Porcelain tile is a ceramic tile that is termed impervious with a very low water absorption (0.5% or less) This is the well defined criteria that makes it a porcelain. If the absorption is any higher, it doesn't matter what the sales person calls it, it's not porcelain.

The amount of absorption is calculated by weighing the tile before and then after it has been wet. Water is forced into the tile sample by boiling and soaking it.  The increase in weight will show how much water it has absorbed. Some tiles classified as porcelain from overseas don't meet the stricter and more demanding water absorption criteria used in North America. In Europe porcelain tile was considered any white back ceramic tile. This is part of the reason why the cost of porcelain tile per square foot is all over the map. They are not all created equal.  Certified Porcelain tiles low absorption is what makes it so stain resistant. Porcelain is also denser and is usually classified for extra heavy applications.

Porcelain tile is found in malls, airports, schools and dealerships because it handles major foot traffic very well. A box of tile that is true porcelain will say Certified Porcelain on it and the water absorption.You should not shop for a porcelain tile because you think you need the most durable tile. Marble and ceramic tile hold up in residential homes, even the busiest of homes quite well. What you should shop for is the right color, texture, size and price that you are looking for and then find out what it is. If you say to yourself it has to be porcelain, you just cut out over  75% of the tile market.  Remember porcelain tile is a type of ceramic tile. Having said all that...A good porcelain is the easiest tile to maintain.

stone overview

This stone generally has a low absorption however it is very acid sensitive. Acidic chemicals or foods can etch the marble, strip sealers, make the surface dull and more susceptible to staining.

Marble is not difficult to take care of, However it does require more frequent inspections and a cleaning regimen that must not introduce acids or strip sealers. Spills need to be cleaned up quickly. Build up of soap residue in showers needs to be avoided as most shampoos and soaps have acidic properties.

Marble installations in bathrooms are timeless and rarely go out of style. Usually when there is a problem it is due to severe neglect or a poor installation. Always ask the sales person if the marble you are selecting is moisture sensitive, then look the stone up and get more details. When cleaning marble a PH balanced cleaner is recommended.

Let’s begin with the look of the tile first, this is the fun part and is all about you and what you like. Choosing the look of the tile may be similar to your preferences when you pick out clothes, a car or furniture. Are you into cars with all the angles and modern touches or more subdued lines with tried and true harmony? Do you want this tile work to make a statement or be part of the décor that accents everything around it? If you know how you feel about these questions you’re ready to look at tile armed with this in mind.

 Your project, and your tile selection will typically fall into one of three categories;

  • Traditional
  • Contemporary
  • Transitional

Traditional is a look that is familiar and is easy for most people to appreciate. It is typically considered a warmer look. The Tile is usually the type that has movement or veining like marble. Movement meaning the color in the tile shifts or travels, where as it has less consistency or chance to repeat in the pattern. There are more installation patterns associated with traditional like offset/brick bond, diagonal, herringbone and others. Installing tile in a room on the diagonal instead of straight can make the installation look more traditional. Traditional tile refers to the types of tile sizes, textures and colors that were popular during another period of time. But as the saying goes, what was old is new again, is as true as ever.

Contemporary is about the newest looks and very clean lines. This type of tile is sometimes more consistent from piece to piece. It can be bold or very tame. A truly contemporary look is not for the timid. This is because it is pushing past the boundaries of what is tried and true. These types can be extremely rewarding as installations like these are eye catching and unique. A tile that is a consistent color, large format like 36X36, and installed straight without interruptions would be considered contemporary. An example of an interruption is a decorative band or border. Very often old school tile like 1x1 penny tile, which is traditional, is used in a contemporary setting. The definitions can become very blurred but it’s all about how it’s put together.

Pictured above is a contemporary linear drain. It is better suited to large format tile and is a very hygenic type of drain as it is easily cleaned

Tile that is rectified means that it has been trimmed, shaved or ground so that the tile has a more precise edge which makes the size of the tile more consistent overall.

It does not make it a better product but rather solves a problem some manufactures may experience after firing a tile. After tiles dry out following being fired, they will shrink. The shrinkage can sometimes be inconsistent from one tile to another in the same batch. So in being rectified they are all cut to the same size.

Some customers also prefer the look of the rectified edge which is a sharp no pillow type of edge. No matter what type of tile edge, the smallest acceptable grout joint width is 1/16th" as per TCNA guidelines. Grout joint size is determined by the limitations of the tile selected.


Tile alone does not make the design of the project. Trim, shower doors, shelving, vanities, niches, seats, all these things combined is what gives your installation a theme.

Transitional refers more to how a tile is incorporated than what it actually is. For instance, if you have a Travertine marble, which is traditional, trimmed out in brushed nickel edging and a linear drain, you just brought traditional and contemporary together. This can be the best type of design for first time remodel clients and the most common type installed today.

