Shopping for ceramic tile? You have many different options, so we’ve put together this shopping guide to walk you through both the fun and the important considerations.
What to Know Before Buying Ceramic Tile
Pointers on “Tile” Language
We’ll guide you through the family of ceramic tile options that are ideal for a wide variety of purposes (residential to commercial) because of their durability, functionality, and versatile designs.
While some nonceramic materials may use the word “tile” to refer to their products, those materials do not have the same characteristics or benefits as ceramic tile. It’s important to know what kind of material you’re purchasing to ensure that it will be the best choice for the intended application. For example, you might run into problems if you install a nonceramic material in your bathroom and are expecting the same waterproof installation system possible with ceramic tile.
Keep in mind that ceramic tile can have many different looks (for example, marble-look ceramic tile), and some products may try to imitate ceramic tile (for example, vinyl “tile” products). Be sure to look at the product details to ensure that the material is ceramic.
Why Choose Ceramic Tile?
Ceramic tile has long been a trusted choice for home and business projects alike.
Ceramic tile costs less over its lifetime than other flooring types, has options appropriate for any application, can be manufactured in many looks and designs, and continues looking brand-new for decades.
Whether you’re looking for a weather-resistant option for your outdoor space, installing an eye-catching kitchen countertop, or want to balance style and functionality in any space, ceramic tile has options to help you.
Types of Ceramic Tile to Choose From
Ceramic tile is a family of different tile options. Each subset of the ceramic tile family is produced slightly differently and may consequently have additional benefits that lend themselves to a specific application.
All ceramic tile types share the same set of benefits that ceramic tile is known for, such as durability, water resistance, and easy maintenance.
The ceramic tile family includes:
- Ceramic tile: “Regular” ceramic tile can be manufactured via extrusion or dry-pressing and comes in glazed and unglazed options. It generally qualifies as semi-vitreous (a water absorption of 3% to 7%).
- Porcelain tile: Porcelain tile can be extruded or dry-pressed and glazed or unglazed. Porcelain tile is defined as “impervious” (a water absorption of 0.5% or less). Additionally, large-format gauged porcelain tile panels/slabs can be as wide as 5 feet and as long as 15 feet. These large panels/slabs can help create a continuous look with fewer grout lines and are a new option for countertops and exterior facades.
- Quarry tile: Quarry tile is formed by extrusion and generally qualifies as vitreous or semi-vitreous. Quarry tile’s low water absorption and low price point paired with its durability, heat resistance, and frost resistance make it an economical flooring option that is a popular choice for commercial kitchens and outside spaces. Quarry tile is often red, but it is also available in tan, brown, gray, black, and other earth tones.
- Pressed floor tile: While these tiles may be used for other applications, they’re primarily intended for flooring. Pressed floor tiles are dry-pressed and have varying water absorption rates.
- Wall tile: Glazed tiles meant for wall applications may be nonvitreous (water absorption of more than 7%). Wall tiles are best suited for indoor use as they are not designed to endure freeze/thaw cycles, excessive impact, or abrasion.
- Ceramic mosaic tile: The technical definition of ceramic mosaic tile is any ceramic tile with a surface area of less than 9 square inches. Mosaic tile is also well-known for creative designs involving various colors, shapes, and textures. Ceramic mosaic tiles are often mounted in strips or sheets for easier installation.
Step 1: Where Will You Put Your Tile?
Inside or Outside
Ceramic tile can go anywhere under your roof (and even on your roof), as well as outside!
Ceramic tile’s moisture resistance and fade resistance, plus options for slip resistance and freeze/thaw resistance, make it ideal for all climates and conditions inside and out. You will also find beautiful examples of the same ceramic tile style used to connect indoor-outdoor living spaces with a consistent design.
Get Outside With Our Guide to Outdoor Tile and discover the benefits of using ceramic tile outdoors, as well as potential outdoor tile applications, and then Explore the Great Outdoor Tile Possibilities, our blog showcasing popular outdoor tile looks.
On the Floor
Regardless of whether you’re using your tile indoors or out, one of the most common uses for ceramic tile is flooring. Durability, scratch resistance, and options for slip resistance make ceramic tile an excellent choice for flooring in any space.
Be wary of nonceramic flooring in moisture-prone areas such as bathrooms and kitchens. Water can leak through the seams of some nonceramic flooring options and become trapped underneath, creating a condition for mold growth. Check warranties carefully to ensure a product is intended for wet areas.
