Ceramic or Porcelain Tiles: The Difference Explained
By Jordan Mawbey
Many customers often scratch their head when they are presented with a choice between ceramic or porcelain tiles. What's the difference? Which one do I need? Is one better than the other? These are all common questions that immediately spring to mind, so let The Yorkshire Tile Company answer them for you.
For those of you wanting to get straight to the quick answer...
Although they may look the same, the main difference between ceramic and porcelain tiles is that a 'porcelain' tile is much denser than a 'ceramic' tile and less porous, making it more hard wearing and suitable for both indoor and outdoor use. This extra density is a result of slightly different manufacturing materials & processes.
Whilst ceramic tiles are only recommended for interior walls and floors, porcelain tiles are a more common choice for floors that anticipate heavier traffic as they are much more resistant to scratching, chipping, etc. These will include areas such as kitchen floors, entrances and the majority of commercial applications. Due to their low water absorption, porcelain tiles are also suitable for outdoors.
Porcelain tiles generally have no glaze (the colour/design) baked onto the face, therefore the colour runs right through the tile. These are called 'through-body' porcelain tiles. Therefore, in addition to them being very hard wearing, any wear or chips to the tile will be difficult to see.
However, just like ceramic tiles, some porcelain tiles on the market are also manufactured with a glaze on the face. In this case, despite the body of the tile being hard wearing, the glaze has the same vulnerability to chipping as the glaze on a ceramic tile. Therefore in the unlikely event of a chip, the tile body's colour, regardless if ceramic or porcelain, will show through the chipped glaze.
For those of you wanting the technical differences, and more details, read on...
(i) Ceramic Tiles
Ceramic tiles are made from a natural clay with a durable 'glaze' (the design) added to the face after the clay has been pressed/baked at high temperatures in a kiln to remove most of the water content.
(ii) Porcelain Tiles
Porcelain tiles are also made from clay, but generally those of a denser nature. Finely ground sand is also added to the mix. The materials are then pressed and fired at higher temperatures (compared to ceramic tiles) and for much longer to remove practically all of the water content. This process is what makes porcelain tiles denser,
less porous and more hard wearing than ceramic tiles.
PEI Ratings: Where Can I Use Porcelain or Ceramic Tiles?
The Porcelain Enamel Institute rating, more commonly known as the PEI rating, is a great tool to help you determine the recommended use for the tile.
All tiles will be classified with a PEI rating, although it is more common with floor tiles. In summary, the 5-scale rating is as follows:
• PEI 0 - No foot traffic (wall tile only)
• PEI 1 - Very light traffic (e.g bathroom)
• PEI 2 - Light traffic (e.g. bathroom and bedroom)
• PEI 3 - Light to moderate traffic (most domestic floors; no heavy appliances/traffic)
• PEI 4 - Moderate to heavy traffic (e.g. door entry, kitchen, balcony, some commercial)
• PEI 5 - Heavy traffic (all domestic/commercial uses with heavy abrasion/footfall)
Today, most ceramic floor tiles will carry a PEI rating from 3 to 4, with porcelain tiles ranging from PEI 3 to 5. Our advice is to always check with a member of staff to confirm your intended use of a tile.
If you are needing a floor tile for a commercial project, discuss your requirements with a member of staff, however, it is recommended that you should look at a floor tile with a PEI rating of 5.
Ceramic tiles are very easy to work with: they can be scored, cut and nipped fairly easily with the right tools. Most DIY'ers, and certainly fixers, don't have any problems.
As porcelain tiles are denser and much hard wearing, they are generally heavier and harder to work with (cut, etc). The average DIY'er may find it more difficult to work with them, however, a professional fixer should have the right tools to help them do the job. Regardless, it may take more time compared to tiling the same area with ceramic tiles.
Whatever tile you are fixing, it is imperative that you fix them with the right tile adhesive. See a member of staff for more specific advice.
You may expect porcelain to be more expensive than ceramic, however, this is not always the case. Each type of tile can vary from one end of the price scale to the other. Look out for some fantastic deals on both types of tile in your nearest showroom.
The Future of The Tile Market
Many of the tiles available in the UK are manufactured overseas and imported, which is having an impact on tile trends/availability in Britain. In particular, there are a huge number of tile manufacturers located in Southern Europe, where Mediterranean climates prompt their local market to demand a wider range of outdoor tiles, where outdoor living spaces are popular (i.e. Spain and Italy).
Consequently, overseas tile manufacturers have started to introduce a wider range of porcelain tiles, suitable for outdoor use, to satisfy their local markets: these ranges are subsequently imported into the UK.
It is therefore not uncommon in today's market that a lot of floor tiles, even those at the cheaper end of the budget, are porcelain tiles. However, due to many of these ranges having a glazed finish, they have similar properties to ceramic tiles, particularly if they have been manufactured to a PEI rating of 3 or 4.
Have you read our other free advice articles?
- Top 10 tips for choosing and buying tiles
- 10 reasons why to choose tiles
Choosing a bathroom tile
Choosing a kitchen tile