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Porcelain vs Ceramic Tile Design Ideas

All porcelain is ceramic but not all ceramic is porcelain is the easiest way to remember the difference between the two words commonly thrown around the interior design world. Porcelain and Ceramic tiles are both technically ceramic, they just contain a few different qualities. These will greatly differ from quarry tile, glass tile and natural stone. Neither porcelain nor ceramic tile are highly recommended to be placed outdoors.

Though both porcelain and ceramic tiles have water resistant qualities, the grout used for sealing will be a more vulnerable substance. The grout used for sealing tiles is a porous substance therefore able to take on staining and moisture. It is important to properly seal and maintain the grout as well as the porcelain and ceramic tiles to keep the tile’s beauty and water resistant quality. If care is not taken it can potentially cause harm to the tiles or molding of the grout itself.

Porcelain and Ceramic tiles are both extremely heavy flooring options. Typically, they are best used in ground floor applications. The weight also makes the installation of each of the materials a little more expensive due to the added labor costs. If installing on an upper level, make sure to get an inspection to make sure the building can hold the loads of the material.

Porcelain Tile

Contemporary bathroom with gray porcelain tile shower
Stone look porcelain tile shower

Porcelain comes from the Italian word porcellana, meaning “cowrie shell” or “chinaware”. Fine porcelain will be a white material with a strong, dense body. This is typically an expensive material.

Fine porcelain varies greatly from the porcelain tiles at hand. Porcelain tile is made of white clay, sand and feldspar. The color will go through the entire tile or can have glazing over the surface.

Choosing a tile without glaze can be better for high traffic areas due to chipping and wearing. This way the same color will be underneath, making chips, scratches and wearing almost invisible. Adding glazing, though, will give many more color options to the tiles versus its natural color.

Porcelain is a product that is dense and has good durability. Since porcelain is a denser material than ceramic tile, that means it is a less porous material as well. This will mean that it absorbs and retains less moisture. This is good because it will last longer and require less maintenance and upkeep over time.

Due to its composition and high feldspar content, it will be an extremely durable material. This will mean porcelain will withstand heavy traffic. All of these reasons make it a popular choice for bathroom designs.

If for some reason the porcelain tile chips there will be the same color all the way through the piece (unless you have chosen to top glaze the tiles), better hiding the chip until that tile can be replaced or repaired. Though these all sound like great aspects, the density does cause the tile to be difficult (but not impossible) to cut. This can create difficulty if hoping to complete a do it yourself project with porcelain tiles.

Porcelain is often recommended to be handled and installed by a professional. Based on the design will greatly affect the price of said services.

In addition to the commonly know qualities of density and water resistance porcelain is also highly stain resistant as well as fireproof. Due to the same aspects that cause the tiles to be water resistant make porcelain not very easily stained. The tile will not allow the stains to penetrate the surface in similar ways it repels water.

Porcelain also is a material that won’t normally burn. In the case of a fire having porcelain flooring can help contain and restrict the fire, or at least hopefully buy some extra time to safely exit the building.

Porcelain tile can be more expensive than ceramic tiles due to all of these higher quality aspects mentioned previously. For regular, in stock porcelain tiles you are looking at around $4 to $8 per square foot. Custom tiles, though, can range from $4 up to $25 per square foot. In addition to just the material costs, installation will run about an extra $4 to $8 per square foot, with prices quickly rising for and custom tiles that will be needed for patterns or unusual shapes.

Porcelain Tile Rating

Traditional kitchen with wood style porcelain tile floors and two islands
Wood style porcelain tile

Porcelain tile can occasionally be placed outdoors if it possesses an extremely high PEI (Porcelain Enamel Institute) Rating. The ratings will range from PEI 0 to PEI 5, 0 being the lowest and 5 the highest. PEI 0 will be locations with no foot traffic, areas such as wall tiles.