Properly installed ceramic tile can form a waterproof system, making it an ideal flooring choice for areas exposed to wet conditions. As well, ceramic tile offers slip-resistant options and standards for installations specifically in wet areas.
Our research on Tile: the Modern Flooring Option reveals how ceramic tile excels as a choice for 21st-century priorities of convenience, affordability, and cleanliness. Looking specifically for kitchen flooring? Our Complete Guide to Kitchen Floor Tile will help you navigate your options, and then pick up some inspiration from examples of Hot Kitchen Flooring Tile Trends and Cool Kitchen Flooring Tile Trends.
On the Wall
Wall tile can add both flair (think backsplash tile or a tile feature wall) and functionality to your home. While wall tiles don’t have to be quite as durable as flooring because they see less wear (unless your kids are literally running up the walls), they still add much appreciated benefits such as stain resistance and easy cleaning.
Additionally, large-format gauged porcelain tile panels/slabs are a “big” new idea for wall tiles because of their ability to create a “wallpaper” look with minimal grout lines.
For more information on the benefits of tile backsplashes, read our Comprehensive Guide to Kitchen and Bathroom Backsplash Tile.
Pro tip: Don’t forget to look up! That’s right — ceramic tile on the ceiling is a must for steam rooms, indoor pools, and anytime all-wall moisture protection and/or design impact is desired.
Move over, granite and marble — ceramic tile is the up-and-coming choice for countertops.
Gauged porcelain tile panels/slabs are a popular option for countertops because of their ability to appear as large slabs of natural stone, often at a lower price point, and without the sustainability concerns of those materials. As with all ceramic tile, gauged porcelain tile panels/slabs are water-, stain-, and scratch-resistant — all important considerations for countertops.
Pro tip: The same beauty and functionality of gauged porcelain tile countertops can be used for custom furniture made from tile, such as kitchen islands, tables, and shelving. Discover our favorite porcelain furniture on Instagram to get ideas, and then work with your designer or tile installer to create one-of-a-kind gauged porcelain tile panel/slab furniture!
One of the first historical uses of ceramic tile was for roofing — and ceramic tile is still a unique roofing choice. Tile’s durability, low maintenance, sustainability, and beautiful curb appeal make it an attractive roofing material.
The facade of your home or business can benefit from ceramic tile.
In addition to protecting your building from outdoor elements, a ceramic tile building facade can provide thermal insulation, reducing peak heating and cooling loads and thus increasing energy efficiency. Consider a ceramic facade when building, as well as during renovations to add a fresh face to exteriors.
Step 2: What’s Your Budget?
Ceramic tile has the lowest life cycle cost when compared to nonceramic flooring materials, including natural hardwood, vinyl composite tile, marble, laminate, carpet, and sheet vinyl.
Consider the durability and maintenance of your choice. A material that has resistance to scratching, staining, and fading, such as ceramic tile, will keep your surfaces looking their best year after year, while some nonceramic materials, such as LVT, may show more wear and need replacement more often than ceramic surfaces.
Honestly assess your budget before shopping for tile, and share that number with your designer or sales professional. They can help you choose the ceramic tile that best meets your functionality, design, and financial needs. Keep in mind that the seemingly endless variety of shapes, sizes, colors, and designs of ceramic tile give you many possibilities at different price points.
Step 3: What’s Your Style?
Because ceramic tile has the versatility to be used in any room, you can choose ceramic tile for all your surfaces with the knowledge that the same industry standards ensure you have a quality product, no matter the tile design.
The wide variety of ceramic tile options makes it possible for you to express your unique style. Here are some aspects to consider when identifying your style:
- Color: Did you know that your tile color could affect your mood? Read our blog on tile color psychology to learn how different tile color options can influence/enhance certain feelings. Some favorites include black and white tile, tile in earth tones, pastels, and tile in both hot and cool shades. Maybe some of the latest color trends will appeal to you. Unlike many nonceramic options, you’ll find numerous options in ceramic tile in every color.
- Look: Modern tile manufacturing advancements can achieve the look of any material, from rustic terracotta styles to classic stone designs. We’ve created many lookbook blogs to help you find your favorite tile look, including options such as:
- Pattern: You may opt for a pattern such as geometric designs, florals and leaves, or Art Deco-esque sunbursts. Patterns can have interlocking designs and may be used to create a wallpapered look.
