The Ultimate Guide to Ceramic Tiles

by Drew Henry

You could say the team here at LiLi Tile is a bunch of tile geeks. (And we wouldn’t want it any other way.) We’ve built a reputation for some of the industry's most vibrant and colorful cement tiles, but we are constantly developing new tiles from different materials — including ceramic tiles! Our Ultimate Guide to Ceramic Tiles covers everything you need to know, from the history and production process to how to use ceramic tiles in your home. Let’s get started because our Ceramic Tile 101 class is now in session! 

A Journey Through Time: The History of Ceramic Tiles

Ceramic tiles have a long history, dating back to the ancient civilizations of Egypt around 4000 BC. Initially, ceramic tiles were used as wall decorations in temples and palaces. As potters honed their craft and technology advanced, the use of ceramic began to branch out. In the Roman Empire, ceramic floor tiles were commonly used in public buildings and homes of the affluent.

Throughout the Middle Ages, they became increasingly popular across Europe for their durability and aesthetic appeal. By the Victorian era, machinery had revolutionized tile production, making them more affordable for broader usage.

The trend of ceramic tiles for bathroom and kitchen spaces started gaining popularity as sanitary reform became widespread during this period. To this day, ceramic tiles are loved for their low maintenance appeal and easy-to-clean surfaces! Moreover, architectural movements like Art Nouveau heralded a golden age for decorative ceramic wall tiles with intricate designs.

The Pervasive Appeal: Importance and Uses of Ceramic Tiles Today

In today's world, ceramic tiles are appreciated not just for their aesthetic appeal but also for their versatility and durability. Their practicality extends beyond flooring. They are essential elements in interior design, including wall applications like kitchen backsplashes and statement shower walls. Besides their use indoors, ceramic tiles also find their place outdoors as patio floors or walkways, thanks to their durable weather resistance. They’re truly some of the most versatile tiles on the market! 

Pewter Grey Tile | 2" x 6" Glaze Tile

Types of Ceramic Tiles: An In-Depth Exploration

An Overview of Various Types

Ceramic tiles have been a staple in the world of interior and exterior design for centuries. From kitchens and bathrooms to patios and public spaces, they prove their versatility again and again. This is in large part due to the diverse types available. Let’s look at the different kinds of cement tiles to better understand the best choice for your project. 

Porcelain Tiles: The Pinnacle of Durability

Porcelain tiles, like our LiLi Glaze Tiles, are the most durable and versatile type of ceramic available. They are fired at very high temperatures, creating a dense tile impervious to moisture and incredibly hard-wearing. Plus, they come in a range of beautiful glaze finishes, like our Crackle, Frost, and Metallic tiles. 

Bacardi Green | 4" x 4" Frost Glaze Tile

Porcelain tiles can be used anywhere, from entryways to kitchens and bathrooms to patios and pools. They offer not only strength but also aesthetic diversity.

Crystal Navy 4" x 4" Glaze Tile

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Non-Porcelain Tiles: A Versatile Option

Regular ceramic or non-porcelain tiles are fired at lower temperatures and are more porous than their porcelain counterparts. However, they come in a wide range of colors, glazes, textures, and finishes. Non-porcelain ceramic floor tiles are popular options for residential spaces because they offer both durability and decorative appeal without breaking the bank. Ceramic wall tiles provide an inexpensive solution for creating eye-catching backsplashes in kitchens or feature walls in living areas.

Terracotta Tiles: Embodying Natural Elegance

Scale Terracotta Tiles

Terracotta translates literally as “baked earth,” which is an apt description indeed! These beautiful reddish-brown clay-based tiles bring a touch of rustic charm to any setting thanks to their handmade process. While terracotta is durable, it requires a quality sealant to prevent water absorption. But be it on kitchen floors or patios, terracotta’s natural hues create a warm, welcoming atmosphere.

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Quarry Tiles: The Epitome of Timeless Appeal

Unassuming yet elegant, quarry tiles are made from natural clay and shale. These unglazed tiles boast earthy tones and a distinct rugged texture that lends itself to traditional and modern spaces. Quarry ceramic tile flooring is renowned for being incredibly durable and scratch-resistant, making it an excellent choice for high-traffic areas.

The world of ceramic tiles is vast and varied. Whether you need water-resistant porcelain for the pool or a charming terracotta for the kitchen floor, there's definitely a type that will meet your requirements aesthetically and functionally.

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The Genesis of Ceramic Tiles: Essential Raw Materials

Ceramic tiles can be used to create stunning interior and exterior designs. However, they all start from humble beginnings — clay! Clay provides plasticity and workability during forming and is fired and glazed to create a rigid, durable (and beautiful) surface. Let’s take a look at how ceramic tiles are made and go from raw clay to a beautiful finished product in your space. 

