and feel. However, some of the first designs were exhibited at the Paris Exhibition in the late 1800s. Unlike ceramics and porcelains, the limitless colors and patterns available on cement tiles are not just a surface glaze. The base of the tile is cement but the top most 1/8”-1/4” layer is where the design is created by adding brightly colored pigments to the cement. That means any surface damage is hardly noticeable, and if necessary, the tile can be sanded down to buff out any scratches. Concrete tiles do require sealing to protect from moisture and staining. The added thickness and density also make them heavier than a lot of other types of tile and the added weight and thickness should be considered prior to installation.
Although usually considered contemporary, glass has been used in mosaics since the Byzantine Era. Modern technologies over the last 25 years have made glass tile into a popular material with a myriad of color, texture and finish options. There are “green” options made from recycled bottles, and precision cut patterns reminiscent of stained-glass windows or clear, luminescent options available in sizes up to 24”. Glass tile is another non-porous material that will not stain, but does require special attention to appropriate applications and installation methods.
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