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Expert Guide on Porcelain Slabs/Panels

31 min read

Expert Guide on Porcelain Slabs/Panels - Architessa

DISCLAIMER: This document is for educational purposes and is not to be used in lieu of any technical document for installing porcelain slabs/panels.

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INTRODUCTION

Over the past 30 years, we have seen tile grow bigger and bigger and bigger, so much so that they have their own classification now. Gauged Porcelain Tile Panels/Slabs (GPTP) are defined in ANSI as "A ceramic tile of size greater than or equal to 1-meter square (11' square). A product less than 1 meter square shall be regarded simply as tile." Check out the  Expert Guide on Ceramic Tile to learn about other tile classifications. 

  

Bernini Oro Porcelain Slab/Panel Kitchen Backsplash

MAESTRO Collection, kitchen backsplash with no grout in Bernini Oro color

 

Porcelain slabs/panels now have the opportunity to play a much larger role in home design & commercial jobs. More people are learning about porcelain's superior performance & design aesthetics thanks to technology & a lot of passionate tile industry stakeholders. Tile as a healthy choice has taken a new meaning, especially compared to alternative countertops. Porcelain slabs/panels are available in thicknesses ranging from 3mm to 20mm in nearly any design you can imagine; thanks to customization and forward-thinking from Italian factories, we have come a long way from the early days of beige tile with a single face.

 

Slab or Panel? 

When porcelain slabs/panels first entered the market, they were very thin (3-6mm), thus creating the first term to classify them as "Thin Tile." The term "thin" can easily be capitalized on by competing industry's labeling the material as fragile. Because they are not fragile, tile industry stakeholders in the U.S. prefer to name them "Tile Panels," as they don't neatly fit into a broad category of existing slabs.

In Italy, the material is largely categorized as "Porcelain Slabs" and I have read this is usually material 5'x10' or larger. The first porcelain slabs/panels to arrive in the USA were imported from Italy nearly 15 years ago. Today, a large market share in the U.S. is now supplied by U.S. and Italian factories producing the material. However, imports have flooded the market worldwide (except China due to Tariffs).  

The two names, panels and slabs, have been unceremoniously married, forming "Gauged Tile Panels/Slabs". You may have already noticed that we have reversed the words, making "slab" first in order. Few folks are searching terms other than Porcelain Slabs, which will help keep them searchable. Perhaps the industry should follow suit on naming them to keep them in the spotlight they deserve, as very few folks are searching for Tile Panels or Tile Panels/Slabs. This blog will refer to them interchangeably as Porcelain Slabs/Panels and their industry name of Gauged Porcelain. 

 

Why is it called Gauged?

Gauged is a common tile industry term historically used to describe slate, which can be manufactured by grinding the back down to a flat, or more accurately, consistent, rough finish. This is particularly appealing because it helps installation remain as level as possible. Not all slate is gauged, but most tiles are, with the exception of handmade tiles like Zellige tile. The term being used as slab terminology is used parallelly, but has most people wondering: why are porcelain slabs/panels specifically called out as gauged? The simple answer is that it's much like wire gauges in that certain thicknesses have different uses. As slabs/panels have evolved, they are now manufactured with a range of thicknesses, and this terminology applies the same way as it does to wires, in that its thickness serves a specific use or application.

 

Elevated Onyx Green Book matched Porcelain Slab/Panel

ELEVATED Onyx Green Book Matched Porcelain Slabs/Panels

 

It's important to understand not to generalize the "slab/panel" product category association and treat the material like other slab products. This association can deceive you into thinking it's just like other slabs. It's not. Porcelain slabs/panels are not installed like solid surfaces, engineered stone (Quartz), or natural stone slabs. If you handle and install them similarly, there is a high risk of failure. Perhaps the tile industry should agree to stop using the word "slab" without its "panel" counterpart from marketing campaigns and documents and stick with the terminology "slab/panel" to help prevent generic grouping into the broad slab category.  

 

PORCELAIN SLAB/PANEL POPULARITY - WILL IT GROW?

Currently, the most popular countertop material in the U.S. is a man-made engineered stone called Quartz. Fabricating (cutting, polishing, etc.) Quartz is hazardous for installers, to the extent that the material has been banned in some places in California, and Australia will soon ban it altogether. The Quartz industry is currently retooling to make its products safer.  What we do know is that silicosis cases from Quartz is expected to increase according to all the recent press.  Whether the market will consider the retrospective in their future decisions is yet to be learned.

With the news spreading about Quartz, porcelain slab/panel popularity should increase, given it's superior technical performance. Read more about Quartz news in our Blog: Killer Countertops.

 

Libretto Crescendo Porcelain Slab/Panel

Image Source: LIBRETTO Crescendo Porcelain Slabs by Architessa

MARKETING AGAINST PORCELAIN SLABS/PANELS

Suppose you are scouring the internet for information on porcelain slabs/panels. In that case, you have come across negative information written by competing industries, misinformed keyboard warriors, and perhaps job site and project failures with little information on the full installation story. Porcelain slabs/panels don't neatly slide into the same installation category as other solid surface slabs, making them labor intense to effectively sell for distributors and manufacturers. It's also harder to install because it's different from the norm, and this fact alone has been exploited and misconstrued by competing industries, mostly Quartz factories and distributors, to give them an advantage over porcelain slabs/panels. Let's break down a few reasons why this has happened & sort out the facts.

Quartz Popularity & Deep Marketing Budgets


Maybe you were taught that Quartz is a natural product and not man-made. The product you are thinking of that is natural stone is actually called quartzite, which, in the design world, is essentially a more expensive granite that looks better. Quartz, on the other hand, is not natural stone but is made up of bits of natural materials bound together in a chemical process, with designs attempting to mimic natural stones. Quartz companies have poured billions of dollars into marketing their products, touting them as safe and superior to all other slabs.