With these styles in mind, which do you lean toward? Having an idea as to whether you prefer Traditional or contemporary, or somewhere in between will help narrow down your tile selection. Remember that these styles are more about how the space will be perceived than the tile selection alone.

After considering the aesthetics, it’s time to think about where that tile will be installed and how it will be used. Is this for a high traffic walkway, kitchen backsplash, a bathroom used three times a year, a shower used daily by children, or maybe a balcony? It is also time to consider up keep and durability. Will you be the one taking care of the installation? Will you have cleaning people do it? Are you the type of person that cleans frequently or would prefer to have as little interaction with upkeep as possible?

This matters a lot. A properly installed tile can last more than thirty years. One that is neglected or cleaned with the wrong product over and over can reduce its life expectancy greatly. See our page on tile care to get an understanding of just what we’re trying to express.

polished porcelain and plank porcelain

How to select the right tile

 Written by Michael Weaver

What's the difference between porcelain and ceramic tile?


The right tile for you is the tile that will appeal to your inner designer and your definition of what is, and is not practical.

Practical can mean within budget or how easy the tile is to clean and keep clean. For some clients a tile project is fun and the perfect way to liven up a part of their home, for others it’s a solution to resolve a leaking shower or remedy cracking tiles and worn out grout.

Whatever your reason for looking at new tile, there are some considerations to make and details you should know about tile before you make a purchase.

Please be advised, there is a ton of information here. If at any point it’s too much, just give us a call or send us an email. During the consultation we help make this a lot easier to absorb.
Click here to fill out our estimate request form.

Besides Trendsetter as your installer, you may want a designer. This  quiz from D&B Tile  will have a designer contact you and help make your vision of the perfect remodel come true.

What is rectified porcelain?

Methods of install and porcelain types

absorption, grades and shade

The most popular term related to tile currently is porcelain.  Large format porcelain, plank porcelain, thin porcelain, rectified porcelain, through body porcelain and polished porcelain to name a few. Porcelain tile became popular in the late 90's. At least as far as North American homeowners were concerned. In Europe it was already everywhere.  Porcelain was the new buzz word that had every homeowner saying the only tile they would get would be porcelain.

At that time it was plenty expensive compared to most ceramic. Sales people would tell customers "This rectified tile can be installed with grout joint the width of a credit card." or worse yet they would say it could be butted together, that is, no grout joint at all.  Unfortunately for North American installers who were new to porcelain installations they installed it just like the salesperson said. Installers struggled with warpage, lippage, grout joints that would not hold grout and adhesives that were high in cost relative to what is required for ceramic. 

The main reason for the bad information was that there were no established standards set at that time. The industry has come a long way since then in making sure installers understand the  key differences that go along with these installations.

There's a lot more to tile than beauty.  The amount of foot traffic, use on your tiled surface as well as the cleaning routine you use can make a big difference as to what type of tile may be best for you.

This type of porcelain begins the same as all other porcelain and is sometimes rectified. Unlike polished marble which actually becomes more stain resistant during the polishing process, porcelain actually develops microscopic holes that are shaped like tears on its surface. These holes cannot be seen with the eye but they can trap contaminants from high foot traffic or even dirty water. If not cared for properly they can look foggy or cloudy after years of use. Installers usually have to use grout release or sealer to "plug" the holes prior to grouting. Sealer on polished porcelain is a short lived solution.  Polished porcelain needs to be washed more frequently and the water used in the wash needs to be changed more often. Porcelain tile also refracts light and may have optical hazing as opposed to reflecting light like polished marble and usually does not appear as smooth when looking at a reflected image on it's surface. Some polished porcelain can appear bumpy or wavy on its surface.  Higher quality porcelain tile is more resistant to staining, however still not as stain resistant as a porcelain that never went through the polishing phase. Some porcelain (unglazed porcelain) that has a surface that has been ground to give it a matte type finish is also more susceptible to staining. These are not so much defects as they are characteristics of polished porcelain. Plank porcelain requires the flattest of floors to be successful. In the hands of the unqualified these installations can be some of the worse failures in terms of lippage. It is highly recommended that the offset on these installations be 1/3rd as opposed to a 50/50 stagger. This significantly removes most or all of the observed warpage. These installs are best installed with LHT mortar and SLU's

Marble, Onyx limestone, granite, sandstone and slate all have their own unique characteristics. Porosity, absorption and density differ greatly among them.You should always look deeper and do research on any stone that you may want in your home. 

Installation methods usually incorporate more labor with stone. Unlike most ceramic tile, some stone must be cut with a dry saw or wet saw as opposed to a hand cutter which increases the time of the install. Most often stone is installed incorporating sealer at different stages of the install.

