Tile Tales: An Exploration of Porcelain Versus Ceramic

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When choosing the type of tile that works best for your space, it pays to do your homework. Porcelain and ceramic are commonly considered to be one in the same. Both are made of clay baked in a kiln and each tile touts the capacity for countless color and texture options, making them equally vested with versatility. Given the parallels that can be drawn between the two, it is interesting to consider the distinctions that set these tiles apart.

Composition

Some of the disparities that distinguish porcelain from ceramic can be credited to their unique compositions. Ceramic comprises red, white, or brown clay that is kiln-fired at a lower temperature to create a softer, more porous design, which is also more affordable. Ceramic tile typically has a white clay body with a glaze on the top layer. To that end, glazed ceramic tile is notably well-suited for wall applications. “Ceramic tile has been in fashion for thousands of years, and has seen a recent resurgence in popularity,” says Josh Levinson of Artistic Tile. “There is a magic to applying liquid glass to a clay body and yielding a beautiful, wear-resistant surface. Whether you are looking to cover a floor or wall, wet or dry area, high- or low-traffic space, there is likely a product that is suitable for your application and that meets the desired aesthetic requirements.”

As a blend of refined white clay, sand, and feldspar, porcelain is baked at a higher temperature, which decreases its water content and results in a harder, less porous, and more expensive enterprise. The mixture of materials is kiln-fired, with or without a glaze on top, resulting in two types of porcelain tile—through-body and glazed. Through-body porcelain tiles are created with colored staining that remains consistent across the finished surface of the tile and throughout the body of the tile. With coloring that comes from mineral deposits in the clay or from added pigments, these tiles are distinguished by universal body color from top to bottom. Glazed porcelain tiles, on the other hand, can be created with either natural or artificial coloring, and offer more alternatives in color, pattern, and finish. With the benefit of a protective coating over the top of the tile, these tiles are more stain-resistant but can become noticeably chipped or worn-down since the color often only runs through the surface level glaze, making them less preferable for high-traffic areas.

Durability and Porosity

The two tile types differ in their degrees of durability and wherewithal to handle everyday abrasions, which can include anything from foot traffic to moisture. Porcelain tile is prized with a greater density that allows for an increased resistance to scrapes and scratches, when compared to ceramic tile. Ceramic has a less-resistant composition that is more prone to damage.

The ultimate distinction between porcelain and ceramic lies in the details of each tile’s porosity. Porcelain has a heightened resiliency that allows it to act as an ideal option for use in high-moisture applications, while ceramic has a higher absorption rate. According to an international industry standard, a tile is classified as porcelain if it possesses a water absorption rate of 0.5 percent or lower. The clarity of this delineation has served to eradicate any misconceptions and was defined in accordance with the industry’s Porcelain Tile Certification Agency (PTCA), a product certification program jointly established by the Ceramic Tile Distributors Association (CTDA) and the Tile Council of North America (TCNA).

Porcelain Versus Ceramic

Ripe with resemblances, porcelain and ceramic can certainly be considered close counterparts, but they are distinguished by the unique discrepancies in their makeup, with composition and porosity doubtlessly driving the differences that ensue across their various applications and uses. While porcelain can possess greater resiliency for high-traffic environments, ceramic certainly boasts an array of benefits that make it an ideal choice for many applications. When faced with the question of whether one option should be considered more advantageous over the other, Levinson contends: “The reality is, each product should be evaluated based on the project needs. Whether its glazed ceramic wall tile, double fired tile for light-traffic floor use, glazed porcelain, or through-body porcelain, each option has particular attributes that could make it a wise choice for your project.”

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