 

Quartz Versus Porcelain Pattern


Image showing Quartz on the left versus porcelain tile on the right

 

Amplification of Porcelain Cracking & Competitor Campaigns

A simple Google search will produce dozens of articles, charts, and info written by Quartz industry stakeholders, telling you that they are superior to porcelain slabs/panels because of cracking. Porcelain is not installed the same way as solid surfaces, Quartz, or natural stone slabs. If you handle and install them similarly, there is a high risk of failure." Quartz marketing has taken advantage of the cracking issues found on jobs where the installation of porcelain slabs/panels was done improperly or perhaps installed with the early Dekton products, pictured below, that were inferior (and have since been reformulated). They are currently riding on the waves of said "cracking issues," which goes a long way with large corporate marketing budgets.  

 

12mm Dekton set on Wedi with a waterfall on each end. The slab was adhered with Cer-Col F40, and expansion joints were honored on the bottom of the waterfalls. The manufacturer admitted they were in the process of changing formulas, and tension in the slab was determined to be the issue.

 

 

 

"Porcelain slabs/panels are not installed the same way as solid surface, engineered stone (Quartz), or natural stone slabs. If you handle and install them similarly, there is a high risk of failure."

 

Amplification of Project Failures

As a whole, porcelain slabs/panels take the smallest market share currently compared to other competing solid surface slabs. Given this fact, it's easy to spotlight a few failed installations to build up the story that porcelain slabs/panels are inferior. Installation failure or problems have been amplified because the material is less popular and ubiquitous than other slabs. This amplification has made the internet a dangerous place for learning about porcelain slabs/panels, as it's rife with early installations that have failed and a huge misunderstanding that it's just not installed the same as other materials with the word "slab" in them.


Porcelain slabs/panels can't be installed like other slabs, which is a huge problem for easily sliding into the market like Quartz. It means formal and informal training, brand new installation guides & technical documents, as well as investments in expensive tools & the time needed to ensure your project goes smoothly. It's a relatively new category of solid surface material. If you treat it like all the other existing categories, you will be dealing with a failure immediately or many years later.

 

Countertops - Lack of Tile Industry Marketing 

Porcelain slabs/panels should be marketed more by the broader tile industry for countertop installations. Competing industries are solely selling slabs, so the concentration of marketing dollars & workforce is robust & concentrated compared to the tile industry, using the same marketing dollars spread across all their products (flooring, pavers, wall tile, mosaics, etc.). Looking at the depth of texture shown in the below two slabs in the ELEVATED Collection can easily convince a homeowner or specifier that porcelain slabs are far superior in design.

 

Elevated Onyx
Elevated Quarzo Porcelain Slab/Panel
ELEVATED Onyx ELEVATED Quarzo

 

PORCELAIN VS OTHER COUNTERTOP MATERIALS

 

ARE PORCELAIN SLABS/PANELS SUPERIOR?

When installed & fabricated properly, porcelain slabs/panels are superior to others. Please look at the chart below comparing different countertop materials and read over the commentary beneath it that explains more details. Porcelain shines as the brightest star in every category. High-profile designers and celebrities are starting to market them organically and unprompted. Emily Henderson recently mentioned porcelain slabs/panels as a standout favorite, taking the lead in front of quartzite, which is popular for its beauty and durability, not its high cost.  

 

The Slab/Panel Countertop Comparison chart below only includes more popular countertop materials. We would be remiss if we didn't mention that quality does differ within these materials. Specifying and selecting high-quality material from reputable distributors is very important and getting harder to sort through for end users. Unfortunately, some companies market and group their "porcelain-like" slabs as true porcelain, which is a big problem. These products are erroneously classified as porcelain because it makes them appear superior when they don't have the porosity thresholds to be highly stain resistant, among other problems, like mass installation failures. These failures are then associated with actual porcelain, polluting the internet with incorrect information. "Porcelain-like" or "Porcelain adjacent" products are not porcelain, so don't be misled by these products. 

 

Material Comparison Chart

Countertop Comparison Chart

 

Porosity, Sealer, & Stain Resistance: Staining can occur in every material category except porcelain. Granite, quartzite, and Soapstone have a lower porosity than other natural stones, which means you can buy yourself some extra time before cleaning up oils, grease, and Billy's red wine he spilled at your last get-together. Being less prone to staining still means regular maintenance is required, as shown in many hotel rooms worldwide sporting dark rings on their bathroom granite countertops. Perhaps this is why your hotel room must be serviced daily - so you don't ruin the granite.

 

Porcelain and Quartz do not require sealing and have superior stain resistance. Soapstone also wins the war on stains, which you may remember from your science classroom tables that you spilled many liquids. Some natural stone slabs are offered as "pre-sealed," an extra step in the manufacturing process that may wear off over time. The winner in stain resistance is porcelain, as it absorbs less than .5% of water, so you don't need to worry about moisture from your house plants ever ruining them.

 

Elevated Collection Porcelain Slab/Panel Countertop

ELEVATED Collection showcasing a Snake Plant

 

Scratch Resistance: Granite and quartzite are the hardest natural stone options, and Soapstone is the softest. Essentially, you should expect a patina with all-natural stones, so if scratches bother you, natural material is not your best choice. It's important to understand that no countertop material is 100% scratch-proof, so always use a cutting board.

 

Heat Resistance:  High heat can damage Quartz even though it's marketed as heat resistant. A quick amount of research reveals that a high heat level will react negatively with the filler & resin binding in Quartz, causing it to discolor. Porcelain is unaffected by heat so you can toss your drawer of pot holders & make room in your junk drawer for new kitchen gadgets to collect dust.  Natural stones also have heat resistance (within a reasonable range, so don't push the limits here and protect them reguardless). 

