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An Overview of 'Tile'


Tile is a general term that most of us use to describe a lot of different materials. When we say 'tile' we sometimes are talking about ceramic, porcelain, travertine, granite, marble and others.  

Ceramic and Porcelain (man-made) VS Stone (natural)
Man-made would be ceramic and porcelain and natural would be our limestone's, such as travertine and marble, our slates and granites. Our man-mades are made from clay and are fired. Our naturals are quarried and cut and often polished to some degree.

Man-Made Pros Cons
  • Less Expensive
  • Less Expensive Installation
  • Uniform Color
  • Uniformly Sized
  • Many more specialized trim pieces
  • Can be Unnatural Looking
  • Less Options For complex designs


Natural Pros Cons
  • Natural beauty that can't be replicated in man-made materials.

  • More options for complex designs.

  • More Expensive

  • More Expensive Installation Costs

  • Color variations

  • Size variations


Nature VS Man-made
Ceramic and porcelain are man-made and therefore have the greater potential to be more uniform in color and finish. Stones are natural and each one is unique to some degree. 

Consider this when choosing natural materials -
Colors will vary even within a box. Beware that colors can vary greatly! One thing is for certain, except in rare cases if you took one natural tile out of a box and were counting on it to be representative of what the finished project would look like, you will most likely be very disappointed. You need to take a sampling of a natural product and lay it out and then you have an idea of what you are getting. Cracks, fissures and discolorations are what to expect in a natural product, they aren't the exception. A common saying in the stone business: "If you want consistency and uniformity, then select porcelain tile". Now don't get the wrong idea, because once you embrace the fact that a natural product won't look man-made then you can begin to appreciate and embrace the beauty of natural stones!

Ceramic and porcelain tiles in general are going to be the least expensive of all tiles. Now not only is the material a factor but, natural stone is more expensive to install too. This cost is primarily due to the overall difficulty of the installation due to the irregularities and therefore increased time involved and the special techniques and materials required for proper installations. For example stone may require a grout release application before installation and a penetrating sealer after installation. Ceramic has none of these requirements.

Wear resistance
Granites are the hardest of all natural stones, and there are some stone types that approach the hardness of granite. All polished stones scratch and dull, yet some honed stones may be more difficult to clean than polished. A natural (through-body) porcelain tile can be up to 30% harder than granite. Marble is a very soft stone and you can damage it very easily.

Acid and Stain Resistance
Granites typically have superior resistance against staining. However, many common household products will stain or etch stone, yet most will have little or no effect on ceramic tile. For instance, an ice cold glass of water can etch ring on white marble. Vinegar, ketchup, mustard, fruit juice or wine will etch many stones. 


Slate is a metamorphic rock that was formed below the earth's surface from shale which is a sedimentary rock. Shale consists of fine particles of quartz and clay. Slate is created from shale by mountain-forming movements in the earth's crust which squeezed these minerals into layers. Slate has a layered appearance and can flake.

Common Colors
Grays and blacks to rusts and greens, many slates will be multi-colored.

Common Finishes
Natural Cleft, gauged, ungauged, tumbled, honed and polished.

Shaling - pieces falling off the face, is common for the first 6 months after installation.

Hardness - very durable.


Travertine is limestone formed over a long period of time, it is porous with many visible holes when purchased unfilled or filled when the holes have been filled with a filler using epoxy and cement. Travertine is a sedimentary calciferoius stone formed in hot-springs. It is often quarried near hot springs. The Coliseum in Rome is made of travertine.

Common Colors - Ivory to golden brown.

Common finishes - honed, polished, tumbled, filled or unfilled.

Hardness - soft to moderately hard.

Look - unfilled gives a rustic appearance, filled gives a more formal look.


Granite is an igneous rock, which was formed from magma slowly cooling. Granite is made up mostly of Feldspar and Quartz making it the hardest know substance used in residential tile applications.

Colors - large variety, the salt and pepper grain make it easily distinguishable.

Common Finishes - honey, polished.

Hardness - very hard


Marble is formed from limestone by heat and pressure. These forces cause the limestone to change in texture which makes marble a metamorphic rock. Marble is made of calcium carbonate, the purest calcite marble will make it white in color. The minerals that are impurities give marble the wide variety of colors.

Colors - wide variety, you can identify marble by it's distinguished veining.

Common finishes - honed, polished, tumbled

Considerations for Natural Stone

Natural products are not uniform, consistent or flawless.

Natural products are individually unique, beautiful, and add personality.

The price of stone is not directly related to quality, it is related to availability.

Don't confuse quality with a relationship to voids, fissures or cracks.

Variations - always look at 3-4 pieces to judge the color range.

A polished stone is not a sealed stone, a polished surface is only aesthetic.

Green marbles are not recommended for wet areas because they can warp.

Black marbles are not recommended in wet areas because of spalling at the veins.

Ceramic Tile
A ceramic tile is made from a mixture of clays, that are shaped and fired at high temperatures and then glazed. The use of ceramic tiles dates back to 18,000 years ago.


Porcelain Tile
Is a ceramic tile that will absorb less than .5 % of water.

Ceramic & Porcelain Tile Rating Systems

A v rating is an indicator of how much variation in shade and color a ceramic or porcelain tile with have. The lower the V rating the less shade and color variation the tile will have. A v-rating of V1 will have no variation and a v-rating of V4 will have random variation.

Coefficient of Friction
Used to measure the friction or slippage of a tile. The test is always done on a wet version and a dry version of the tile and the two numbers are displayed. The ADA (American Disability Act) has determined that testing results of .60 or better meet their requirements. 

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