When it comes to specifying tile for the first time, you quickly come to realize there is a lot more to tile than just squares, rectangles and neutral whites. Tiles these days come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors and materials from small glass mosaics, to large-format, wood-look planks. Beyond just finding a collection that matches your design inspiration visually, there are a few terms you are likely to come across when it gets down to the nitty-gritty of specification. Here is a quick guide to help you read between the (grout) lines:
Through Body Porcelain vs. Color Body Porcelain
Through body porcelain (sometimes referred to as unglazed porcelain) tiles are produced using colored raw materials that permeate the entire tile, incorporating uninterrupted color and pattern features seen on the surface all the way through the tile body. The surface design is evident in a cross-section of the tile body, providing outstanding abrasion resistance and durability.
Color body porcelain tiles (above) are created with continuous colored stains from the glaze surface throughout the body of the tile. Synchronizing the color of both the glaze and body lessens the visibility of any impact chips that may occur. The color remains consistent throughout the tile, but any surface design does not continue through the tile body.
Wall Tile vs. Floor Tile
Generally speaking, any tile designated by the manufacturer as floor tile can be installed on vertical surfaces and countertops. The reverse is not true, however. Wall tile is not suitable for use on floors. It is usually non-vitreous, i.e., not manufactured to withstand excessive impact, abrasion or freeze/thaw cycling.
One caveat when considering floor tile for wall or countertop installation is the abrasiveness of the tile. A highly abrasive product would be more difficult to clean on a wall or countertop since commercial floor scrubbers could not realistically be used for maintenance. Otherwise, continuing the chosen floor tile on walls adds great cohesion to an installation and continuity of design flow.
A tile that has been “rectified” has had all its edges mechanically finished to achieve a more precise facial dimension. This allows for installation of tile with very narrow grout joints, creating a more seamless look across walls and floors. Thanks to rectified edges permitting minimal grout lines, the latest large-format, wood-look porcelain planks are even more difficult to decipher from natural wood. If your tiles are larger than 15 inches, however, there are certain precautions to take when installing, and it is recommended that you consult a contractor experienced in large tile installations for a sure fit.
Shade & Caliber
A tile’s shade (dye lot) refers to the coloration and reflectivity of a tile. A tile’s caliber refers to its facial dimension (size) and is measured with a tool called a caliper (often the terms are confused). Since natural materials are used in both the body and glazes of the tile, slight variations in shade and caliber are normally inherent from one production run to the next. Typically, tile shades (dye lots) are indicated by either an alpha/numeric combination or a three- or four-digit numeral (A16, 3408, 250, etc.), while caliber sizes are normally shown as 07, 08, 09, 00, 01, 02, etc.
It is important to purchase tile that has the same shade (dye lot) and caliber, if at all possible, to ensure a pleasing aesthetic appearance as well as consistent grout joints. This is especially important for larger tiles. Normally, two adjacent calibers (i.e. 07 with 08 or 08 with 09 – not 07 with 09) can be used in an installation if the installer is aware of the variation before the installation is begun because the slight difference can be adjusted within the grout joint.
Even with these terms under your belt, don’t hesitate to ask questions when working with a tile dealer or distributor – they may have ideas for unique applications you never imagined possible.
- By Marianne Cox, Marketing Manager for Marazzi USA