 

Elevated Slabs
Elevated Porcelain Slab/Panel
ELEVATED Collection; special order 

 

Acid Resistance: Granite and quartzite are less susceptible to acid stains; however, they are not acid-proof. Prolonged exposure & contact with high acid concentrations are to be avoided. Soapstone is the superior choice of stones as it's inert to acids, chemicals, and heat. Porcelain and Quartz are also superior in this category. Porcelain slabs/panels will never be stained from kids, fine foods, or wine, but Quartz might. Wine, lemons, and other acidic food and liquid will never stain a porcelain slab countertop, no matter how long it marinates before being cleaned up. 

 

U.V. Stable: Simple research will lead you to find that Quartz may fade over time with excessive U.V. exposure. Stone that has not been chemically treated and porcelain are unaffected by any level of U.V. exposure. However, any products that repair cracks or chips may fade down the road. This is no different than when your dentist tells you that your chipped tooth repair may discolor with age.  

 

Hidden Induction & Built-in Induction

Innovation in cooking has brought hidden or built-in induction cooking systems to the market. Brands like Invisacook and Tulip Cooking offer systems where the cooktop is invisible or built directly into the slab. The Invisacook system requires approved 12mm porcelain. For the built-in systems, porcelain is the only choice for its superior durability and inability to stain or discolor with heat or age. 

 

Invisacook

Image Source

 

PORCELAIN COUNTERTOP SUSTAINABILITY & HEALTH CONSIDERATIONS

There are a lot of marketing campaigns that greenwash products to ease the mind of environmentally conscious specifiers and homeowners. It isn't easy to sort through all this information and strategic campaigns designed to position products as sustainable. This blog will cover something other than embodied carbon or heavier topics in sustainability. However, there are some broad things to learn.


Country of origin is one of the most important sustainability factors. Read on to learn how well-traveled your Italian Carrara has become, and check out this quick chart of facts to start the conversation.

Slab Sustainability Chart
Porcelain Quartz Comparison Chart

 

Freight, Origin & VMTs 

The most sustainable countertop options are the ones that are made closest to your project's location. This means finding stones that are offered in the USA, which are limited, such as Danby or Alabama Stone, or choosing a USA-made porcelain slab/panel. There are multiple factories in the U.S. now making porcelain slabs/panels.


Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMTs) - play a large role in making natural stones the least sustainable option, as most slabs are currently sourced in other countries, as shown in the last column of our above chart. The farther your products travel to get to you, the worse off the environment is, simply from the pollutants created during all the types of travel used (ships, trucks, & rarely planes). This is true of all products, and you will be surprised (& appalled) to learn how far your Salmon travels before it hits your dinner plate. You're lucky that Salmon is distinctively pink and can't be renamed half a dozen times, unlike white fish & natural stone, as it weaves its way throughout the supply chain.

 

Consider that it's common practice to ship stone blocks from Italian quarries to another country to be cut down at a lower cost. Your fancy Italian Carrara was almost certainly cut in China, and those extra miles traveled by land and sea are more than environmentally problematic.  

 

Well Traveled Carrara Graphic



Extracted / Quarried

Natural stone is extracted from quarries using heavy machinery. According to National Geographic, a quarry is a place where rocks, sand, or minerals are extracted from the surface of the Earth. A quarry is called an open-pit mine because it is open to Earth's surface. "Quarry" is a much nicer way of saying "extracted from Earth," isn't it? Porcelain is primarily made from naturally occurring raw materials (close to the factory), and many contain recycled content, as specified by each manufacturer.

 

Marble Quarry, Source: National Geographic

 

Environmental Certifications & Declarations 

The tile industry participates in many different sustainability programs and initiatives. Read more about them on the Architessa Sustainability page. Porcelain Slabs/Panels from Architessa all have Environmental Health Declarations, Health Product Declarations, and many other certifications and initiatives, such as Declare Red List Free, and all are associated with Mindful MATERIALS.

 

Health Considerations 

We mentioned earlier the recent news on Quartz that it's injuring and killing fabricators to the degree that it may soon be banned in Australia, and other countries may follow suit. This Oxford study only mentions some of the other VOCs and chemicals present. Once homeowners & specifiers catch wind of this, they can start a market shift, pushing Quartz out of its #1 spot as the most popular countertop. 

 

The Quartz industry has already begun retooling to offer safer material, and top-name brands now have limited colors in these new offerings marketed as "low-silica." However, the fact remains on the preventable deaths & illnesses of installers & fabricators worldwide, caused by manufacturing and selling a product that these companies knew was dangerous from the start. 

 

How bad is Quartz?

 

Hygienic 

Just how hygienic are porcelain slabs/panels? Porcelain is the best antibacterial countertop. Our ELEVATED Collection is officially approved as "Food Equipment Materials" under the NSF/ANSI 51 standard, which means they can be used in direct contact with foods. The highly respected NSF – National Sanitation Foundation, the world leader in product food safety certification, has awarded this certification. The Foundation certifies products in accordance with very tough standards that establish the minimum food protection and hygiene requirements regarding the materials, design, manufacture, construction, and performance of food handling and processing equipment. This certification opens up the doors for commercial projects that may require this certification, such as labs, commercial kitchens, restaurants, bars, and event arenas.

 

Elevated

 ELEVATED Collection by Architessa

 

Material Lifespan

Porcelain tile has many life cycle studies attached to it. This study reports Porcelain Tile has a 75-year lifespan, along with other natural stones. Quartz, being relatively new, has little to no research on its longevity; however, with some research, you can find that it's expected to last 10-15 years, as that is the timeframe of all the warranties offered.  

