The variety of materials used to manufacture tile — clay, stone, terrazzo, quartz and metal — give each type its own defining characteristics. The most commonly used types of tile flooring are ceramic and natural stone.
Ceramic tile is made from clay materials that are quarried, prepared and formed into moulds. Forming methods include dry press, extruded and slush mould. Ceramic tiles are best characterized as either porcelain or non-porcelain. Traditional ceramic tile is non-porcelain and made from clay and minerals, but contains 50% of a white dust or sand called feldspar, which bonds all of the moulded ingredients together during the kiln-drying process, resulting in variety and in the appearance and characteristics of ceramic tiles.
Both porcelain and non-porcelain tiles can be glazed or unglazed. Glazed tile has a matte, semi-gloss or high-gloss finish applied to the surface during the manufacturing process. In the past, glazed tile was fired twice in the kiln, once to harden the mould and a second time to harden the glaze. Nowadays, in addition to double-fired ceramic tiles, there is an automated single-fired manufacturing process called Moncuttura, which hardens a glazed mould in one step. Glazed tiles have increased stain and scratch resistance in addition to traction, compared to unglazed tile.
Porcelain ceramic flooring is more expensive than non-porcelain and can be more challenging to work with, however, it offers greater durability, natural stain resistance, minimal water absorption and through-bodied colour.
Other types of tile, manufactured in a similar fashion to ceramic tile, include brick, cement, glass, encaustic, saltillo and terra cotta. Varying materials and manufacturing processes create very distinctive product characteristics.
Natural Stone Tile
Natural stone tile is produced from natural materials that are quarried, slabbed, finished, and cut to size. Common types of stone used as flooring tile include granite, marble, limestone (including travertine), and slate. Where and when the stone was quarried alters the characteristics of the final tile.
Granite is a very hard and dense type of igneous rock with a distinctive appearance that results from speckled minerals found within the rock. It has unique veining and comes in thousands of colours. Granite is nearly impervious and, once it is polished, resists scratching. It is an excellent choice for flooring in kitchens and high-traffic areas.
Marble is a type of metamorphic rock that has rich veining and is available in a variety of colours. Marble is more porous than granite and is not recommended for kitchen flooring unless its is honed and sealed on a regular basis.
Limestone is a type of sedimentary rock that offers an earthy appearance in both light and dark shades. The surface can be textured or polished smooth. Limestone is less dense than granite and marble, can be easily stained and is also prone to scratching. It is not recommended for kitchen or high-traffic flooring applications.
Travertine is a type of limestone with an unusual crystallized appearance, lending it an earthy tone. Travertine is a soft, porous stone with a natural surface that has pitting or divots. A honed or polished surface can be achieved after filling the surface voids. Easily scratched or stained, travertine is not recommended for kitchen floors. Special care and surface sealing is required to maintain travertine.
Slate is a type of metamorphic rock that is extremely dense and very durable. Slate is available in darker earthy tones. The surface of slate is naturally textured unless a smooth, honed finish is achieved. Slate is an excellent choice for kitchen and high-traffic area flooring.
The face of stone tile flooring typically has one of three types of finishes applied: natural, honed, or polished. The finishing process of natural stone begins once the stone is quarried and cut into a rough slab. The rough slab face is polished with abrasive pads. Extremely coarse abrasive pads are used first, then less coarse pads are used until the final buffing. The tiles are then cut to size by a stone fabricator. The surface finish you apply will depend on where you intend to use the stone tile and the desired appearance. Natural surfaces are unfinished and have an earthy, dull appearance. Texture and pitting are visible characteristics of natural stone tile. Honed surfaces are achieved by terminating the finish process prior to buffing. The smooth, matte appearance is excellent for high-traffic and wet areas to prevent slipping and wear. Polished surfaces are highly reflective with a mirror-like finish. The process of achieving a polished finish is a benefit to the porosity of stone tile, creating an almost impervious surface. However, it also creates a more slippery surface. In addition to these common types of finishes, other types are available that offer distinctive appearances and present their own advantages and disadvantages. Depending on the type of stone tile you choose and its intended application, you might opt for one of the other surface finish types.