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CERAMIC TILE 101

All things related to ceramic tile, design, and more

Buying or specifying tile is a journey that takes some training to traverse. Architessans have spent many lifetimes (across our staff) learning about material & the industry, but there are some key things you should know before buying or specifying tile. Ceramic Tile 101 covers tile terminology, product browsing tips, and other helpful things to foster your buying experience.

Types of Tile

CERAMIC

Ceramic tile has evolved tremendously since the Dark Ages, but in the U.S., the evolution has largely happened since the 20th Century. This is due to the invention of the Tunnel Kiln in 1910 and then, much later, technological advances in machinery and digital printing.  Here are three common types of ceramic.

Glazed Ceramic: tile with a glassy opaque coating, fired for hardness that forms a smooth decorative surface. Ceramic is fired at a lower temperature than porcelain and has a higher water absorption rate.  The body of glazed ceramic can be white, red, or pink, depending on the origin of the raw materials closest to the manufacturer.  Architessa carries glazed ceramic wall tile.  Ceramic floor tile is less desirable due to the limited color and pattern options, as porcelain is more popular. SHOP Architessa Ceramic Collections here.


Quarry: What are quarry tiles? Quarry tiles are not produced in a quarry, as might be suggested by the name.  Quarry tiles are ½" thick, unglazed ceramic and have the same color and texture in the body of the tile. Quarry tile is extruded through a die and cut. This extrusion process creates a much tighter/denser body than can be achieved through other processes. They perform well in industrial, exterior, and heavy commercial areas and have high slip resistance. Due to a higher water absorption rate, quarry tiles are not classified as porcelain. Contact Us for Quarry Tile Inquiries.

Terracotta - Terracotta is one of the oldest types of ceramic tile and the term means "baked earth" in Italian.  A typical body of terracotta tile is red, but can also be white. Zellige is actually a terracotta ceramic tile, which you may be more familiar with due to its resurgence in recent trends.    

  • Zellige tiles are a highly specialized tiles, handmade by craftsmen. They are moulded, cut and glazed by hand, all without machines. The first step is to mix natural clay (usually from Fez, in Morocco) with water. They are then hand-shaped, dried, and kiln fired using olive pits. After being fired, enamel glazing is applied to offer protection to the tile. Zellige tiles are imperfect by design and each tile will contain pits, crazing, and imperfections due to the manufacturing process.  Zellige tiles are installed with as little grout as possible (yes grout is required) to highlight this feature. SHOP Architessa Zellige Look Collections here.


PORCELAIN

Porcelain has its own class of products, although it is still technically classified as a ceramic. The big differentiator (in layman's terms) is that it's baked for longer, at higher temperatures, with added performance-enhancing ingredients. The firing characteristics ensure the ingredients liquefy and settle into all tiny gaps and holes, enclosing them to meet the lowest water absorption category, being .5% or less.  Here are four common types of porcelain.

Glazed Porcelain:Glazed porcelain is the most popular type of tile. This tile is made from porcelain clays, but glazed for aesthetic effect. They are dense, strong, and best cut with a wet saw. A colored, liquid glaze is applied to the surface of a porcelain body. The tile is fired in a kiln at approximately 2,000 degrees. The glazing process defines the color and surface texture and produces a hard, non-porous, impermeable tile with a water absorption rate of 0.5% or less. SHOP Architessa Glazed Porcelain Collections here.

Color Body Porcelain: Glazed tiles with a solid-colored body similar to the surface glaze's most dominant color.  Synchronizing the color of both the glaze and the body lessens the visibility of chips.  The surface design does not continue through the body, as it only is visible on top.  Color Body Porcelain is always glazed, so referring to a color body tile as "Glazed Color Body" is redundant. SHOP Architessa Color Body Collections here.

Through Body Porcelain: Unglazed tiles produced using colored raw material that comprises the entire tile. These tiles are the only ones on the market currently with uninterrupted color and pattern on the surface all the way through the tile body.  These tiles are typically used in high-traffic commercial applications that require high slip resistance. Commonly referred to as "Unglazed or Full Body," the largest limitation is the lack of designs available.  Visually, they consist of solid colors and simple patterns. SHOP Architessa Through Body Collections here.

Double Loaded Porcelain: Double Loaded Porcelain uses a mix of raw materials infused with color pigments pressed to the base layer and put under high pressure to make a thick layer of design.  It has a different face and body. However, the decorative layer is 3-4mm thick as opposed to 1mm or less, which carries the design deeper into the tile, adding the benefits of a through-body formulated tile. Sometimes, double-loaded tiles are referred to as through-body tiles because the decorative layer runs deeper into the tile. These tiles are also called "Double-Pressed" or "Double-Charged" and should not be confused with Through Body, which has the decorative layer running through the entire body, not just the top 3-4mm.  Double-loaded porcelain is very hard to find on the market in the U.S., as tariffs put a screeching halt to ceramic tile imports from China. 

EXPERT GUIDE ON CERAMIC TILE

Did you know that Porcelain is a type of Ceramic? Read our Expert Guide on Ceramic Tile to learn in depth tile knowledge or go straight to the types of ceramic chart.

Grout

Tile must be grouted, which means grout color is equally important in design as the tile itself and can make a big design statement or blend into the background. Tile samples & photography may not show grout, but this doesn't mean you can skip it on your project. Grout is a big deal, and we recommend reading our Grout 101 to learn about different types of grout, including epoxy, and much more.

Outdoor Tile

Tile for Outdoor Applications

Read about 2cm tile pavers, cladding, and other tile for outdoor applications in our blog.

Outdoor Tile Blog

Exterior Tile Products

Explore suitable products for landscape architecture projects & bookmark this resource.

Landscape Architecture Tile

porcelain slabs

What is gauged porcelain? Discover the answer (& more) in our expert guide.

TILE DESIGN AND COLOR

Tile Style Guides

Tile Style Guides

Every room has a story behind it, told through colors, textures, and patterns. These elements may be insignificant on their own, but when combined by a designer, they tell a cohesive story with a unique design style. Learn about some of the most popular design styles in our Style Guides and how tile fits into each one.

Style Guide Intro

Checkerboard Tile Design

Checkerboard tile's resurging popularity in recent years is a testament to timeless design, as the pattern first became popular in the 1500s. But checkerboard has evolved from standard black and white into a much wider range of shapes & colors. Learn more in our Expert Guide on Checkerboard Floors.

Expert Guide

Technical Track

The tile industry is heavy on product testing in order to meet the demands of any residential or commercial tile project. Learn about standards, who makes them, and what makes tile the life cycle cost stand out.

Let's get technical

Continue below to learn about tile industry performance standards or share our PDF.