 

WHERE CAN PORCELAIN SLABS BE INSTALLED?

The simple answer is that each manufacturer provides this information as it is product-specific. Many factors contribute to where they can be safely installed, such as if the porcelain slab contains mesh backing, thickness, size, finish, etc. Each manufacturer is responsible for specifying this through the Product Use Classification, and you can read all about the Product Use Classification in Tile 101.  

 

Porcelain slabs/panels are not suitable for DIY projects. They truly are works of art that bring the gallery to your home or commercial project, so consider them a lower-cost art budget specification.

Elevated Marmi
Elevated Marmi

ELEVATED Marmi special order slabs.  Contact Architessa  for information and reference this blog

 

From a broad perspective, porcelain slabs/panels have been used for all of these applications:

  • Porcelain Slab/Panel Walls
    • Residentially, porcelain slabs/panels are great options for interior walls in showers, modern kitchens, fireplaces, and any grand entrance. We have even had customers use a single slab as artwork where two staircases met.
    • Commercially, porcelain slabs are no longer rare and can be seen on nearly any commercial job, including hospitality, university, retail, healthcare, and landscape architecture, and are especially plentiful in amenity spaces.
Elevated White Paradise

ELEVATED White Paradise shower wall slab/panel by Architessa

 

  • Porcelain Slab/Panel Floors 
    • Residentially, porcelain slabs/slabs make beautiful floors with the smallest ratio of grout possible for any tile installation. You find most slabs in homes worldwide in expansive spaces with contemporary and modern appeal.
    • Commercially, porcelain slabs/panels are seen in retail, amenity spaces, spas, and more.

 

  • Porcelain Slab Countertops 
    • Porcelain slab countertops are an excellent fit for both residential and commercial countertops, indoors and out, and have superior benefits over all other countertop materials. We will get more info about those benefits later in the blog, but in the meantime, start planning your outdoor kitchen with porcelain slabs that look exactly like marble!

 

  • Porcelain Slab Ceilings 
    • Residentially, porcelain slab ceilings are an excellent option in showers, especially steam showers, or when continuing a vein-matched pattern.
    • Commercially, porcelain slab ceilings may be seen in saunas, spas, and steam rooms or used as a decorative facade over beams.

 

Libretto Porcellin Slab/Panel

LIBRETTO Crescendo Porcelain Slab/Panel by Architessa 

Elevated Porcelain Slab/Panel

ELEVATED Thassos floor slab/panel, ART HOUSE REVOLUTION Acanto Thassos wall slab/panel fixtures AND Verde Saint Denis slab/panel table fixtures.

 

PORCELAIN SLAB THICKNESS & APPLICATIONS

Porcelain slabs are offered in many different thicknesses. Architessa carries mainly 6mm and 12mm porcelain slabs, and this is to help offer matched suitability to different applications. To keep it simple, here is a breakdown of porcelain slab thicknesses and their general applications. Keep in mind this is a generalized chart, and that actual material suitability is always based on specific project details & manufacturer-specified suitability. Some sizes are required to be installed with other installation products to meet application suitability shown in the below charts. 

 

Interior Applications Chart

Porcelain Slab/Panel Thickness Suitability

 

Exterior Applications Chart

Porcelain Slab/Panel Thickness Suitability



3mm Porcelain Slabs/Panels -  These very thin 3mm panels are mostly for furniture making & can also be used in a limited capacity for interior walls. The chart does not show this due to stringent requirements for interior wall applications. Any gauged panel can technically be used for making furniture, however the thinnest panels/slabs are the most suitable for furniture manufacturing do to a lower cost of freight on large orders.  Determination of suitability is always project-based.

 

6mm Porcelain Slabs/Panels -  This size is primarily used for walls and floors, both interior and exterior applications. It can also be used for countertops only if the slab has a mesh-backing OR is installed with a stabilizing substrate. Most countertop failures are due to this one key detail: you can't install porcelain slabs/panels the same way as natural stone slabs, or you will most certainly be dealing with a failure at some point.  

 

8mm to 10mm Porcelain Slabs/Panels - Install these anywhere in applications where jobsite requirements are met. Large format square-shaped sizes are available in this thickness, but typically not the largest rectangular sizes on the market.

 

12mm Porcelain Slabs/Panels - Install these anywhere in applications where jobsite requirements are met.

 

20mm Porcelain Slabs/Panels - This is the newest size on the market. 2cm porcelain slabs/panels are great for nearly any application but have some special considerations if you're cladding a building, which you should discuss with the manufacturer or distributor. 

 

Large Format TileThese large format tile collections can be used for bathroom vanity countertops, furniture surfacing, and small bars and entertainment spaces.  Projects may be able to use large format tiles to give the appearance of tile slabs, especially when the pattern is carefully laid or in some cases there may be no seams shown entirely.

 

Elevated Calacatta Paonzetto Porcelain Slab/Panel

ELEVATED Calacatta Paonzetto Porcelain Slab/Panel

 

TECHNICAL FEATURES OF PORCELAIN SLABS/PANELS 

Thicker material may be easier to work with overall, but thinner slabs have key advantages. They are less expensive to ship, with a lower weight per square foot, which can add up to a large amount for commercial installations. Another benefit is that 6mm porcelain slabs/panels can be installed directly over existing hard surfaces, such as tile or vinyl, saving time and costs, especially with renovations. This, of course, requires certain job site conditions that must be met, specific setting materials, and a skilled installer.


Another significant thing to know is that 6mm material requires more attention during the cutting process and fabrication because you need a substrate to support it. Thicknesses of 12 mm or above do not require a substrate, but many do to build a thicker profile.

