Ceramics are an ancient craft that date back some 4,000 years, originating in Ancient Egypt around 4,700 BCE.
The origin of the word “ceramic” comes from the Greek word “keramos,” or pottery. The word “tile” originates from the Latin “tegula” and its French derivative, “tuile.”
The art of tiling spread west from the Middle East, becoming popular in Europe during the 11th century, when mosaic floorings and panels became prevalent.
Tiles are made from clay, which once shaped and dried, are fired in a kiln at very hot temperatures. This process hardens the tiles, creating “bisque,” which can then be glazed and fired a second time. Tiles can also be used unglazed, although the color range is limited to the natural shades of the clay.
Ceramic tiles have been a popular material for interior and exterior decoration for thousands of years. They come in all shapes and sizes, colors and glazes and can be used plain, decorated or as part of a mosaic.
Ceramic tiles are a popular choice of flooring due to their aesthetic appeal, as well as their durability and easy care. A properly installed ceramic tile floor will outperform and outlast nearly any other floor covering product created for the same application. Glazed ceramic tile resists stains, odors and dirt and can be cleaned with a damp mop or common household cleaners.
Grade III and Grade IV glazed ceramic tiles are extremely scratch resistant. You never have to worry about a cut or tear like you do with other floor coverings.
Modern technologies have added to the range of shades, finishes and shapes available. In addition, there has been a resurgence of more traditional looks with terracotta and other natural unglazed finishes.
Additional benefits of ceramic tile include:
- Cleanliness: Environmentally friendly, ceramic tile is manufactured using natural materials and does not retain odors, allergens or bacteria.
- Versatility: Modern ceramic manufacturing technology has created a virtually limitless number of colors, sizes, styles, shapes and textures that can add rich beauty and character to any room in your home.
- Fire Resistance: Ceramic tile doesn’t burn or emit toxic fumes. Even hot kitchen pans or skillets can’t scorch or melt the surface of glazed ceramic tile!
- Water Resistance: Most glazed ceramic tile has a dense body that permits little or no moisture accumulation.
In short, ceramic tile is a timeless, luxurious and durable flooring choice that offers a unique opportunity for self-expression because of its detail, flexibility and sheer beauty.
What are the current Trends in Ceramic Tile
Ceramic Tile has been around for ages. However, with advances in technology there are tons of emerging trends and innovations in residential tile and stone flooring. As impressive as the vast range of new design ideas in porcelain, glass and ceramic tiles are the technological and sustainable strides being made in these surfacing materials is, arguably, even more impressive. Here’s a round-up of some of the dominant trends that are currently emerging in this industry:
- Stone-look tiles: Just as laminate flooring manufacturers have mastered making flooring material that isn’t wood but looks just like it using inkjet printing technology, tile manufacturers are now making tiles that look exactly like all kinds of different stones at more affordable prices – and the manufacturing of these tiles is easier on the environment than the quarrying of real stone, too.
- Wood-inspired tiles: Many consumers in today’s markets enjoy the wood-inspired tiles not only for their interesting design, but also for their eco-friendliness – they’re the first tiles to qualify for points in the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED certification program. Several companies are now offering variations on wood-inspired tile in a wide range of interesting colors.
- Bold pops of color and intricate patterns: Gorgeous mosaics by Sicis highlight the ways in which color and pattern can add zip to a room. For precise color control, a new program called Color By Numbers from leading tile manufacturer Crossville lets you match your tiles to some of the paint colors in Benjamin Moore’s Aura paint color palette. And to produce the subtle curvy patterns in its new Jardin collection Artistic Tiles employs advanced water-jet technology to cut the refined shapes.
- Large format tiles: Big tiles for floors and walls, especially in rectangular shapes, are now everywhere. Some tiles are even coming as big as 48″x48″
- A shift in tone: Trend-watcher Patti Fasan predicted tiles in warm tones like camel and champagne emerging in residential settings in the coming year. Thanks to fashion influences, she also sees purple and blue tones in the tile picture for the coming years as well as hits of metallics, especially copper, in glass mosaic tiles.
- Textured surfaces and intricate patterns: There are now an array of surface treatments that are taking tile in new directions. Tiles with folded, twisted and stretched surfaces as well as many featuring micro-patterns, basket-weave characteristics, quilted leather looks, embroidered lace motifs, and wallpaper-like were among the fresh textures we can expect to see more of in the coming years.
In the beginning, ceramic tiles were made by hand. Wet clay was shaped, sometimes with a wooden mold, and then left to dry in the sun or fired in a small brick kiln. While a handful of artisans still craft ceramic tiles by hand, the majority of ceramic tiles now go through a process called “dry pressing” or “dust pressing.” This process requires far less labor and time, which is why ceramic tile is not just for Middle Eastern kings anymore!
