Tile Terms Glossary
This refers to how a tile or surface stands up to wear and tear caused by friction. For floor tiles, this is graded using the PEI rating.
The amount of water absorbed by a tile. Described as the ratio of the weight of the water absorbed by a tile versus the weight of a dry tile (expressed as a percentage).
An adhesive or glue is a solution (usually in a liquid or semi-liquid state), that adheres items together. Tile adhesives usually comprise of aggregates and bonding agents derived from either natural or synthetic sources.
Granular material, such as gravel, sand, iron blast-furnace slag or crushed stone, used with a cementing agent to form a hydraulic-cement, mortar, or concrete.
When tiles comprising of natural materials are first cut they have a specific textured finish, either riven, bush-hammered, or tumbled. Through the course of the life of the tiles natural foot traffic and general wear and tear, wears down the surface texture. An antique finish tile goes through a grinding process to artificially reproduce this effect.
Backer Board (Cement Board)
Normally, a 12mm thick cement backerboard for tile and stone, to be used as an alternative to plasterboard for tiling on walls.
A bevelled edge refers to an edge of a tile that is not perpendicular to the face of the tile. A bevel is typically used to soften the edge of a tile for the sake of safety, wear resistance, or aesthetics.
The main base structure of a glazed tile, generally made of clay or porcelain.
The development of enclosed or broken bubbles in a body, glaze or other coating during firing of the tile.
A substance applied to a suitable substrate to create a bond between the substrate and a succeeding layer.
Bowing or warping in tiles is caused during the tile manufacturing and cooling process. It is important to realise that a certain amount of warping is acceptable and to be expected. The calculation for acceptable warpage is related to the size of the tile and the degree of warp across the length of the tile. This will tend to be exposed in rectangular tiles, laid in a brick-bond formation.
There a number of British Standards that are used in the tile industry, these include standards which govern ceramic and natural stone tiles, tile fixing, tile adhesives and grouts. The British Standards are written by tile industry specialists and are available to purchase from British Standards Institution.
Most common with slate tiles or any tile that would normally have a riven finish which can sometimes be quite sharp or harsh under foot. ‘Brushing’ a natural stone surface with a coarse wire rotary brush smooths down some of the rough texture without losing the overall characteristics of its natural finish.
A butt joint is when two tiles are installed next to each other without a grout joint.
An article that has a glazed or unglazed body of crystalline or partly crystalline structure, made from inorganic non-metallic materials and formed by the action of heat. The most common ceramics are traditional clays, which are made into tiles, bricks, pottery and the like, along with cements and glass.
A trim tile unit that has one edge with a concave radius. This type of tile is used to form a junction between the floor and the bottom wall course, or to form an inside corner.
A crazed or aged effect, made by deliberately having the glazed cracked. To achieve this finish specific glazes are now made to shrink in the drying process. However in the past, it was made by causing thermal shock. That means that when the tile was fired, the glaze would expand. Immediately after being removed from the kiln, the tiles were subjected to freezing temperatures which caused the glaze to rapidly shrink, forcing it to crack.
The cracking that occurs in fired glazes or other ceramic coatings due to critical tensile stresses normally caused by temperature changes and vibration.
The time period that a tile installation setting material must be undisturbed and allowed to set for it to reach full strength. The cure time varies widely and is dependant on the type of compounding used and the thickness of the tile.
Cushion Edge Tiles
A tile on which the facial edges have a distinct curvature that results in a slightly recessed joint.
Diamond Saw Blade
A diamond blade is a saw blade that has diamonds fixed on its edge. Used for cutting hard or abrasive materials, there are many types of diamond blade with specific blades designed for cutting stone, concrete, asphalt, bricks, coal balls, glass, and ceramics.
Drilling or boring holes into tiles is a common requirement for certain projects. We would generally always recommend that a Diamond Tip Drill bit is used, especially when drilling porcelain tiles, for the cleanest cut.
Encaustic tiles are clay tiles where the pattern is, or appears to be, inlayed into the surface. Modern day manufacturing of encaustic tiles involves firstly moulding the inlay, laying it face down in a tile mould, and then filling another coloured clay around it. The two layers are then bonded during firing process. The original method involved painting the pattern on the face of a clay tile with a beeswax based paint. This was then fired to bond the pattern to the surface.
Epoxy Adhesive and Grout
A two-part adhesive or grout system that consists of an epoxy resin and epoxy hardener. This type of adhesive / grout is is formulated to have impervious qualities, stain and chemical resistance. Epoxy-based adhesive and grout dries to form a plastic-like material.
A joint that extends through tile, mortar, and reinforcing wire from the substrate. This type of joint is normally found in larger tiled floors and walls. Also referred to as Movement Joints.