 

Rectified v. Extruded 

Rectified porcelain slabs/panels can be installed as is without cutting. 6mm thick porcelain slabs/panels are rectified, which means they can be installed more efficiently or "straight out of the box."


12mm thick porcelain slabs/panels are extruded, meaning they are not rectified, but you won't find that word in any product description. If the word "rectified" is missing from the product description, you can assume your porcelain slab is extruded. This means it must be cut on all four sides before it can be installed in any application or project.

 

Veining

Most 6mm and 12mm porcelain slabs/panels are currently manufactured with the pattern only on top, not running through the body or edge of the tile. The printing is only on the surface. However, meticulous fabrication with the edge of the slab pattern aligning can make the slab appear  like a natural stone with a veined edge. This can be done with any thickness if you have enough material to fabricate it.  

 

There are now porcelain slabs/panels available on a very limited basis where the pattern and veins run through the surface ( known as "through body"). This technology is only for 12mm and 2cm (20mm) porcelain slabs. This may be standard for all materials in the future, but for now, it's very limited in patterns/colors and domestic availability. Sign up for Architessa emails to be the first to know when we launch this new product. 

 

Through Body Vein Porcelain Slab/Panel20mm Through Vein Porcelain Countertop. Photo Source: David Benson, Coverings 2023

 

Mesh-Backing

Some manufacturers offer 6mm porcelain slabs/panels via special order with mesh backing, making the slab stronger and more stable and safe for countertop installations. These stabilizing properties mean the slab can be installed in areas not previously recommended, namely countertops for interior or exterior applications. The strength and support provided by mesh-backing can be achieved using products like Safeboard. It's important to call the manufacturer to see if they require a primer to be applied to the mesh before installation.  It is standard that a 6mm porcelain slab/panels will need mesh-backing or another support product to be installed on countertops.

 

Mesh Backing being installed on a special order ELEVATED Slab.

 

Kid Proof

Whomever the culprit of grime is in your home, hotel, or office, kid-proof surfaces are always in high demand. Porcelain has less than .5% water absorption, making it unaffected by staining. Your house plants and your kid's PB & J sandwich will never ruin it. Your happy hour imbibes will never leave a permanent mark, nor will your partners splatter inducing spaghetti shenanigans.  

 

Note: Tell Junior to please cap his Sharpie. No surface is immune to sharpies, especially polished material. Glade plug-ins are fine, though - those only ruin stone backsplashes.

 

Elevated Statuary Reale

ELEVATED Statuario Reale.  Contact Architessa for availability

 

DESIGN FEATURES OF PORCELAIN SLABS 

Porcelain slabs/panels have many design features, some of which have surfaced in the past few years. Read about them below.

 

Breadth of Selection 

The Natural Stone Institute countertop comparison chart lists only one negative thing about porcelain slabs: lack of selection. This was true years ago, but today, you can find porcelain slabs stocked in all regions of the country. Classic stone colors are ubiquitous, but now you can find an entire spectrum of marble and contemporary looks in a rainbow of colors, including exotic stones in blue & green. For larger-scale projects, you can even create your own slabs with any design you can dream of. 

 

Elevated Porcelain Slabs/Panels Color Examples

Image Source Example of breadth of porcelain slab colors available.

 

Realistic as Stone

An entire industry or two is dedicated to making porcelain tile and slabs look as realistic as possible. Today, most people can't tell the difference between installed porcelain slabs/panels and natural stone slabs because porcelain is made with a high-definition picture of an actual slab. Manufacturers may have their team sourcing the best-looking stones and textures in the world and taking their own photos, or they may buy from an Italian Design House. With porcelain, there is no need to sort through the slab yard looking for the best pattern or vein because the tile manufacturers have already found it for you.


It's important to note that quality does matter. The highest quality products have the best designs. The Italians rarely get the color wrong, which is shown in Italian and USA-made slabs, as the latter are largely Italian-owned.

 

Traverse Greige Porcelain Slab/Panel

TRAVERSE Greige by Architessa, installed on the floors and walls with minimal grout lines.

 

Minimal Grout Lines

Porcelain slab/panel backsplashes and shower walls are gaining popularity because they provide minimal grout lines. Large format porcelain slabs/panels provide nearly a grout-free installation in your kitchen and shower (the industry does require grout caulk where the tile changes planes and between panels). The rise in popularity of grout-free surfaces has recently been amplified, although some designers are taking the opposite approach, making grout the feature portion of their design. Read more about that in our Expert Guide on Grout

 

Elevated Calacatta Gold

ELEVATED Calacatta Gold, countertop and grout free backsplash showing porcelain slabs/panels

 

Bold Countertop Profiles

Porcelain slabs allow you to customize how thick your countertop appears, provided you have enough material to match up the pattern when desired.

 

Left Photo: Porcelain countertop showing a typical countertop thickness Right Photo: Porcelain countertop showing a thicker 3cm+ thickness

 

Slab to Tile to Mosaic Matching

Some porcelain slabs/panels have matching field tiles and mosaics available. This can help coordinate selections for specifiers and homeowners looking for design continuity. You can also do this with stone, but you can't tell Mother Nature your acceptable range of tone and pattern because she doesn't care. Natural stone mosaics are largely made using the portions of the leftover / least attractive pieces that were not deemed beautiful enough for a slab. This is part of why they never match the slabs or field tiles.  

 

Keep in mind tile has dye lots, and they will coordinate, but a perfectly computable match is not likely as tile, mosaics, and porcelain slabs/panels have different manufacturing rhythms and are not logically packaged together. However, unlike Mother Nature, the tile industry does care about your tone and pattern (within an acceptable degree of range). Explore the Architessa Porcelain Slab/Panel page if you are looking for slabs with matching mosaics and field tiles.  