Penetrating sealers are not a permanent means of defense. Cleaning routines that pro long the life of the sealer is crucial to the stones longevity or at least its brilliance. Stone does need to be re-sealed. The need to be re-sealed depends on the type of stone, the amount of foot traffic or use and the cleaning procedures regularly used. There are some sealers that even beautify the stone or enhance it's natural characteristics.

Unlike ceramic and porcelain, most stone can be brought back to its original look with polishing or honing.

What defines a tile as porcelain?

Porcelain tile installations cost more money to install typically in regards to the labor, setting materials and the tile itself.

Adhesive used in porcelain tile installations is polymer modified. Modified mortars cost more than standard and if the porcelain tile is heavy or greater in size on any length by fifteen inches or more it is a large format tile.  Large format tile or Large heavy tile is installed using mortars designated as LFT or LHT mortar. These mortars are applied using the thin-set method. Thin-set is a method, not a product.  Sometimes these tile types are installed using a "mud set" or marble set but this method is seeing less use with LHT mortars especially when used in conjunction with self leveling underlayments(SLU's). SLU's do not level a floor. The product seeks level during the installation process. This achieves a very smooth and flat floor which is the products objective. Eventually manufacturers will update the name of the product to floor flattener to end the confusion.

  A Mud set, which some installers claim is the best method, is a method not recognized by ANSI or the TCNA. It has become known as the Miami Sandwhich and False Mud Set.  If an installer claims a large format porcelain floor can only be mud set or that it is superior to LHT thin-set method, they are mistaken.

Large tile format tile tends to have some warpage or doming to one degree or another. That means that some facial curving or arching of the tile may be present. This is a characteristic that is controlled as much as possible by manufacturers but not eliminated. You can look down the face of a tile when you hold it on end, similar to sighting a 2x4 and see some of the warpage. Tiles from the same lot can also be put together face to face and if they do not sit flat against one another or teeter, this is an indication of warpage being present. Usually a tile installer is the only professional that can make a general assessment of how much warpage is too much. 

Please see our page on False mud set to understand how a "mud set" creates a sub-standard installation.

Thin porcelain panels are very large tiles such as 5ft X 10ft or larger. These panels are thin for several reasons the first being logistics. It is much easier for a distributor to move these panels around the world being thinner. They are much lighter and two or three panels thickness can add up to one standard tile thickness. They have been used in Europe for a long time primarily over existing tile. It's not uncommon in Europe to go over two or three existing layers of tile in a home. Thinner tile makes this more practical. Customers also like less grout lines, and since the closet grout joints are five feet apart...that covers that. Installation of large thin porcelain is a specialized installation. These installations require tools not typically associated with regular installations and the procedure to install them is unique to it. Installers should have an ACT certification to install these panels.

Ceramic has almost endless design options. It's abundant, durable and has been used for centuries. Clients, for some reason i.e. from sales people have been led to believe that ceramic tile is not as good as porcelain. That is non-sense. An individual that claims that either doesn't know better or is trying to get something by you.

Porcelain is great and they are making more and more design options out of it but when it comes to the floor or shower you're designing, getting porcelain because it's called porcelain is foolish. Ceramic tile is easy to maintain, especially a vitreous ANSI 137.1, see next section.

ceramic tile

home page

There are five major types of ceramic tile: porcelain, pressed floor, mosaic, quarry and glazed wall tiles. Most ceramic tile falls into the pressed category and are designated as being equal to or greater than nine square inches. They are appropriate for floor and walls.

We know that porcelains absorption is .5% or less so what about the other ceramic tile? 

The scale looks like this: Impervious is less than 0.5%, Vitreous.5%-3.0% Semivitreous 3.0%-7.0% or non-vitreous 7.0%- 20%. All tile has some water absorption. Water absorption is usually not a problem as long as the substrate is prepared properly for it's intended use.

For example, a shower will receive significant water every day during use. The tile used in the shower is by no means to be a water barrier or to be used to water proof the shower. A shower is water proofed prior to the application of tile. The tile is expected to get wet in the shower and then dry out between use. When the shower is water proofed properly it allows the tile and grout to dry out quicker and prevent water from escaping the shower enclosure. 

Another consideration is the Aesthetic classification in terms of shade. Tile can be uniform in color and texture or can be dramatically different even in the same batch. Sometimes a lot of variance in shade is just what your looking for.  This classification should be displayed on the box as well as the tiles grade.

A tile meeting ANSI 137.1 will have all this criteria on the boxes label. If your tile does not display this information it does not mean it's a bad tile. Tile comes from all over the world and some manufacturers, while they make a great product, fail to inform the client how great it is.