How to Cut Ceramic Tiles

by Drew Henry

Tiling is surprisingly simple, but even the most straightforward job will have some areas where you'll have to cut the tiles or make a curve to go around a feature or fixture.

Well, the good news is that cutting ceramic tiles is pretty straightforward; you just need the right tools for the cut and a little patience.

There are a variety of different tools available depending on whether you want straight lines or curves. If you need to cut lots of tiles, this will also dictate which tools you choose.

Tools and Materials You Will Need

There’s nothing like giving your home an upgrade, whether you’re livening up a room or completing a whole makeover to inject a pop of color into your home. Whatever you’re doing, it’s essential to make sure you have the proper tools before you begin:

  • A carpenter's square, a unique measuring tool shaped like a right angle, or you can use a ruler
  • A glass cutter for straight cuts
  • Tile cutter or snap cutter
  • A pencil to mark the cut line or a fine marker for glazed tiles
  • A workbench
  • Gloves because sometimes broken/cut pieces of tile can have sharp edges
  • Eye goggles
  • A wire hanger
  • Tile nippers for curves
  • A can, cup, or other round object
  • A rubbing stone or brick to smooth off any rough edges
  • Some blank tiles to practice on if you're using a new tool

Some of these tools are sharp or bladed, so it's essential to keep them out of the reach of children and to make sure you operate with sensible protocols when using them. Use all necessary safety precautions and protective gear throughout the process of cutting your tile, regardless of what method you choose. 

Using a Snap Cutter or Manual Tile Cutter

Measure and Mark the Tile

Measure and mark the tile using the square. Align one edge of the square with the tile's edge and use the free edge to draw the guideline with a pencil.

Cut the Tile

Place the tile in the cutter so it's flush with the cutter's fence and the pencil line is directly under the scoring wheel. Cut with an action that's smooth with even pressure by pressing the cutter's handle and then sliding the wheel.

Move the handle from the edge of the tile, then press down on the handle gently to lower the breaking feet and snap the tile.

Always ensure the fence is free of dust and debris if you’re cutting repeatedly.

If you're cutting a terrazzo tile, try to make a sensible split on the pattern; this isn't always possible if you're cutting to fit a precise area (most of the time).

This step highlights the importance of measuring up correctly and doing a dry lay to decide where to divide the design if you're creating an interlocking pattern.

Ceramic tiles are straightforward to grout, especially compared to cement tiles. However, map out the tile plan, including the cut tiles, before you start grouting, and don't forget that your thin set will need to cure for at least 24 hours first.

Smooth the Rough Edges

If the cut edges are exposed, you can smooth these with a brick or concrete to create a nice finish.

Using a Glass Cutter

Measure and Mark the Tile

Use a pencil and a square to measure and mark the tiles. Line up the square's horizontal edge with the tile's bottom border. Using the pencil, draw your line using the square's vertical edge.

Score the Tile

Place the tile on a clean, flat surface like a workbench – a piece of plywood works well as an alternative.

Move the square slightly to the side so it lies against the pencil line, then score along the line with the glass cutter. 

Press the cutter and drag it down the line; the square is there as a guide, but avoid cutting into it. You may need to repeat this several times to create a smooth, shallow incision.

Snap the Tile

Place the tile over a wire hanger, aligning the scored line with the wire. Then, press down on the unscored parts until it snaps, hopefully with a clean break!

Press the top and bottom edges if the scored line runs left to right. However, if the line is nearer to the tile edge, snap off the smaller part with tile nippers.

Smooth the Tile Edges

This step is easy enough to do with a brick or another abrasive surface like concrete. It won't matter if the tile edge is hidden, but if it's exposed, it creates a better finish.

Using Tile Nippers

Create the Shape

Tile nippers, or snips as they're sometimes called, can be used to create a shape or for straight cuts that are too narrow for a tile cutter. 

Tile nippers are usually classified by the type of tile they cut, so you'll find nippers for ceramic tiles, porcelain tiles, and glass mosaics.

Use something circular to draw around to make the shape or the curve. If the cutting area isn’t near the edge of the tile, consider using a straight cut first to reduce the size.

Score the Tile

Score along the cutting line. It's best to use a glass cutter for curved cuts. For straight cuts, a snap cutter will work. 

Scoring a line or shape provides a boundary to work against once you start using the nippers.

Cutting the Tile

Use the nippers to pinch the tile. Tile nippers are spring-loaded and will cut as you exert pressure.

Start at the edge and break off small pieces a little at a time. Work slowly towards the curved line to create the shape or corner. Patience is essential! 

Break off small amounts – otherwise, you run the risk of cracks – making sure you're working in rows. Snap off smaller amounts to maintain a smooth and precise shape as you reach the pencil line.

When you start cutting, hold the nippers at a slight angle. Once you’re close to the cutting line, say around 1/8", then alter the cutting angle so the nippers are parallel to the cutting line for a straight cut.

Tile nippers work well on ceramic tiles but may struggle with porcelain or ceramic floor tiles if you don't have the right type.

Smooth off the Rough Edges

Use a brick or concrete to smooth off any rough edges if they’ll be visible when the tile is fixed in place.

Looking for New Tiles? Shop LiLi Tile!

Cutting ceramic tiles can strike fear into the heart of home DIYers, but with a bit of practice, it's not nearly as difficult as you think. Practicing on some old tiles or cheap blanks can help perfect the art.

If you're yet to decide on your new tiles, browse and shop at LiLi Tile. We stock a wide selection of tiles and designs, so there’s a perfect fit for all your tiling needs!

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