 

Bookmatched Porcelain Slabs 

Bookmatched slabs are truly an art form and can turn any wall into a gallery-worthy space. You could frame them with a tile chair rail for a Picasso-worthy border.  

 

Architessa carries over two dozen selections of bookmatched porcelain slabs, previewed below. See them all towards the end of the Architessa Porcelain Slabs/Panels page.

 

 

APPLICATIONS OF PORCELAIN SLABS/PANELS

PORCELAIN SLAB OUTDOOR KITCHENS

Porcelain slab countertops are perfect for outdoor kitchens in residential and commercial applications. The "set it and forget it" mantra couldn't be more true here. Beautiful and worry-free with the look of luxury stone. See the commercial porcelain slab/panel countertop installation below, offering a pool-side cooking experience. Notice how they wrapped the edge to retain pattern continuity, mimicking the look of a solid slab. 

 

Elevated Statuario Extra Porcelain Slab/Panel Outdoor Kitchen

ELEVATED Statuario Extra, Commercial Project Exterior Porcelain Countertop Installation

 

PORCELAIN SLAB SINKS

Choosing a kitchen sink can be overwhelming, as many choices exist. What about your bathroom sink? You're stuck with just a few options, and let's face it, going with the standard white porcelain sink can create a potential challenge to the flow of your design. You may have seen a few fancy photos of sinks or vanities made out of Porcelain Slabs/Panels. You could be looking at renderings made in a country with tile feats of strength. Porcelain sinks enhance the aesthetic appeal, uniting the overall design of both your kitchen and bathroom. The sink below was built out of 4mm porcelain. This thinner material (5/32") can be bent, making it ideal for furniture building. In this instance, the bottom of the sink was bent ½" towards the center, allowing water to flow to the drain.


Custom Porcelain Slab/Panel Countertop
Custom Porcelain Slab/Panel Countertop Installation by Superior Home Solutions - Omaha's Best Bathroom Remodeling


WHO INSTALLS PORCELAIN SLABS?

The simple answer is experienced & professionally trained tile setters specifically trained & educated on gauged tile/slabs & and slab fabricators.

It's important to know that material up to 6mm can easily be fabricated on site even when using sizes up to 63“ x 126.“ 12mm material and thicker sizes should be fabricated in a shop offsite to manufacturers recommendations and or requirements for fabricating as well as streamlining the installation process.

Many slab fabricators now carry porcelain slabs, which has become part of their regular business. Tile setters with gauged porcelain tile and porcelain slab/panel training participate in private training and manufacturer training held in various places nationwide, and some are internationally trained.  

 

The most skilled Tile Setters don't dabble in large format tile and porcelain slabs/panels once a year or so when the job comes up. They are doing it consistently all year long as it's considered a narrow specialty subset of tile installation. Think of it in terms of medical professionals. Your dermatologist is different from your cardiologist, although they are both doctors. Professional licensing is not the same in construction as it is in medicine, but the point remains.

 

Local distributors nationwide also offer training events, bringing together industry stakeholders, specifiers, and porcelain slab experts to educate & help guide the discipline.

 

2022 Porcelain Slab Innovation Panel Event at Architessa

 

PORCELAIN SLAB INSTALLATION TRAINING & RESOURCES 

Porcelain slab/panel installation is so new that most of the installation resources in the U.S. have only been around for a few years. Despite this, there is more training on installing GPTP than in any other product category in the tile industry. 

 

The TCNA now has a dedicated manual for Gauged Porcelain wall installation, and private companies, such as Tile Nation, are leading the path forward on installation training by offering their expertise through technical training events, often located at various manufacturers and distributors, to advance the trade on gauged porcelain tile installations as well as porcelain countertops. They also have a handbook for Gauged Porcelain  Tile Nation Essential Panel Installation Course Book I | Tile Nation (thetilenation.com). Most manufacturers also offer installation documents.  

 

TCNA & ANSI

The same rules for porcelain tile installation also apply for porcelain slabs/panels in that the Tile Council of America Handbook is the primary industry resource. Below is the Handbook for Gauged Porcelain Tiles and Gauged Porcelain Tile Panels/Slabs Installation. The latest available documents should always be referenced, especially since each year, the tile industry evolves along with available technology from all around the world. The handbook is the industry's top consensus-based resource and must be studied before any installation occurs. One thing to note is that it has no information specific to countertop installations. In the main TCNA handbook, the countertop installation methods C511, C512, and C513 may be helpful, although these sections are not written for GPTP.

 

Did you know that the standard for GPTP is the only current ANSI standard that mentions hiring a "qualified" installer, which means training is compulsory?

  

Source: TCNA, buy it here

 

Countertop Installation

You will find many different instructional and guideline-driven documents for installing porcelain slabs/panels on walls and floors. Still, Porcelain Slab/Panel countertop-specific installation guidelines and instructions are currently only found in manufacturer-specific or private industry-provided documents.  

 

Porcelain slabs/panels were born from the wall and floor tile industry, and countertop installations fall into unchartered territory and are not included in the GPTP TCNA handbook, referenced above.  

 

Porcelain Slab factories provide instruction manuals, as do private companies. However, they may not include countertops. This means many differing documents are circulated, and there is no one-stop consensus-based installation manual related to countertops. This is no different than any other industry. Aside from manufacturer-specific documents, no consensus-based installation guides or handbooks have been established for Natural Stone, Quartz, or Solid Surface slabs. The tile industry is no different here, but because the material is not the same as other slabs, it takes more education & work to be installed successfully on counters.  

