Types of Tile: 101

In Tips and Tricksby John AldridgeLeave a Comment

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Man Made Tiles

Ceramic or Porcelain Ceramics are generally made by taking mixtures of clay, earthen elements, powders, and water and shaping them into desired forms. Once the ceramic has been shaped, it is fired in a high temperature oven known as a kiln. Often, ceramics are covered in decorative, waterproof, paint-like substances known as glazes.

The prices range from cheap toward expensive.  Quality of the tile makes a big difference in how the final product looks.

Ceramic is easy to work with, cut and accident forgiving.


Glass tiles are made from thin pieces of glass with translucent glaze fired onto the back of each tile. They’re sold either individually or in predesigned mosaic patterns set on a mesh backing.

Typically the cost for glass is on the higher end because glass is unbelievably expensive. All the glass used needs to have the same coefficient of expansion.  If it doesn’t, the multiple colors will expand in the kiln at different rates, causing cracks. CoE-controlled glass is difficult and expensive to make because the various pigments have different chemical properties, but need to produce identically-propertied glass.

Glass tiles can really bring life to a job. John really enjoys seeing the finished product of a glass tile job. Not so much installing it.


Metal tiles range from products such as Q-seal, mineral mosaics and stainless steel mosaics. Metal tile can be used to add a unique design element to any vertical or horizontal surface.  It has many styles ranging from industrial to rustic.

Cost of metal tiles has a wide range, but typically they are more expensive than ceramics or porcelain.

John enjoys doing metallic tiles because it’s not very common.

Natural Earth Tiles


Terra-cotta Terracotta, terra cotta or terra-cotta is Italian for “baked earth”.  Best described as a type of earthenware. It is a clay-based ceramic which can be finished with or without a glaze. Fired terra-cotta is not watertight, but surface-burnishing the body before firing can decrease its porousness and a layer of glaze can make it watertight.

The cost can get rather expensive when buying these earthen glazed tiles. It’s an extensive process to gather, shape and fire these tiles to where they come out relatively uniform.

Installation cost is higher on these because most of the time there is a pre-process of soaking the tiles in water so that they don’t draw out the water of the setting materials too fast to be able to cure properly.

Natural Stone Tiles


Marble is a hard crystalline metamorphic form of limestone, typically white with mottlings or streaks of color.  It is capable of taking a polish and is used in sculpture, architecture and various other applications. It’s a natural stone mined from quarries and cut into tiles and polished. Therefore, each tile has a different characteristic. It’s typically used in high end homes and gives a rich feel.

It’s expensive, needs regular maintenance and it can be easily scratched or damaged. Definitely shouldn’t be used in high traffic areas.

Marble is very soft and rather easy to cut which makes it an installers dream.

See our article with tips and tricks for working with marble here.


Granite is an igneous rock that is formed when exposed to a high heat. Its structure is crystalline, and tiles made from granite are very dense and strong. Granite tile strength is almost the same as porcelain which is man made.

The price range for granite is definitely on the high side. But it’s worth every penny. It’s beautiful AND durable.

Granite is rather hard to work with because it is so dense and hard to cut. Installation cost will be higher than most other applications.

travertine - getty

Travertine is a type of limestone that forms around mineral spring deposits. In regards to flooring material, it is typically sold in tile form.  It comes in a variety of earth tone colors, such as tans, browns, rust, and beige hues. People often mistake travertine for marble as they have certain similarities.  However, they are not the same stone and therefore have different resistances on higher traffic areas. Travertine can be used in higher traffic areas.

Just remember, it is a natural stone, and porous which means it can still stain just as easily as other natural stones.

The cost of travertine is on the high side, akin to  marbles and granites.

As an installer, John always prefers to work with travertine as it’s easy to cut and relatively light depending on thickness, and usually square.


Slate is a natural stone flooring material that is quarried from out of the earth, usually from mountains. Slate is a metamorphic rock, which means that it is formed over long periods of time out of many other existing rock types. It is often black, dark green, and gray, but can also include instances of red, purple, gold, and blue.

The cost of slate is also high. When looking at natural stone tile prices, try to think of the thousands of men, hundreds of machines and numerous processes just to be able to get this stone to your kitchen, bath or patio. Mining and manufacturing of these products is hard and it is expensive.  It shows in the price of the material. As we all know, you get what you pay for.

John’s done a lot of slate floors and showers and he always says it’s some of the most beautiful work he’s ever seen. However, his brother and him put it around his brothers saltwater pool on the patio and it was already being eaten away after just a few years. So I would not recommend it in areas high in salt or chemicals.

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