How do Cement Tiles differ to Porcelain or Ceramic patterned tiles (a.k.a. Encaustic-Look imitation tiles)?
We get asked this question a lot so here is a bit of a run down on the differences between Cement Tiles and Encaustic-Look imitation tiles…
〉 Ceramic and Porcelain tiles are made primarily from clay and silica. Encaustic-Look tiles can be either Porcelain or Ceramic.
〉 Cement Tiles are comprised of cement, sand and marble dust as well as natural mineral pigments.
〉 Large-scale factory production of Ceramic and Porcelain tiles is undertaken in many countries, with the major producers being China, India, Italy and Spain.
〉 Cement Tiles are made in only a few countries. They are produced the same way today as they were in the 1850’s, each one crafted by hand. Vietnam, Morocco, Spain and Mexico are the largest producers of Cement Tiles.
The Making Of
The process of making each of these tiles differs immensely.
〉 The process of making a Ceramic or Porcelain tile starts with drying of the mixture to get the right consistency before it is pressed. The body of the tile is created using a tile punch which presses the mixture into the desired shape and size. A liquid glaze comprised of pigments and silicates is applied by spraying or digitally printing, before the tiles are fired at immense heat in a kiln. The heat sets the glaze and removes further moisture from the tile. Ceramic and Porcelain tiles can be either glazed or not. Unglazed tiles are porous and will need to be sealed. Patterned Ceramic and Porcelain tiles (i.e. Encaustic-Look tiles) are created the same way with the design printed on to the surface of the tile with the glaze.
〉 The making of Cement Tiles is completely different to that of Encaustic-Look tiles. The process starts with the creation of a decorative mould (but that’s a whole other story I will cover another time), this mould forms part of the frame and the frame is what holds the shape of the tile. The tile is built from top down – upside down. Colour is added by artisans to each section of the design in the form of a pigmented cement and superfine sand slurry. The decorative mould is then removed – I still can’t quite grasp how they are able to do this without messing up the colour layer! A fine mix of sand, marble dust and cement are then added on top of the colour layer, a sieve is used to control the size of the particles and to ensure that the colour layer is not disturbed. A coarser aggregate of sand and cement is then applied by hand, which forms the body of the tile. The frame is then compacted by a hydraulic press, the pressure drives out the air and pushes the moisture from the colour layer deeper into the tile. The tile is removed from the frame and it is now able to be gently handled. The tiles will cure and harden by chemical reaction where calcium oxide will eventually turn to calcium carbonate, the process commences with a water bath soaking where the tile is hydrated. From there they are racked and left to cure, reaching about 90% strength after 4 weeks. They continue to cure and gain strength over time. Each tile is inspected, the edges ever so slightly sanded and then individually laid out to be sealed, which protects the surface during transport.
The Look and Feel
〉 Typically, Porcelain and Ceramic tiles are glazed, and therefore have a slick, polished look and a lustre that shines and reflects light. The pattern is printed and therefore the each tile is the same, there is no individuality.
〉 Cement Tiles are wonderfully matte, smooth and silky by touch, they have variegated colour and subtle blemishes making them perfectly imperfect, and there is nothing more beautiful than their natural patina. When installed they look totally amazing!
The Use Of
〉 Ceramic tiles are suitable only for wall installations. They are soft when compared to Porcelain or Cement Tiles and will deteriorate before too long if installed on the floor.
〉 Porcelain tiles are suited to both wall and floor installations, including wet areas. They are suitable outdoors and, in and around swimming pools, where they are commonly installed.
〉 Cement Tiles are suitable for any room in your home, including wet areas. In the bathroom they can be used on walls or floors as the main tile or as a feature tile. In the kitchen they make a great floor tile or a kitchen splashback. Entryways and porches, laundries, sun rooms, fireplace surrounds and entertaining areas are also popular areas where they are used. Cement Tiles can be installed outdoors a UV protection sealer is required. Cement Tiles are not suitable in and around swimming pools, over time the harsh chemicals will bleach the pigments in the tile and the pattern will fade. Cement Tiles can also be used in commercial spaces; our tiles are slip rated as P3 so they can be used almost anywhere.