 

Private Companies; Tile Nation


Tile Nation not only has training events around the country but also wrote their own manual, which addresses a stark gap in training on this highly specialized tile category. Tile Nation has a database of qualified installers, and their work contributes to solving the shrinking population of skilled tile setters. Learn more about them at Home Page - Tile Nation - Gauged Porcelain (thetilenation.com)

 

Tile Nation Training Event, Photo Credit: Mariya Leona

 

A FEW MORE INSTALLATION RESOURCES

Using porcelain slabs/panels on countertops, walls and floors is still relatively new.  Some importers were bringing them in from Italy approximately 12 years ago, but they didn’t fly off the shelves because of the skills gap to install them.  

Previously mentioned is the scarce resources specific to porcelain slab/panel countertop installation. A lot of installation guides provide information on walls and floors, but only provide very brief sections specific to countertops.  With that being said, we have found a few documents that are helpful.  

 

Florim Italy Technical Manual

Laticrete - the architectural guidebook provides detail on countertop installations with three different sections for tiling over wood, cement board, or in a thin bed or thick bed method. Laticrete also has two documents which relate specifically to wall and floor installations.  Find them all below:

Schluter - there are some solution pieces if you choose to not miter the edges of your countertop on-site.  These pieces can be used for both porcelain slab countertops and also traditional tiled countertops, which have recently made somewhat of a comeback in cottage style homes.  See those options  here.  

Tile Nation -Tile Nation Essential Panel Installation Course Book I | Tile Nation (thetilenation.com)

 

Design Your Own Slab
Design Your Own Porcelain Slabs -Contact Architessa (commercial projects only)

 

 

PORCELAIN SLAB/PANEL INSTALLATION Q&A

 

Can I install an overhang on my countertop? 

Most manufacturers allow a 300 to 400 mm overhang for 12- and 20mm countertops. With thinner porcelain, you can overhang as far as you would like, depending on the type of substrate.

 

Are there any limitations to porcelain that other material doesn’t have?

You probably already know the answer if you have made it this far. Limitations to porcelain slabs compared to other materials is a short list and include:

    • Not DIY friendly - no generic installation - Although slab installations are not DIY friendly, to begin with, gauged porcelain is a newer product with specific installation requirements. This means the pool of qualified fabricators may be regionally limited, shrinking the availability of labor and choices. Fabricators don't have the luxury of installing them generically, like other materials, which means more effort to distribute and fabricate the material.
    • Limited profile choices- Decorative edges such as an ogee, similar to what you might see on a chair rail trim piece, are unavailable in porcelain. Porcelain that does not have a through body is limited to mitered edges to achieve vein flow due to the patterns and veining not going through the body. Porcelain slabs/panels with the vein and pattern going through the body are called through-body porcelain. Profiled edges, even some of the same edges offered in natural stone, can be achieved on gauged porcelain only using through-body porcelain, which is currently limited in the market.

Note:  All room scenes photos in this blog show material that is not through-body.

    • Gauged Material & Cutting Guidelines- Gauged material is not all treated the same, which means consulting the manufacturer's instructions before installing. Some manufacturers specify a minimum distance threshold from the closest edge for cutting holes or vent cutouts. If this threshold is not met and the hole is cut outside the specified radius, cracking can happen. The material can be mistakenly blamed and written off as inferior in these unfortunate circumstances.



PORCELAIN SLAB/PANEL CRACKS

The most common failure in gauged porcelain is cracks or hairline cracks, which are also known as stress fractures. As mentioned previously, ANSI mentions hiring a "qualified" installer. If you don't hire a qualified installer, you may be taking a big risk and having to deal with cracked slabs, as gauged porcelain has many nuances.  

 

Please note that repairs or problems should always be assessed by a professional as each job site has an entire ecosystem of details and characteristics that probably require a job site visit and more information than you may have on the construction & installation methods and details. Heed the information you collect from keyboard warriors.  

 

What mainly causes cracks in porcelain slabs? 

Earlier, you learned about the marketing campaigns against porcelain slabs/panels & cracking, but what causes a porcelain slab to crack? Some slabs may have been handled improperly, causing stress fractures in the body of the porcelain; these fractures are usually discovered by the qualified installer before installation, whereas the untrained eye may not notice later on, resulting in a crack in the slab as it may open up either lineally or begin to telegraph (transmit to the surface). Hairline cracks are only noticed by knowing what you're looking for or listening for. Most porcelain gets cut to fit a specific area in which it's being installed, so these hairline cracks will rear their ugly head during fabrication if missed by the eye or harmonically. This isn't as common as it was early on, as transport & logistics for Gauged Porcelain are continuously improving.  

 

In most residential cases where Gauged Porcelain is cracking, it is due to unqualified labor. The amount of planning and attention to detail needed to properly install gauged porcelain can't be underestimated. You will want to work with your installer in the project's beginning phases, as very strict requirements must be in place well before the installation can begin. Your substrate for both walls and floors has to be within an ⅛" in 10' and 1/16" in 2'. Those are very strict requirements beyond what the average tile installer is used to. Knowing this is half the battle to prevent cracking and achieving substrate flatness in your project's beginning phases is much less costly than addressing it at the last minute. Just as important are radiuses for your "L' cuts or inside corner radius cuts. If someone wants a sharp 90° inside corner, they can just simply seam the porcelain.


In the glass industry, thickness=radius; the same goes for gauged porcelain unless specified otherwise by the manufacturer. As a general rule of thumb, if your material is 6mm thick, then your radius for your L cuts should be 6mm. Any sharp inside 90-degree corner creates a weak point in the porcelain. Exceptions to radius=thickness are for some of the "cheaper" Gauged Porcelain, as it may be more delicate to work with, causing it to be more prone to cracking, in which case you will want a larger radius. Discussing this with your client is important, as radiuses are noticeable and should be accounted for in the design of your project.

