Tile News: Porcelain vs. Ceramic

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Tile terminology can be confusing. Most types of tiles are made from clay or a mixture of clay and other materials.  They are then kiln-fired. The larger classification of “ceramic tiles” can be split into two groups: 1) porcelain tiles and 2) non-porcelain tiles. These non-porcelain tiles are frequently referred to as “ceramic tiles” by themselves, separate from porcelain tiles.  While porcelain tiles technically are a subset of ceramics, they are often referred to as porcelains because they are denser, stronger and more durable tile flooring.

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Ceramic Tiles are generally made from red or white clay fired in a kiln. They are almost always finished with a durable glaze which carries the color and pattern. They can be naturally colored and left unglazed (like terra cotta) or they can have highly stylized and designed surfaces that are glazed.  They can be glazed in a high gloss or matte finish. These tiles are used in both wall tile and floor tile applications.  They are softer and easier to cut than porcelain, and usually carry a PEI 0 to 3 rating (see below). Ceramic tiles are usually suitable for very light to moderate traffic and generally have a relatively high water absorption rating making them less frost resistant. They tend to be more prone to wear and chipping than porcelain tiles.  And, because they often red or white underneath, when they do chip, it tends to show more.

Porcelain Tiles are a newer tile form that are extremely popular among residential and commercial flooring projects. They are generally made by the dust pressed method from porcelain clays and fired at much higher temperatures than ceramic tiles. This process makes porcelain tile more dense, less porous, much harder and less prone to moisture and stain absorption than ceramic tiles. For these reasons, most porcelain tiles are suitable for both indoor and outdoor installation. Porcelain tiles usually have a much lower water absorption rate (less than 0.5%) than non-porcelain tiles making them frost resistant or frost-proof.

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PEI stands for Porcelain Enamel Institute

This rating acts as a universal meter to rank porcelain tile in its application and use.

Class 1:  No foot traffic.  Wall use only

Class 2:  Light traffic.  Bathroom wall and floor applications

Class 3:  Light to moderate traffic.  Walls, counter tops and floors normal foot traffic

Class 4:  Moderate to heavy traffic.  Good for all residential applications as well as medium commercial and light institutional

Class 5:  Heavy to extra heavy traffic.  All residential and all commercial and institutional use.

Full body porcelain tiles carry the color and pattern through the entire thickness of the tile making them virtually impervious to wear and are suitable for any application from residential to the highest traffic commercial or industrial applications. Porcelain tiles are available in matte, unglazed or a high polished finish.  They tend to look more authentic to natural stone products.

Overall choosing a tile floor is always contingent on pattern, color, and price. Homeowners please consider the application and the potential foot traffic your prospective new floor will experience. At ProSource, we house over 20,000 flooring samples in each of our showrooms, so stop in today and take tour of our amazing tile selection!

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4 Comments

Filed under Natural Stone, Special Events, Tile

4 responses to “Tile News: Porcelain vs. Ceramic

  1. I just came onto your post and found it quite interesting. I am also associated with tiles uk, swimming pool tiles, commercial tiles, and love to enjoy the stuff on the same as its rarely found on internet. Thanks again for writing such a good post.

  2. J.R. Snyder

    Is there a deflection rating for ceramic or porcelin tiles?

    • Deflection standards are very different from the L/360 (for stone L720) design standard that is called for in most building codes. The building code requirement applies to a uniformly applied load across the spans, but it is not uncommon for ceramic tile and stone applications to be exposed to concentrated loads. Does this answer your question?

  3. melissa

    Most porcelain tiles do not always carry the color pattern all the way through the tile. You must be careful on selection if you choose porcelain. I have installed many projects using tiles and prefer the ceramic class over porcelain, you must seal this class of tile. A good way to see if the color is consistent to cut it.

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