〉 The wear of Porcelain and Ceramic tiles is very different. Porcelain, being a much denser, stronger tile than Ceramic will of course wear better. However, in areas of high foot traffic, the surface of the tile will wear down and the pattern and colour will wear off. Chipping and cracking are also issues; if you drop something heavy, they will crack, and the biscuit base of the tile will be exposed.
〉 The colour layer in a Cement Tile is deep within the tile, it is 3-4 mm thick, this is not the case for Encaustic-Look tiles where the pattern and colour is only on the surface of the tile. The thickness of this layer in Cement Tiles, means that even in areas of significant foot traffic the tiles will not lose their colour or design; not for a very long time. Cement tiles are concrete – an undeniably strong material, you can be sure that they’ll hold up well for the long run and if you drop something heavy, they won’t crack.
Thickness and Weight
〉 The thickness of Ceramic or Porcelain tiles varies depending on the size of the tile and can be anywhere from 4-20 mm, the majority however are around 8 mm. An equivalent sized Ceramic or Porcelain tile weighs about half that of a Cement Tile, approximately 0.70 kg.
〉 The thickness of Cement Tiles is 16mm (+/-1mm), this is the required thickness for optimum strength of the tile. Each Cement Tile weighs 1.35 kg.
〉 Ceramic is the easiest to cut, simply because it is a softer tile. For straight cuts a tile cutter will do the job, scoring and snapping the tile. A disk saw with diamond blade is required for the detailed work.
〉 For Porcelain a wet saw is required, or if you are experienced then the same can be done with a disk saw with diamond blade. These glass-like tiles are brittle and chip easily, even when using a wet saw.
〉 Cement Tiles are also cut using a wet saw, or if you are experienced then the same can be done with a disk saw with diamond blade. They do not readily chip when being cut.
There is very little difference regarding the installation of these tile alternatives. The surface substrate preparation is the same and the consumables used are the same. The most important task is to give plenty of consideration to your tile layout, this applies to all types of tile and particularly so for patterned Cement Tiles and Encaustic-Look tiles.
〉 If you are tiling with Cement Tiles over a new concrete slab, make sure it is completely cured. No tools should be used when installing Cement Tiles including a rubber mallet; hands only.
Grouting and Sealing
〉 With Ceramic or Porcelain tiles that are rectified (cut to exact shape) you can have a thin grout line, if they are not rectified then your grout line will have to be wider to accommodate irregularity of the tile. Unglazed Ceramic or Porcelain tiles should be sealed. Glazed Ceramic and Porcelain tiles do not need to be sealed.
〉 Cement Tiles are straight edged and precise, so a thin grout line is achievable and recommended, a standard cement-based grout should be used. Cement Tiles should be sealed. A penetrating sealer is required, it provides lasting protection for the tile while preserving the look and natural integrity of the surface.
〉 Most grout should be sealed. If you don’t seal your grout it will absorb water, bacteria will grow, and it will stain easily. Consequently, all tiled surfaces should be sealed, if not to protect the tile surface, then to protect the grout.
The cleaning regime for all forms of tile surfaces be it Ceramic, Porcelain or Cement are much the same.
〉 Strong chemicals and bleaches are often used when cleaning Porcelain or Ceramic tiles – but do you really want to use these? Over time the surface of Porcelain and Ceramic tiles will become etched by these chemicals, and certainly the grout will deteriorate. What about the environment?
〉 When cleaning Cement Tiles a pH neutral cleaner and hot water should be used, no harsh chemicals or bleaches. A standard dish washing liquid or similar is all that is needed. For a more thorough clean a natural enzyme cleaner suitable for natural stone should be used – an environmentally responsible product.
〉 Ceramic and Porcelain tiles are prone to chipping and cracking and will need to be replaced when this occurs. This can be a complicated task depending on where the tile is located, especially so in wet areas where the waterproofing layer will be disrupted by the removal of the tile.
〉 Provided they are installed correctly, it is very unlikely that Cement Tiles will crack. Imperfections can be sanded out with super fine sandpaper, the colour layer remains unaffected as it is deep within the tile. The sanded area will need to be resealed. Where subjected to high levels of foot traffic or in wet areas, Cement Tiles should be re-sealed every 2-5 years…it’s a simple job.
〉 Ceramic tiles last 5-10 years, Porcelain tiles 10-15 years.
〉 Cement Tiles will probably outlast you!
There you have it, the difference between Cement Tiles and Encaustic-Look tiles.
Thanks for reading!