 

Are mitered corners more prone to cracking?

The answer here is no different from any other product required to be installed meticulously, not generically. If proper installation is not followed, cracks or chipped corners in porcelain slabs/panels can happen. Creating mitered edges on gauged porcelain is much different than using natural stone. The proper fabrication method is not typical for fabricators and is unique to porcelain slabs/panels. This must be understood before any installation takes place using mitered corners.  

 

Natural stone fabricators use what is called a knife edge. This is when the edge of the miter is brought to a sharp edge. These types of miters work excellently for stone as it can be polished down and rounded over. For porcelain, it is crucial to use a quirk miter. This is when the porcelain is mitered with about 1 to 2 mm of the body left towards the top of the miter. This leaves enough product on the edge of the miters to help prevent it from chipping. Unlike stone, we leave a space in our miter preventing porcelain from touching porcelain and fill that void with polyester or Epoxy. The miter joint is filled, leaving enough product above the miter. Then, we will come back and polish the product to use in the miter joint, allowing the Epoxy or polyester to protect the edges of the porcelain.  

    • Waterfall edges - Countertops with waterfall edges must be installed with a shadow gap. This is part of training & guidelines to properly install Gauged Porcelain.

 

Sharp Miter versus Quirk Miter

 

How do I repair a scratch or crack?

A professional should always assess the level of repair required, as some problems may require a different approach, have deeper root causes, or will need full replacement. Yes, you can repair a small or large crack, but should you?

 

A professional can easily fix scratches. Manufacturers often recommend a product to repair scratches by AKEMI, where you can color match thousands of countertop materials to find the correct color for your repair. Tile Nation recommends repairing cracks using a product called FillaChip. These are great options for smaller "less visible" cracks. A repair specialist should be called for larger cracks, as they can make most cracks disappear as long as the porcelain isn't telegraphing. Remember there's a reason your porcelain cracked, and it's likely not the porcelain's fault. It's often because the porcelain wasn't installed properly, and your crack repair may or may not last. Again, this drives home the importance of hiring a qualified installer.

 

Image Source

 

WHERE CAN I BUY PORCELAIN SLABS/PANELS? 

Okay, so you've had enough information thrown at you. You are ready to browse & start your project. To learn about the Porcelain Slabs/Panels Architeesa carries, visit our  Porcelain Slab/Panel Landing Page on Architessa.com. Architessa carries 6mm and 12mm slabs/panels and a handful of other thicknesses, all of which have in-depth installation guides provided by the manufacturer.  

 

Before you fall in love with any material, keep in mind a project's timeframe is always determined by material availability and installer scheduling. Most scheduling can't happen until the material is at the fabricator or on-site, so don't try to lock down those dates early, or you will be disappointed when they change. Below is a generalized timeframe for planning your project.

 

WHEN SHOULD I START LOOKING AT PORCELAIN SLABS/PANELS? 

Early Planning / at least 1 year before install 

  • Look at Material: This is the fun & easy part - looking at all the options of porcelain slabs. You can do this online at your local tile distributor or in a tile or countertop showroom. Architessa has the largest selection of porcelain slabs/panels in the D.C. region, located in our local area showroom. Most suppliers have small samples available to help guide design & other finishes.

 

Porcelain Slab GIF

Architessa D.C. Showroom Slab Display, Photo credit: Austin Meyer

 

  • Find a qualified & experienced installer who works with gauged porcelain tile/panels regularly. The distributor you are buying from can make recommendations. Material handling for large format tile and porcelain slabs/panels is not to be dabbled in, so hiring a qualified and experienced installer is non-negotiable for specialized material.

See Below for Porcelain Slab/Panel Collections through Architessa. Many collections have supplemental installation brochures located in the Installation & Care section of each Collection.

 

Architessa Slab Collections

 

Midterm Planning

  • Purchase Material: Since you already have a contractor picked up, you should know if you will buy the material directly or if your installer will supply the material.
  • Gather & supply any supplemental product installation brochures to your installer. They will have them already if they purchase the material. As discussed earlier, it's important to note these documents are supplementary and heavy technical training is required for successful installations.
  • Talk to your installer about scheduling timelines.
  • After the material is available, establish the installation schedule.

 

Project Completion

  • Slab fabrication happens either at a fabrication facility or on the job site. Remember - all extruded porcelain slabs/panels(not rectified) must be cut on all four sides before installation can occur.
  • Installation - Phew, we finally got there. This is the hard part; it just happens at the end of the road.
  • Enjoy your new low-maintenance, durable, yet beautiful slabs. Don't forget to brag to all your friends & family & send them to Architessa to start their project.

 

PORCELAIN TILE INSPIRATION

If you may not be convinced yet that porcelain slabs/panels are great, dive into our Architessa Pinterest boards & get inspired to start planning your next project with tile!

 



 

 Julie Taury

Julie Taury has thrived in the tile industry for two decades and held various positions ranging from retail sales to product development. Her unique background in distribution, manufacturing, strategic sales, and the A&D industry has built an unparalleled skill set to navigate the unpredictable surprises of the tile industry. Currently, she is the Chief Innovation Officer at Architessa, and is a remote trailblazer residing in Auckland, New Zealand. 

 

 

 Chris

Christopher Rachel is an award winning fourth-generation tile installer with 18 years of experience in the tile industry.  Today he owns a remodeling company that elevates spaces to the next level with Gauged Porcelain.  He is also a partner of Tile Nation which teaches installers how to properly install gauged porcelain.  His expertise encompasses a vast spectrum, from one of a kind installations to the mentorship of new generations.

 


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