Ceramic tile begins life as a clump of earth – everything in the final product is a natural product. Each manufacturer has its own time-tested recipe for ceramic tile, but clay is typically the main ingredient, along with such other items as sand, feldspar, quartz and water. The ingredients are mixed and ground up into a ball mill to create what’s known as the “body slip.” Body slip is used to differentiate the body of the tile from its glazed topping; it’s the bagel to the cream cheese.
At this point, the body slip contains about 30% water. That moisture helps adhere the ingredients to each other, but as soon as its job is done, it’s gone. To accomplish this, the body slip is put into a dryer and heated; the moisture content is then reduced to about 6%.
After drying out, the body slip becomes essentially powder or dust. The dust is placed into a large press powered by electricity or hydraulics. The press pushes the dust into a set size and shape with a force ranging from a few hundred pounds per square inch to 100,000 pounds per square inch. We’re talking serious pressure here.
The pressure provides the finished project with its tensile strength. While square or rectangular ceramic tiles are most common, presses may have shaped imprints to create ovals, diamonds and other unique forms. The shaped body is called the “bisque.” After the body is formed, it’s dried out to remove all of the final traces of moisture.
Glaze is the shiny substance typically applied to one side of the tile. The word comes from the Old English word for glass. Glaze can be sprayed or silkscreened onto the tile, finished in matte and high-gloss. To give the tile its color, pigments are mixed into the glaze. Though glazing is a standard step for ceramic tile, it’s not essential. Not every tile has to be glazed to be considered ceramic.
There is one qualification, however, that ceramic tiles do have to meet. They all have to be baked. Before a tile goes in the kiln, it goes by another name: “green tile.“
After the glaze is on, it’s time to fire the tiles in the kiln. Traditionally, ceramic tile baked for several hours in what’s known as a periodic kiln, such as a beehive kiln. Over the last century, however, it’s the continuous kiln that has made the production process of ceramic tile more efficient. Continuous kilns include tunnel kilns and roller-hearth kilns.
These new types of kilns are like the conveyor belt pizza ovens you’ve seen at less-than-authentic Italian eateries. Rather than sitting in the heat for hours, the tiles roll through the contraption. The heat inside the kiln is precisely monitored and controlled by computer.
In the first half of the tile”s journey, things start to get warm. At the center point, maximum temperature can get as high as 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,371.1 degrees Celsius). The higher the temperature, the stronger the tile.
As the tile makes its way to the opposite side of the tube, it gradually cools down. The cooling period isn’t as passive as it might seem – tiles are still changing color. With these continuous kilns, the baking process has gone from hours to less than one hour. This allows the manufacturer to make a lot more tile at a reasonable price.
This process was expedited by the resurgence of the “monocottura method.” Monocottura, an Italian term meaning “fired once,” gives ceramic tile much greater strength. This additional strength is what allows tile to go from a product best suited for walls to one that is strong enough for floors. After just one trip through a hot kiln, tile made with the monocottura method is ready to be sorted and distributed.
Colors & Patterns
If firing a tile just once makes it so much stronger, why fire it again? Well, if the goal is a tile with many colors or elaborate patterns, then that tile will be baked using the “bicottura” method. Though the prefix of the word indicates that the tile is fired twice, it can actually be fired as many times as desired. Before each firing, a different colored glaze is applied to the tile and the process is repeated until the chosen design is complete.
Slippery When Wet
Depending on its finish, a wet tile can be slippery. Most manufacturers have a rating system that is based on or supported by the American Society for Testing & Materials (ASTM). Many times you can find these ratings on the tile sample or in the product catalog.
The most common system rates ceramic tile abrasion, resistance and the overall durability of the tile. There are 5 classes to be aware of:
Class 1: No Foot Traffic
These tiles are suggested only for interior wall applications – not for flooring. Serious slippage.
Class 2: Light Traffic
These tiles are suggested for interior wall applications and residential bathroom floors only. Minor slippage.
Class 3: Light to Moderate Traffic
These tiles can be used for residential floors and wall applications, including bathrooms, kitchens, foyers, dining rooms and family rooms. Slight chance of slippage.
Class 4: Moderate to Heavy Traffic
These tiles are recommended for residential, medium commercial and light industrial floor and wall applications, including shopping malls, offices, restaurant dining rooms, showrooms and hallways. Rare chance of slippage.
Class 5: Heavy/Extra Heavy Traffic
These tiles can be installed anyplace. They will work for both floor and wall applications in airports, supermarkets and subways. Zero chance of slippage.
