Tile Talk - Basic Terms to Know

Tile Talk - Basic Terms to Know

Be more of a tile guru!

Every industry has its own lingo and the tile world is no different. Knowing some basics will help you understand your tile options and maybe even impress your style-conscious friends.

Here are some key tile terms organized a few different ways: characteristics, different materials, styles, and installation.

Tile Characteristics


  • abrasion - the amount of wear caused by foot traffic a tile can sustain

  • absorption - the amount of moisture able to penetrate the tile, often described as vitreous or non-vitreous tile

  • ASTM - American Society for Testing & Materials - producers of the ceramic tile rating system to measure abrasion, scratch resistance, absorption, chemical resistance, hardness, and durability

  • grade - rating system on the tile quality measuring the condition of the tile material, thickness, shape, and size

  • slip resistance - measurement of the dynamic coefficient of friction to ensure traction when treading across wet tile

  • through-body - consistent color throughout the tile


Tile Types


  • cement - tiles incorporating mineral pigments into the cement mixture and design, and formed via hydraulic press

  • clay - tiles fired at very high temperatures, such as ceramic, porcelain, terra-cotta ceramic

  • glass - brittle, noncrystalline substances produced by fusion usually containing silica; often recycled for other purposes

  • metal - solid metal or resin with a metallic coating, such as stainless steel, copper, and bronze

  • stone - any naturally occurring rocks that are quarried and processed for tile use, such as granite, travertine, slate, quartz, marble, sandstone, limestone, soapstone



  • Tile Styles


    • bullnose - tile with a rounded edge used as trim

    • cove - concave trim found where a wall and floor meet

    • dimensional - sculpted surface creating a three-dimensional effect

    • field tile - the primary tile for a design

    • finish - the surface appearance of tile that may be natural to the tile or processes to achieve a certain look such as glazed (matte, semi-gloss, high-gloss), inkjet, honed, antiqued, brushed, pillowed, polished, sand-blasted, textured, tumbled, water jet, or weathered

    • floor tile - tile designed to withstand abrasion and traffic

    • format - shape, and size of a tile, such as half-inch square, mosaics, penny, pencil or finger, rectangle, subway

    • trim - angles, corners, molding, caps, and other various shaped pieces used to complete a tile design

    • wall tile - lighter tile designed for interior use, often unable to adjust well to freeze/thaw cycles or withstand heavy wear and tear


    • Tile Installation


      • adhesive - material used to bond tile to another surface

      • batch - a set of tiles created and cut at the same time

      • caulk - material used for sealing joints

      • cure time - the amount of time for the tile to be left undisturbed so that the bonding material will reach its full strength
      • grout - cement or epoxy used to fill space between tiles

      • layout - the design used to lay the tile

      • lippage - the difference in elevation of tile

      • sealant - water-based or solvent-based sealers to protect tile and/or grout

      • substrate - tile foundation usually made of concrete, plywood, and drywall

      • thinset - tile adhered directly onto a backerboard with a thin layer of mortar