Creating Harmony: The Steps in Manufacturing

The first step in manufacturing ceramic tiles is batching, which involves accurately measuring and mixing raw materials according to a specific recipe. Uniformity at this stage ensures quality control and consistency in the final product.

Once batching is complete, the process moves on to grinding, where water is added to these batched raw materials to create slurry. This slurry undergoes further meticulous grinding until it acquires an almost velvety fluidity — a state that promotes uniformity and aids ease of molding.

The Invisible Transformer: Spray Drying

Next comes spray drying. This pivotal process transforms our fluid slurry into granular powder through evaporation using sophisticated spray dryers. This granular powder now bears greater moldability, which allows it to take on various shapes and forms, including ceramic wall tiles, flooring, and backsplash tiles.

Shaping the Indomitable: Forming & Compaction

The coarse powder is then pressed into shape in a process known as forming or compaction. The pressure applied during this stage is pivotal in determining the tile's ultimate density and durability. 

Adding the Gloss: Glaze Application

The penultimate stage in the production of ceramic tiles is glazing. This involves coating the shaped and dried tile with a layer of liquid glass, which, upon firing, transforms into a glossy, impermeable surface — perfect for areas like kitchens or bathrooms.

The Crucible of Creation: Firing

The final step in production, firing, involves heating these glazed tile bodies at high temperatures. Here, they undergo vitrification, resulting in a hardened, durable product ready to be installed in your home. 

Embracing Modernity: Technology’s Role in Tile Production

Technology plays a role in many ceramic tile manufacturing processes. However, the team here at LiLi Tile still believes in a good old-fashioned handmade product. For example, our terracotta tiles are entirely made by hand and fired in a wood oven kiln. We love this process because it goes back to the history of the tile and ensures each design is completely unique.  

Baguette Terracotta Tiles 

Ceramic Tile Designs and Patterns: An Artistic Journey

There are so many ceramic tile designs and patterns to choose from. You are sure to find the perfect one to complement your style, whether traditional or contemporary. 

The Rich Tapestry of Traditional Ceramic Tile Designs

With origins reaching back to ancient times, ceramic tiles have been utilized as a medium of artistic expression throughout countless societies. So, there are centuries of traditional design from which to take inspiration. For instance, the intricate Arabesque patterns seen on ceramic wall tiles in Middle Eastern architecture or the vibrant Talavera-style ceramic backsplash tiles in Mexican homes are perfect examples of traditional charm.

Arabesque Tile

Contemporary Trends: A New Era for Ceramic Tiles

As we transition into contemporary trends in tile design, we see more streamlined patterns, including elongated rectangles and industrial metallic finishes. A popular trend is large-format porcelain slabs, which create an uninterrupted surface effect on walls or floors. Geometric patterns, like hexagonal honeycomb patterns, have also made a resurgence in modern interiors.

Claws Hexagon Tiles: 8" x 9"

Cultural Influences on Ceramic Tile Designs: A Visual Dialogue

Ceramic tiles are a testament to cultural expressions from around the world. Consider, for example, the vibrant ceramic tiles decorating homes in Mediterranean countries like Greece or Spain, bearing symbols of ancient deities or local wildlife. In Japan, the subtle elegance of hand-crafted Kyo-yaki ceramics reflects the principles of Zen Buddhism through their minimalistic design and muted color palettes. Meanwhile, Turkish Iznik tiles boast an exuberant display of floral motifs and geometric patterns that echo Islamic art's grandeur. Even today, these cultural influences find their way into modern applications. 

Installation Techniques: Laying the Foundation for Perfection

Ceramic tile installation is a pretty simple and straightforward process. If you consider yourself a weekend warrior or DIY expert, here are a few tips to consider throughout the tile install process. 

The Prelude to Installation: Surface Preparation

It is crucial to ensure the surface is prepared before ceramic tiles can be installed. A clean, level, and dry surface is integral to achieving a seamless and sturdy tile installation. Scrub with a mild detergent to remove any traces of dust, grime, or oil. Leveling compounds can be applied to create an even plane for irregular surfaces. Meticulous surface preparation ensures the beauty of your tile will shine through.

Essential Elements: Materials Needed for Installation

You need more than just your tile to get the job done! The material list includes an adhesive like thin-set mortar, a notched trowel for spreading it evenly across the surface, spacers to maintain uniform gaps between tiles, and grout for filling these gaps post-installation. Choose quality products compatible with the selected tile type for seamless installation and a beautiful final look. 

Making The Masterpiece: Step-by-Step Guide To Installing Ceramic Tiles

Tile installations require meticulous planning and execution. Start by dry-laying your chosen pattern on the floor without adhesive. This allows you to make adjustments as necessary before the final commitment.

