Many customers ask us what the difference is between ceramic and porcelain tiles is. It can be fairly confusing when buying tile as the characteristics of these two types of tile are fairly similar. However there are some important differences.
Porcelain and Ceramic tile are both technically “Ceramic” tile. All ceramic tiles are made from a clay mixture that is formed with extreme pressure and then fired. Tile that is rated porcelain however uses a denser clay, has been formed under greater pressure and is fired at a higher temperature. These slight differences create a tile that is stronger and impervious to moisture.
Ceramic and some porcelain tiles have a glaze on one face of the visible layer of the tile. This is a protective surface that creates the colored, patterned and durable wear layer. Some glazes are more durable then others. To tell how durable a glaze is (And the tile in general) tiles have a PEI rating or manufacturers suggested use. PEI Rating’s go 1 through 5, where 1 is the least scratch and wear resistant, and 5 being the most scratch and wear resistant. Most porcelain tile have a PEI Rating of 4 or higher. Where as ceramic tiles can be as low as a 1, but can range up to 3. Un-glazed porcelain, or “through body” porcelain does not have a PEI rating as it does not have a glaze. However it is generally accepted that it is able to withstand heavy traffic. Through body porcelain also has the advantage of being the same color from front to back. This means that a chip is less likely to be noticed. In contrast glazed ceramic and porcelain tiles typically have a body that is a different color then the glaze.
As ceramic and porcelain tile is fired and then cooled, the tiles can fluctuate in size similar to when you bake a cookie. Most tile is left as is after cooling. As the tiles are installed the different sizes are take into account, this is the reason grout joint sizing can sometimes fluctuate. However another option is “rectified’ tile. In this process the tiles are either cut or ground down after they are baked to ensure that each piece is exactly the same size. This option is available in both ceramic and porcelain tiles and allows for tighter grout joints.
All the advantages of porcelain tile however do come with a flip side, cost. Typically the overall cost for a porcelain tile will be more expensive then ceramic tile. Both in material cost and installation cost, ceramic tile is less expensive then porcelain. However when selecting your tile, price shouldn’t be the only factor. The full intended use of the space needs to be considered before a final decision is made.