Full Bodied Porcelain / Fully Vitrified
Made from a single layer of porcelain, for which the pigmentation used to create the face pattern is present through the full depth of the tile. Full-Bodied Porcelain / Fully Vitrified tiles generally have a water absorption rate of 0.5%
Tiles that have a porcelain base that is primed and printed before a layer of hardening glassware is coated over the top and is fused to the body. These type of tiles are also referred to a Semi-Vitrified tiles.
A silica sand, cement and chemical mix for filling tile joints. As it is not recommended for tiles to be butt jointed, a grout joint is put in place around the tiles. The purpose of grout joints are to prevent the flow of moisture from reaching the back of the tiles and act as a buffer to limit the effects of vibration and the expansion/contraction caused by temperature change. Grout is available in many colours, formats (powdered etc), and with many special properties (anti-mould etc).
Heavy Duty Tile
Especially hard wearing tiles suitable for areas where heavy foot traffic is expected. This type of tile is usually deployed in settings such as shopping centres, airports, railway stations, and hotel lobbies.
This is when the surface of a tile has been refined by high speed machines to produce a smooth flat surface, leaving edges square.
Honed and Filled
Natural stone tiles that have had any holes filled with resin and the surface polished to produce a smooth surface finish.
Ink Jet Printing
The traditional method of printing a tile involved a series of different coloured rollers running over the surface of the tiles to create the pattern. In modern tile manufacturing, HD inkjet printing is more commonly used as it is more accurate and has lower manufacturing costs. The principle of printing tiles in this way is the same as how an office printer prints documents - print heads within the printer ‘jets’ an amount of ink when and where required as the tiles pass under it on a conveyor belt. It is an essential method for creating ultra realistic, high-definition and non-uniform patterns such as a natural marble effect in which every tiles’ surface design must be different to authentically replicate the natural veining of real marble.
A tile that has a main base colour but that will appear to display other colours when looked at in different lights or from alternative angles. These tiles are usually constructed from glass and are most commonly mosaics.
Lappato (or Semi-Polished Finish)
When first made, most tiles have a slightly textured surface. To create a Lappato finish, tiles are then partially polished with an abrasive diamond wheel, just enough to give approximately 50% of the surface an evenly spread polished finish (whilst the other 50% will remain textured).
The bigger the tile, the more obvious any variations in flatness will be. A tile can be well within the British and International Standards but still have variations in flatness. Usually this doesn’t present a problem but when laying large format tile, variations can become apparent where one corner of a tile is slightly higher than the adjacent tile. This is called ‘lipping’. This is especially obvious when the tiles are of the ‘rectified’ type which means they have a square edge rather than a rounded or ‘cushion’ edge. To minimise lipping it is advisable that large tiles are not in ‘staggered’ or ‘brick bond’ patterns. We recommend the 3pc Combi Levelling Tile Spacer Bucket Set from Tile Rite - it’s excellent for helping lay large format tiles with zero lippage.
A tile with a dull surface offering virtually no reflection.
A pore in a particular material, the diameter of which is less than 2 nanometers.
The process of cutting a tile at an angle. Nothing to do with old-school footballs or the pope’s hat.
Tile that has been installed in a precise area of a floor or wall to create a picture or decorative design. Tile-based murals most commonly take the form of or glass or marble mosaic tile (tesserae) made to form a picture or design.
Special pliers that nibble away little bits of ceramic tile to create small, irregular, or curved cuts.
Used to describe the approximate thickness or facial size of a tile for general reference.
The degree of vitrification evidenced by relatively high water absorption. The term typically signifies more than 10% water absorption, except in the case of wall and floor tiles which are considered non-vitreous when water absorption exceeds 7%.
The PEI system is used throughout the world for grading floor tiles according to the resistance to wear and tear of their finishes. PEI stands for Porcelain Enamel Institute.
- Light domestic use - tiles suited to areas of the home where you are barefoot or soft footwear is worn such as bathrooms and bedrooms.
- Moderate domestic traffic - tiles suited to use in the home except in areas where there is direct access to outdoors such as hallways and kitchens.
- All domestic use - suitable for all areas of the home including kitchens and hallways.
- Tiles suitable for domestic and public use where moderate to heavy traffic occurs such as hotel lobbies, restaurants and supermarkets.
- Tiles suitable for all types of use whether domestic or in public areas of very heavy foot traffic.
Imperfections in the surface of a ceramic glaze or body, resembling pin pricks.
A polished finish is most commonly found on porcelain or natural stone and is mechanically created with a fine abrasive diamond wheel to give it an extremely high shine. Be sure not to confused this type of finish with high glazed tiles that have the glaze coating layered over the surface.
A glazed or unglazed vitreous ceramic white-ware made by heating raw materials, often including clay in the form of kaolin, to high temperatures in a kiln. Porcelain tiles are dense, usually impervious, fine-grained, and smooth with a sharply formed face.
The period of time during which a material maintains its workable properties, after it has been mixed. This term is usually used when referring to grouts or adhesives.