The ceramic tile you choose may also carry a rating for Slip Resistance, which is measured by its Coefficient of Friction (COF). The higher the COF, the more slip resistant the tile is. Consider selecting a high COF tile for areas that get wet, such as your shower or bathroom floor.
Other ratings listed by manufacturers may include: scratch resistance, moisture absorption, chemical resistance and breaking strength.
Here’s what you should know about the beautiful and vast world of ceramic tile styles.
The Big 3
There are 3 primary types of ceramic tile: glazed, unglazed and porcelain. Know the difference and you’re good to go.
Glazed ceramic tiles are coated with glass-forming minerals and ceramic stains. Usually, they come in a matte, semi-gloss or high-gloss finish. Glazed tile offers better stain and moisture resistance than unglazed tile. Glazed tile can also come in a variety of finishes. High gloss finishes can be slippery and scratch easily, while matte or textured finishes help with traction and scratches – and dirt is less visible.
Unglazed ceramic tiles are hard and dense. They come in a variety of surface treatments and textures. More often than not, this style of ceramic tile is installed outside of your home, as they don’t offer a whole lot of protection against stains compared to glazed ceramic tile. Unglazed tiles do have good slip resistance, however they require sealing to resist staining.
Porcelain tile is comprised of 50% feldspar and is fired at a much higher temperature than traditional ceramic tile. This makes porcelain tile even harder and more dense than other tile products. Because of its high durability, porcelain is more resistant to scratches and can withstand extreme temperatures.
Because porcelain is non-porous, it’s naturally stain resistant and has low water absorption ratings (less than 0.5%). As a result, porcelain tile can be used for both interior and exterior applications, as well as heavy-use and commercial areas. And because a porcelain tile’s color permeates the entire tile, small scratches or chips are far less noticeable.
When you consider what size tile would be best for your room, consider the size of the room first – not the size of the tile.
Some people believe that small rooms call for small tile. Not always true. In fact, using a larger size tile in a smaller room will visually increase the size of the space. And fewer grout lines will create a cleaner surface appearance.
Conversely, using a tile size that’s too small and requires more grout joints may make the floor look too busy.
The point is that scale plays an important role in giving a space an overall balance. Choose wisely!
Friend or Faux?
Natural stone tiles are very popular but many consumers prefer ceramic over stone because of their lower price and easier maintenance. So in response to consumer demand, ceramic and porcelain tile manufacturers have begun producing tiles that offer textures and patterns almost indistinguishable from natural stone products.
Travertine and marble are two of the most popular styles. Tile can also be made with such characteristics as heavy textures, chiseled and hammered edges, and even the look and feel of tumbled stone.
Ceramic tile is a very versatile product with styles that are perfect for today’s popular outdoor living areas. Outdoor tile typically comes with non-skid finishes designed for safety when wet or covered in frost. Ceramic tile manufactured for outdoor use has very low water absorption, minimizing the cracking, chipping and other effects of weather.
In addition to styles, ceramic tile manufacturers also sell decorative inserts, medallions and mosaics that can be used to create intricate patterns and borders. Tile sized 2″x2″ and smaller are typically referred to as mosaics and can be used with different colors to create a pattern or decorative inset.
Smaller tiles also come in different shapes, like hexagons, allowing endless design possibilities.
Patterned borders comprised of different size tiles or different colors can create timeless looks. Simple variations in color, shape or size can be patterned within the same room, or across several adjoining rooms. The tile that is most prominent throughout the largest areas is called the “field tile.”
Combining styles and patterns of ceramic tile flooring with countertop and wall products can give a room a unique and aesthetic balance. Floor and wall tiles may be designed to look similar, but floor tiles are almost always thicker and textured for safety.
Wall tile styles usually come in smaller sizes and with a higher gloss. Large floor tiles are not designed to adhere to walls.
Grout is a type of cement used to fill the space between and provide support to ceramic tiles. There are two types of grout commonly used for home installations: “Portland cement-based” and “epoxy-based.” Both of these grout compounds may have sand as an ingredient to provide additional strength to the tile joint. Sanded grout is recommended for tile joints 1/8th of an inch or larger. Un-sanded grout is typically used in joints that are smaller than 1/8th of an inch.
Grout color can dramatically change the appearance of a ceramic tile floor and the entire room it’s in. Grout can be pigmented onsite to create an endless array of hues, shades and color.
Using a white or a light colored grout brings out the color of the tile. Choosing a dark grout with a light tile, or light grout with a dark tile, however, highlights the grout, itself, and therefore emphasizes the geometric pattern of the design.