Once satisfied, use a notched trowel to spread the adhesive evenly onto a small section of the surface and press the tiles firmly into it. Position spacers between each tile to maintain a uniform gap for grouting later. You may need to cut some ceramic tiles to accommodate corners and other structural features. 

Repeat these steps across your entire surface until fully tiled. After allowing sufficient time for the adhesive to dry, apply grout into all gaps using a rubber float, wiping away any excess.

Finishing Like A Pro: Insider Tips For An Impeccable Finish

Here are some insider tips to tackle your tile job like a pro. Always plan your layout starting from the center of your space and working towards the edges. This ensures prominent areas have whole tiles, enhancing visual appeal. Never rush through the grouting process, as this tiny grout line dramatically impacts the project's final look. Use clean water and multiple passes with a sponge to achieve clean lines and an immaculate finish.

Care and Maintenance of Ceramic Tiles

Regular Cleaning Practices for Pristine Ceramic Surfaces

Ceramic floor tiles, ceramic wall tiles, and even ceramic backsplash tiles all require regular cleaning to maintain their luster and prolong their lifespan. Luckily, ceramic tiles are easy to clean

Start by sweeping or vacuuming the surface to remove loose dust and debris. Next, use a damp mop with warm water for a primary clean. Make it a habit to rinse the mop frequently during cleaning. This ensures that you are not just spreading dirt around. For stubborn stains on your ceramic bathroom or kitchen tiles, you can make a paste of baking soda and water, apply it to the stain, leave it for about 15 minutes, and then scrub gently with a soft brush.

The Right Products for Your Ceramic Tiles

Not all products are suitable for all types of ceramic tile flooring. Ideally, use mild detergents or special pH-neutral tile cleaners. These will maintain the natural sheen of your ceramic roof tiles or bathroom tiles without causing discoloration or damage.

For instance, white vinegar diluted in warm water works superbly as a homemade cleaning solution for both glazed and unglazed ceramic floor and wall tiles. Be sure to rinse thoroughly after application to prevent any residue build-up.

Avoid These Common Mistakes When Cleaning Ceramics

Never use harsh abrasive cleaners, which can scratch the tile surface. This is especially important when cleaning ceramic or porcelain tiles with a shiny finish. Additionally, avoid using excessive water when cleaning unglazed ceramics like terracotta. They are porous and can absorb water. Make sure to regularly seal your terracotta tiles to protect their water barrier. 

Repairing Damaged Tiles: An Art of Perseverance and Precision

Over time, your ceramic floor or wall tiles may chip or crack due to heavy impact or wear and tear. To replace a damaged tile, start by removing the grout around it with a grout saw.

Next, use a hammer and chisel to break up the tile carefully into smaller pieces. Remove all pieces and clean out the space thoroughly before applying thin-set mortar.

Press your new tile into place and ensure it is level with the surrounding tiles. After 24 hours, fill in the gaps with fresh grout, wipe off any excess, and leave it to dry completely.

Garnet | 4" x 4" Glaze Tile

Unveiling the Green Curtain: Environmental Impact and Sustainability in the Ceramic Tile Industry

Ceramic tile manufacturers are continually exploring renewable energy sources and new technologies to improve production. Although the transition towards these alternatives may be slow due to their relative novelty and initial investment requirements, they represent promising avenues for sustainable practices within the industry, particularly given their potential for reducing carbon emissions.

Mitigating Waste: Strategies and Solutions

The ceramic tile industry has been making strides in waste management strategies. An increasing number of manufacturers have started adopting environmentally friendly methods such as recycling water used during production or even repurposing material waste into new batches of tile.

Additionally, end-of-life tiles are also being given a new lease on life through innovative recycling programs that crush old tiles back into raw materials for new ones. This cyclical approach reduces landfill contribution and demand for new materials — a win-win for environmental sustainability.

Sowing Seeds of Change: Pioneering Sustainable Practices

Many industry leaders are taking initiatives towards sustainable practices beyond merely managing waste and energy consumption. These include creating ceramic flooring and ceramic backsplash tiles using recycled materials, ethically sourcing raw materials, and implementing stringent environmental standards across all stages of production. Many industry leaders are looking back to the original tile-making process, embracing handmade techniques that reduce energy consumption and empower artisans. 

Arabesque Tile

Finding the Right Ceramic Tile for Your Home

As you can see, there’s a lot to know about ceramic tile! Ceramic is one of the most versatile home materials. You can use ceramic everywhere in your home, from the kitchen to the bathroom and all the way outside to the patio and pool. No matter your home style, there’s a ceramic tile waiting for you. 

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