Riven or Riven Effect
This is when a tile has been hand split (or produced in a way to look like it has), meaning a layered effect will be visible to the top surface of a tile. A good example of this would be slate.
A product that has undergone a further machining process , where the tile is cut after the baking process, to produce clean edges on all sides. Rectified tiles make for smaller and cleaner grout lines.
A non-uniform and fairly random edge that is designed to give a tile a handmade, almost artisan aesthetic.
Also known as shot-blasted, this is a process in which sand is sprayed at very high speed onto the surface of stone, creating non-slip or rough finish.
Satin finish tiles have a slight sheen which, when viewed a certain angle, will offer a small amount of light reflection.
A thin, top layer of material (traditionally sand and cement), poured on top of structural concrete or insulation, on top of which other finishing materials can be applied.
A continuous film or penetrant used to prevent the absorption of liquids or other debris. Sealants are not necessary for glazed ceramic tiles, but should be used with porous materials such as quarry tiles, grout, or natural stone products.
The degree of vitrification evidenced by 3-7% water absorption.
The difference in colour or texture from one tile to the next, inherent in all tile products. In most cases shade variation deliberate for the creation of textures that mimic natural materials such as wood or marble wood or stone effect tile. Due to the calibration of machinery between printing runs, one batch of tiles may also contain variation in colour or pattern to the next.
The maximum period of time that a material may be stored and remain in a usable condition. This term is most commonly used when referring to grouts and adhesives.
A soft, plastic based material (Caulk) applied to finish projects to a professional standard. The beading prevents water penetrating into joints around wash basins, bathtubs, or shower trays.
Slip-Resistant Tile (or Anti-Slip Tile)
A tile that has greater slip-resistance characteristics than a regular tile. The anti-slip qualities are generally due to abrasive particles in the surface, an abrasive admixture, or patterns or grooves in the surface. Anti-Slip floor tiles are given a resistance rating (R9 to R13) to help grade the non-slip level of particular tile. This is known as the ‘R’ value. R13 is the resistance recommended by many professionals for public wet areas such as showers in a public changing room. R9 and R10 values are often used and recommended for domestic bathrooms or kitchens (where there is less risk of slipping).
Plastic pieces that are used in installation to evenly separate tiles. All manner of sizes and shapes are available to suit your tiling project. The most commonly used however are ‘T’ spacers.
A panel or area behind a sink or cooker that protects the walls from being stained by food and liquid splashes. These can take the form of singular products such as Glass Splashbacks, or created using smaller tiles - mosaics and metro or subway tiles being particularly popular choices for splashbacks.
Splitface tiles are medium to large tiles that are made from smaller rectangular pieces of natural stone (usually slate or quartzite). The pieces are glued and butted together to form a single tile that does not require grouting. As a result, it’s not advisable to use this type of tile in an areas that is subjected to direct water such as a shower wall or wetroom.
The underlying support for a tile installation eg: floorboards, concrete, or plaster.
A waterproofing membrane applied to a shower enclosure before tiling in order to protect the underlying substrate from water penetration. Wet rooms are usually totally water sealed by the application of special sealing tapes, waterproof underlays, or membranes and ‘tanking compound’ which, when fully cured, creates a fully watertight area. Tiling and panelling alone will not create a wet room since some tiles and grout may be porous.
The density of a tile will depend on the materials it is produced from, how it is compressed and the temperature it is fired at. Ultimately this is calculated before manufacture when determining whether a tile will be created for wall or floor purposes. A lower density will be made from lighter materials like clay, solely for installation on a wall. Where as a heavier density porcelain is more commonly used for floors which will need to withstand years of foot traffic.
The margin in which a tile’s sizing difference / degree of warping, is acceptable.
Natural stone tiles when made have a straight cut edge and textured surface. To create a Tumbled finish, the tiles are placed in a large drum along with water, sand and other rocks, then rotated. The abrasiveness of the other materials naturally smooths down the surface of the tiles and softly chips and distress the edge to make them more rounded and of an antiquated appearance.
Travertine in particular, tends to display holes created by natural air pockets and these are especially visible when cut. Unfilled travertine is often part filled during the fitting process with grout. The resulting surface finish is not as smooth as factory filled tiles and instead, a natural looking, textured finish is achieved.
The use of a tiles or coving tiles in an upright fashion, much in the same way as a skirting board would be installed. Upstands tend to be used as skirting boards in commercial applications and as a skirting around kitchen counter-tops in domestic settings.
A highly compressed porcelain tile that is highly impervious to water penetration. A tile that is vitrified has a moisture absorption rate of less that 0.5%. Semi-Vitrified tiles are also referred to a Glazed Porcelain tiles, whereas Fully Vitrified refers to a full-bodied porcelain tile.
Wet Area or Wet Room
A shower area that is created where the use of a shower tray or screen is not required. The floor is angled to improve water flow to a drain system that is situated within the floor.