Go into any store that sells tile, and you’re likely to see a material called porcelain. This man made tile has a lot in common with ceramic tile, including the fact that it’s made from clay. But porcelain is very different from the ceramic tile you may have installed in your shower. Porcelain tiles may look like stone, marble, wood, concrete, or even metal. They can be textured or highly polished, and are available in very large format tiles as well. With all that’s out there, how can you be sure you’re choosing a quality porcelain tile? And what sets apart the porcelain that we carry at Tile Showcase from the materials you may find for less at Big Box stores or on the internet? A good quality porcelain tile has several attributes that are recognizable and which set it apart from the competition.
A Brief History of Porcelain
The word “porcelain” may bring to mind fine, white china or delicate pottery that is nearly translucent. This is because the word porcelain originally meant a type of clay that was made of kaolin or that had a high kaolin content.
Porcelain tiles have been around for thousands of years. They date back to 4,000BC in Egypt and were produced for hundreds of years in China, with the 15th century seeing a lot of advancements in how the tiles were made. These tiles were called porcelain because they contained kaolin.
Eventually, porcelain tiles became synonymous with hard, long wearing tiles that often had color going through the tile. Unlike ceramic tile, which always has a glaze, porcelain was thought to be a harder, less porous, and more durable material. Because this described many types of tile, though, and it was difficult for consumers to tell just how porous or durable a tile was, a third party was established to create a standard.
Today, the Porcelain Tile Certification Agency tests tiles to determine if they are actually porcelain, which they have defined as a ceramic (clay based) tile with a water absorption rate of less than 0.5%. The tiles may be made of compressed clay dust or extruded clay, and most are fired to very high temperatures to achieve their durability and low absorption rate. This process is often referred to as vitrification, and the resulting tiles are considered “vitrified”. During this process, the tile is brought to higher and higher temperatures to drive out moisture, and transform the elements of the tile so that they flow together and fill the spaces between the clay. This is what gives a tile a low-absorption rate, and renders it stain resistant. If a tile is not certified by the PTCA, it cannot truly be considered porcelain, even if a retailer calls it that.
High Quality Porcelain Tiles
Even if we assume that all retailers are honest and only sell porcelain that has been certified by the PTCA, this doesn’t mean that they are all the same. In fact, there are many types and qualities of porcelain tile on the market. This is also why you may see a wide range of costs associated with tiles marketed as porcelain.
A high-quality porcelain tile isn’t just a ceramic tile with a low absorption rate that resists staining and cracking. High-quality porcelain is usually rectified as well, meaning that the edges of the tile are machined to precise angles. This means you can fit porcelain tiles more tightly together, with narrower grout joints. A good quality porcelain tile is also less likely to warp during firing, so it will lay flat and be easier to install with less lippage – a condition where a corner of a tile sticks up above the others.
A high-quality porcelain is often thicker – ⅜” to ½” thick in many cases, making it more durable. And whether a porcelain tile is glazed or not, steps are often taken to ensure a superior finish. This is why good quality porcelain can so closely resemble natural stone or even wood. These finishes require a great deal of control on the part of the manufacturer. Rather than simply screen printing the tiles so that the surface pattern repeats every few tiles, a high-quality porcelain tile will often have the kind of natural variation in texture and pattern that you could expect from a natural stone.
The bottom line is that a high-quality porcelain tile is likely going to be more costly than a basic ceramic or porcelain tile. However, it’s going to be more durable, often easier to install, and it’s going to have a superior appearance that can really enhance the area it’s installed in.
Come In and See the Difference
At Tile Showcase, we carry the finest collection of high quality, certified porcelain tiles in the area. Our porcelain tiles are rectified for easier, cleaner looking installations, and have beautiful finishes and appearances. We carry a range of porcelains right in stock, imported from countries at the forefront of the industry. Stop in today and see for yourself what a high quality porcelain tile looks like.
One Design Center Place Suite 204 Boston, MA 02210