Porcelain is known for its chameleon nature, meaning that porcelain tile can replicate virtually any natural stone look – such as polished and unpolished marble, terrazzo, travertine, quartzite and slate.
Like nature’s own neutrals, these new stone looks incorporate multiple pigments and decorating techniques to create variegated hues, color movement, texture and great visual depth. The majority of porcelain tile is unglazed, but decorated and glazed versions growing in popularity.
Designers are attracted to porcelain, and retailers are actively featuring it, making porcelain a hot seller. But questions remain – what is porcelain and how is it different from traditional ceramic tile?
Porcelain is a very special kind of ceramic tile created from a very fine mix of clay and minerals – far different from regular ceramics – formed under extremely high pressure and fired at high temperatures.
The result is a moisture resistant. In fact, certain porcelains are more durable that slate, marble or granite and can be used both indoors and out in the high traffic areas.
To be considered a porcelain tile, the international standard requires a tile to have extremely low water absorption – about a sixth of that of ceramic, which is low to begin with. This characteristic allows the tile to be safely used outdoors in freeze-thaw weather conditions.
Because porcelain is so dense and barely porous, it resists not only moist materials, but also the stains, bacteria and odors that accompany them. It also is so dense, tough and inert that it highly resistant to harsh cleaners, even most potent household chemicals.
Among porcelains there are worlds of differences. These processes that yield superior porcelains also result in porcelain tile that can outperform natural stone – yet look just like it!
For the homeowner, superior porcelain tile is especially resistant to scratching, staining or fading, and it never needs scaling. And because it is the same color all the way through the tile (versus a ceramic tile with a color-glazed surface), any chip, however rare, would hardly show.
Solid color porcelain tile is also available in polished and matte finishes, as well as textures for added slip-resistance.
Both small- and large-format tiles are big news today. Porcelain tile sizes range from tiny mosaics to 24” to 24”, in square, rectangular or rhomboid shapes, with multiple trim options. The large tiles are favored for not only floors and for use as pavers, but especially in facing bathrooms and special spaces.
Because porcelain tile can be so precisely and uniformly formed, designers are installing porcelains with narrow grout joints for a highly tailored and more formal look.
Most importantly, porcelain tile is environmentally friendly. Made from natural materials like clay and feldspar, porcelain installations product no fumes or gases, will not support mold, mildew or bacterial growth and can be maintained without the use of harsh chemicals.