  • PEI 1 will be locations with very light traffic such as bathrooms, or areas without frequent use.
  • PEI 2 will be locations with light traffic such as bathrooms and bedrooms.
  • PEI 3 will be locations with light to moderate traffic which is most home usage.
  • PEI 4 will be locations with moderate to heavy traffic which will be suitable for home usage and some commercial applications.
  • PEI 5 will be locations with heavy traffic which will be any usage in the home, outdoors or commercial setting. Typically, ceramic tiles will rate around a 3 to 4 on the scale while porcelain will be 3 to 5 on the scale. This will mean that in most settings ceramic or porcelain will work.

Typically, porcelain is only used in commercial settings due to the need, but lately the style and luxury has been bringing the style into homes.

ANSI (American National Standards Institute) says that porcelain tile uses a dust pressed method of composition resulting in a tile that is dense, impervious, fine grained, and smooth with a sharply formed face.

The most important differentiating factors is the water absorption rates. This is from how they are manufactured, based on ingredients used, temperatures the ingredients were fired at as well as how much water content is already removed will determine the test results.

Porcelain has a rate of .5 percent or lower. This is figured out by conducting a test where the piece is submerged into water. Based on the amount of water that has been absorbed will determine the rate. Unfortunately differentiating between porcelain is a voluntary certification process. This makes it difficult for the consumer to tell the difference between the products.

Ceramic Tile

Bathroom shower with polished ceramic tile
Shower with polished ceramic tile

Ceramic tiles are in the material class of semi crystalline, amorphous and are inorganic in nature. Ceramic tiles will not complete full vitrification, and this will cause the material to be porous and absorb water if not properly glazed.

Ceramic tile is made from white, brown or red clay. Though the color of the clay can vary the color seen is typically from the glazing that is on the surface, this will offer a variety of different visual options.

Ceramic tile, while less dense and durable than porcelain tile, will be a great choice for someone on a budget or planning to do the project themselves. Ceramic Tile is much easier to cut with a wet tile saw, or a snap tile cutter, which can be done at home versus professionally. Just because it is a less dense product than porcelain does not mean that it is not a quality material, it is just a relatively more economic version of porcelain.

Glossy white ceramic tile for kitchen backsplash

Glossy white ceramic subway tile backsplash

Though ceramic tile is also known to be less water resistant than porcelain tile, it can be glazed which will add a protective later that will make the ceramic tile less susceptible to staining and more resistant to water penetration.

If durability is a concern, there are some tougher (more expensive) tiles that will be almost impossible to crack and will be long lasting if they are properly kept up.

Ceramic tile is also a cheaper material than porcelain tile. This is because ceramic tile is less expensive to manufacture as well as install. Typically, ceramic tiles will cost about $3 to $7 per square foot, with some rare pieces being even lower than that. Similar to porcelain, ceramic tiles will increase significantly when custom pieces and designs are requested or required. Installation will run about $4 to $8 per square foot, once again prices rising with unusual or custom patterns and pieces.

Which Type of Tile Should I Use?

Bathroom with beige porcelain tile shower

If you are looking for a budget friendly product ceramic tile is the way to go. If money and labor cost is no object, Porcelain is a popular choice for bathroom floor tile as well as living rooms, bedrooms and kitchens.

Porcelain works well in most high traffic areas in the home and even outdoor areas if the proper rating tile is used. If doing a second story space with tiling, ceramic is the better way to go, but only in an extremely small space and there needs to be an inspection to make sure the structure can bear the load.

Patterned porcelain floor tiles

Glazed patterned porcelain tile floor

Each product offers a variety of different patterns and colors since either product can be cut and glazed. Porcelain has a through color so will look better when it is scratched or chipped. If this is going to be a do it yourself project, sticking to ceramic tile will be the better option.

This is because it will be easier to cut and less expensive, so if there are mistakes it is less detrimental. If doing porcelain floors it is highly recommended to leave that to the professionals.

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