Types of Tile: What's the Difference?

Ever wondered the difference between ceramic and porcelain tiles? And what are they actually made of? Plus, what else is out there, and which material will work best for your installation? A lot of times it's hard to say, as most materials will work on multiple surfaces. There are a few rules to follow, though, and we wanted to break them down as simply as possible.

CERAMIC

bevel pental black ceramic wall tile
Pictured: Brick Atelier beveled ceramic wall tile in black from Pental.
What is it?
  • Man-made clay-body tiles.
  • "Ceramic" is defined as any tile made from clay and raw materials that, compared with porcelain, is fired at lower temperatures and has a softer clay body.
  • Shaped into any trim, relief, or tile size, then glazed and fired, yielding infinite creative options that may not be available in highly-processed porcelains.
Uses
  • This material is best on walls.
  • Most ceramics are not okay on floors- always check manufacturer specifications.
  • Most are not suitable for outdoor use- won't hold up to freeze-thaw conditions.

PORCELAIN

wide steel porcelain tile
Pictured: Wide porcelain tile in 24x24 color: Steel from Statements.
What is it?
  • Man-made clay-body tiles.
  • Composed of naturally occurring materials- clay, quartz, feldspar, and silica- that are fine-ground to granulates, pressed at high pressure into tile forms, then fired at extremely hot temperatures.
  • Vitrified (highly water resistant), incredibly durable, heat/freeze/thaw resistant.
Uses
  • This is the best material for floors.
  • Okay on counter tops and walls- large format may be harder to install on vertical surfaces.
  • Large format polished or three-dimensional porcelain not okay on floors (slip/trip hazard).
  • Okay outdoors- resistant to freeze/thaw cracking.

GLASS

glass glacier tierra sol mosaic
Pictured: Tierra Sol's Glacier Glass mosaic in Iridium.
What is it?
  • Glass sheets cut to shape or heat-molded, often with fired-on porcelain backing to improve ease of installation.
  • Color provided by backing in most cases- the glass itself is usually transparent/translucent.
  • Sometimes color is infused through heat or other processes (as in recycled and stained glass products).
  • Provides a highly durable, completely vitrified (water resistant) surface.
  • Vibrancy and color quality that clay-body products often can't parallel.
  • Usually starts at a higher price point.
Uses
  • This material varies widely in manufacturing techniques, so some products will be suitable for all surfaces (including floors), while others may be more susceptible to scratches and should only be used on walls. Always check manufacturer specifications.
  • Most okay in wet areas, backsplashes, even fireplaces.
  • Recycled glass mosaics are a great choice for bathroom floors and shower pans- they offer color and texture options that are often not available in porcelains.

NATURAL STONE

z tile stone mosaic
Pictured: Z-Tile's Bianco Carrara natural stone 3" lantern mosaic.
What is it?
  • Rock formed naturally over time then mined from the ground, cut, and processed into tiles.
  • Includes marble, travertine, slate, limestone, onyx, and more.
  • No two tiles or batches (called lots) will be exactly the same. Some variation will be so minute that you cannot see it, and others can be so drastic that they may not even look like the same material.
  • Porous and subject to scratching and staining to varying degrees. Each type forms differently and should be taken care of according to its specifications.
  • Must be sealed and cleaned with proper products to maintain quality.
Uses
  • May be used on almost any surface as long as proper care is taken and scratch and stain susceptibility is kept in mind.
  • Many stones not recommended for use in wet areas.
  • Cooking with oils may stain a natural stone kitchen backsplash.
  • Ideal for fireplace installations.
  • Most okay outdoors.

There are other materials included in tile collections (like metal/aluminum/resin), but these are the main choices. The best way to know if a material is appropriate for a specific surface is to check manufacturer specifications. Feel free to contact us with questions.


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