Tile products are available in an unbelievably large selection of colors, patterns and textures. This fact alone can be overwhelming when trying to choose the perfect tile to suit your needs. But the thing that seems to confuse consumers more than design choices is the difference between the types of tile. Each type is made from a different composition, and that is what determines the tile’s body color, texture and density.
There are three basic types of tile: Ceramic Tile, Porcelain Tile and Glass Tile. Of the three, ceramic and porcelain are the ones that confuse consumers most. Glass tile is apparently less confusing because everyone knows what glass is. You’ll find more information about glass tile in the article "Glass Tile Gaining Favor…Again."
The term "ceramic tile" is often used as a generic name for all types of tile. But the composition of true ceramic is very different from that of the other types. Ceramic is made primarily of clay mixed with various minerals and water. This composition is then processed with heat to create the solidified product. Since ceramic material is porous, the top surface is usually sealed with a glaze. The glazed surface is referred to as the design layer since it determines the tile’s finished color, design and texture.
Glazed ceramic tile is very durable, and when properly installed and cared for, it will last longer than any non-tile material used for the same purpose. It is also one of the easiest surfaces to clean, and because of its composition, it will not absorb odors, nor support allergens or bacteria. When coated with a Grade III or higher glaze, ceramic tile is highly resistant to scratching and moisture. Another important feature is that it will not burn, emit toxic fumes or scorch. For more information on the durability ratings of ceramic tile, see the article "Ceramic Tile Qualities & Ratings."
The primary ingredient in the composition of true porcelain tile is finely-ground sand. Unlike ceramic, processing of the porcelain composition involves pressure and extremely high temperature. The end result is a very dense, glass-like material with a water absorption rate of less than 0.5%. Because of its density and composition of natural ingredients, porcelain tile has all the same excellent qualities of glazed ceramic.
Recently, porcelain has experienced a surge in popularity due to a statement sometimes made by sales people. They tell consumers that porcelain tiles will not need replacement if chipped, based on a misperception that all porcelain tiles are the same color all the way through. This may have once been true, but new design creations have led to the addition of a design layer. Like glazed ceramic, the top surface of some porcelain tile is glazed to produce a specific colored finish. A chip in such a surface would reveal the tile’s different body color and thus warrant replacement.
Both ceramic and porcelain tiles have their positive and slightly less positive points, but they tend to offset each other. For example, since porcelain is a denser material, it is stronger than its ceramic counterpart. By the same token, porcelain’s hardness makes it a little more challenging to install. Porcelain tile requires special tools for cutting and shaping. The average do-it-yourselfer would not typically have these tools and may not be experienced enough to use them if they were rented or purchased.
When comparing price and durability, there is little difference between ceramic and porcelain tile. Expensive and inexpensive styles are available in both types, and under normal circumstances, there would be no noticeable difference in wear between the two.
The bottom line is that it doesn’t really matter which type of tile you select. Ceramic and porcelain are both exceptional floor and wall covering materials. The only problem you’ll have is deciding which size, color and texture will suit your needs.