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The Ultimate Tile Terminology Guide


If you’ve been looking to refresh your interior design with the perfect tiles for your home, you may feel overwhelmed by the volume of tile terminology and tile layout terms out there. From ceramic tile terminology to tile edges terms, there is a lot to take in. To put your mind at ease, we have put together the ultimate tile glossary which focuses on types of tiles, tile finishes, tile edges and technical tile terminology.

Tile Terms: The Types of Tiles

Ceramic Tiles: Ceramic tiles are made from a mixture of finely ground red or white clay, sand and water. This mixture is then moulded into shape before being fired in a kiln at approximately 1000 degrees Celsius. Ceramic tiles are soft & easy to cut, however this means they are not as durable as porcelain tiles

Porcelain Tiles: Porcelain tiles have a variety of beneficial properties – they are very durable, dense, versatile and resistant to water. They are made from finely-ground sand, white clay called kaolin, and feldspar. Porcelain tiles are fired up in high temperatures of up to 1400 degrees Celsius; this helps to make them extremely hard-wearing. Tiles made from porcelain are suitable for use on floors and walls, in the home and commercial properties, and internally and externally.

Terracotta Tiles: Terracotta is clay that contains iron, which gives it its well-known reddish appearance. Terracotta tiles are produced by firing such clay in a kiln. The result is a tile that provides an earthy and warm look. Tiles crafted from terracotta do not function well in rooms with a lot of moisture because they are very porous.

Terrazzo Tiles: Terrazzo tiles are made by mixing and binding marble, granite, quartz and glass. As such, terrazzo tiles have a unique appearance. They are also extremely durable and water-resistant.

Quarry Tiles: Quarry tiles are made from mixing ground, raw materials, and then firing them at high temperatures. Quarry tiles have a similar appearance to terracotta tiles; however, they do not have a high moisture absorption rate. These tiles are very durable and can be used externally.

Tile Terms: Tiles Finishes

Crackle Glaze: Tiles with a crackle glaze effect have deliberate thin cracks on their surface, providing a vintage look. These cracks must be sealed properly to stop moisture, dirt and grout from penetrating them. This finish creates a very traditional handmade appearance

Decorative: Decorative tiles can provide a stylish and bold look to any room. They are popular in bathrooms or kitchen splashbacks.


Glazed Porcelain: Glazed porcelain tiles go through a further firing stage compared with unglazed porcelain tiles. Glazed porcelain tiles are covered with a coloured, non-porous, liquid glass layer (a glaze).

Inkjet Printing: Nowadays, it is more common for tiles with detailed designs or patterns to have been produced through inkjet printing. Using this method results in a more precise finish, and is more cost-effective.

Lappato: Tiles that are partially polished. When a tile is first made, it will be slightly textured, and so a Lappato tile will be 50% evenly polished and 50% textured.

Polished: Polished tiles have a high-gloss look. Porcelain tiles or natural stone tiles are the most common types of tile to be polished. To achieve a polished look, such tiles are buffed with an abrasive diamond wheel.

Satin: Tiles with a slight sheen that subtly reflects light at certain angles.

Tile Terms: Tile Edges

Bevelled Edge: Bevelled tiles have edges which are lower than the face – the edges are not perpendicular to the face.

Bullnose Edge: A bullnose edge, also known as a rounded edge, describes a tile with a convex radius. A bullnose edge creates a softer appearance, as the tile’s edges are curved. These are mostly used as skirting tiles.

Natural Edge: Tiles with non-uniform edges to achieve a handmade, rustic look.

Rectified Edge: Tiles with uniform edges to achieve a smart, modern and clean look.


Tile Terms: Technical Terms

Abrasion Resistance: A tile that is more resistant to abrasion will scuff less easily, as such, they are typically longer lasting and good for areas with high foot traffic. Porcelain tiles have the highest abrasion resistance of all tile varieties

Adhesive: Tile adhesive is a liquid or semi-liquid solution that is used to bond tiles to walls or floor.

Backer Board: A backer board is a cement or foam backer which needs to be applied if placing tiles onto chipboard or floorboards. Or, a backer board can be installed as an alternative to plasterboard.

Biscuit: The main part of a glazed tile, typically ceramic or porcelain tiles. Glazing is applied on top of the biscuit.

Bowing: When tiles are fired in a kiln, they usually bow. The centre of a bowed tile’s surface is higher than its edges.

Caulk: Caulk provides a waterproof seal where tiles touch other objects – such as bathtubs or walls. It is a flexible substance, made from latex and silicone, and helps to absorb tile movement. Caulk is especially useful for joints and corners, due to its flexibility.

Cure Time: The amount of time that the tile setting substance must be left untouched for the tile to set properly and strongly enough.

Expansion Joint: Flooring may expand and contract with changes in temperature, especially if there is underfloor heating installed. To prevent cracking, expansion joints can be installed.

Feldspar: A naturally occurring mineral that is found in porcelain tiles.

Grout: Grout is a cement, sand and chemical mixture that is often used to fill the grout joint space between tiles. Grout helps to stop moisture from reaching the back of tiles and limits a tile from expanding or contracting with temperature changes. You can find grout in a variety of colours, and choose a colour that best suits your space.

Grout Joint: A grout joint describes the deliberate space left between tiles.

Impervious: An impervious tile has a moisture absorption rate of less than 0.5%.

Kaolin Clay: A dense, and therefore less porous, clay that is used in porcelain tiles. As such, porcelain tiles absorb less than 0.5% of water and are more stain-resistant.

Mitre: Cutting a tile at an angle.

Moisture Absorption: The amount of moisture that a tile can absorb will depend on the material it is made from. For example, a porcelain tile has a moisture absorption rate of less than 0.5%, whereas a ceramic tile has a moisture absorption rate of up about 10%. Moisture absorption rates are important to consider, as it will dictate where tiles are best used.

Sealer: A tile sealer is a liquid substance that is most commonly used to protect unglazed tiles and grouts from absorbing moisture. Penetrating sealers are absorbed into the tile forming a sub-surface stain resistant shield. Surface sealers are applied on the surface of a tile which will enhance its colours.

Splashback: A splashback is found in the kitchen. It defines the wall space between the kitchen countertops and the kitchen wall cabinets. Kitchen splashbacks are often tiled to protect walls from oil and food splashing. For more kitchen design terminology, take a look at our blog post.


Substrate: A substrate is what supports the tile from underneath, such as concrete walls or plastered walls.

We hope that our ultimate tile terminology guide has geared you up to source the best tiles for your space. Whether that’s to create a bold splashback for your kitchen or a sleek stone-effect look for your bathroom floor, we hope that we have made the design process easier. If you would like some more interior design inspiration, take a look at some of our case studies!