- Texture: Three-dimensional and textured looks are also possible with ceramic tile. Explore our textured tile lookbook blog for ideas.
- Shape: Ceramic tile comes in a variety of shapes, ranging from triangles and fish scales to ever-popular hexagons and subway tiles. Choose your favorite tile shape (or shapes!), use different colors of tile to draw attention to your chosen shape, or arrange the shapes to create specific patterns — the sky’s the limit!
- Size: Go big with gauged porcelain tile panels/slabs up to 5 feet wide and 15 feet long, go small with mosaic tile less than 9 square inches, or choose any size in between. Intricate designs, such as tile murals, benefit from the versatility of mosaic shapes. Large designs, such as marble looks, are often used with gauged porcelain tile panels/slabs that utilize minimal grout lines.
Step 4: Pick a Layout Pattern
Once you’ve found the right tile style, shape, and size, it’s time to choose your tile layout pattern.
Layout patterns are created by the way that your tiles fit together in your application. You may find it important to consider your layout pattern at the same time as you define your preferred style. For example, you may love subway tile in a herringbone layout pattern with alternate rows of color.
Our Ceramic Tile Layout Pattern Guide is a free, downloadable PDF that includes a comprehensive list of tile layout options — a great resource for easy reference during your tile shopping. You can explore more ideas on our Tile Layout Patterns Pinterest board.
If you’re looking specifically for floor tile layouts, we showcased 15 easy ceramic tile patterns in our blog as a great place to start. Tile layouts also present a fun opportunity to get creative with staggered tile transitions.
Ceramic tile, unlike some nonceramic options, allows you to combine your layout pattern with the size, shape, and color of your tile to create a one-of-a-kind look.
Step 5: Don’t Forget the Grout
Grout color can completely change the look of your tile installation.
For example, coordinated tile and grout colors can create a seamless look, whereas a contrasting grout color can draw attention to your tile shape or layout pattern. You can also use your grout color as a way to tie together other color elements in your space.
So where should you start? Our Grout Color Guide covers everything you need to consider when choosing a grout color, such as grout cleaning and design tips, as well as examples of grout color options.
Step 6: How Much Tile Will You Need?
To determine how much tile to buy, consult your design or tile sales professional to ensure you have enough tile for your project, without too much left over (unless you want to try your hand at some tile crafts). Room shape, tile layout, and surface design can all affect how much tile you will need.
Because ceramic tile is a specific size, you can be precise in your ceramic tile purchase to avoid wasted overages.
How to Calculate the Square Footage of the Area to Be Tiled
Simply measure the length and width (in feet) of the area to be covered. Then multiple those two figures to get the square footage, or surface area.
Length x Width = Square Feet
How to Calculate the Amount of Tile to Purchase
Determining how much square footage each box of tile covers will help you decide how many boxes of tile to purchase.
[1.10 x Total Square Footage] / Tile Box Square Footage = Boxes of Tile (including recommended 10% extra)
Adding 10% extra is important for appropriate centering of your layout, any breakage during installation or shipping, and also for cuts that are needed during installation. If you are using a tile with an integrated surface design, you may need to add even more to allow for matching the design appropriately. Having a little extra tile on hand is also smart in case you want to do any remodelling in the future, as dye lots and availability may vary.
Step 7: How to Find a Tile Installer
Tile surfaces are an investment, and tile installation is a craft. Your ceramic tile needs to be installed correctly in order to function as expected.
While some tile projects are perfect for the evening and weekend DIYer, if you do plan to hire a tile installer, you want to ensure they are qualified to perform the job. To protect your investment and ensure your tile functions at its best for years to come, look to hire a tile professional that:
- Operates a legitimate business with reasonable business practices and a policy of standing behind their work
- Carries all required business licenses and insurance
- Has a traceable business location so customers can be sure post-installation questions and issues are addressed and resolved
- Has a track record for quality and service: ask for customer references and recommendations from suppliers and peers
- Has a portfolio of completed projects
- Participates in continuing education necessary to stay up to date on current building codes, regulations, standards, materials, and methods
- (Bonus points) Participates in tile industry programs or associations known for their continuing education, such as:
Ready to start tile shopping? Download our Tile Buying Guide to take with you to the showroom or share with your designer or contractor. Having this resource at hand will make it easier to remember all of the above steps with space to take notes during the process.
Download #OutsideTheBox: Your Tile Buying Guide… and get started now!