Nothing is more frustrating than choosing a product without knowing how to differentiate the quality between good and bad. Quite often, we also find that the right information is very difficult to obtain and with very little transparency.
To help you with your tile selection process, Kaolin Tiles – a world leading manufacturer of porcelain tiles – explains what you need to look for and how to assess and compare the quality between different tiles.
Very often, you would see tiles that are priced at 20 AUD/sqm in one store and then very similar ones for 120 AUD/sqm in another. But why is there a price difference and how does that translate into quality?
Usually, the only argument would be: “that tile is made in Italy, that tile is made in Spain, China, India, etc.” But what does it really tell you? And what is the difference between tiles from the same country of origin? And therefore, the usual wrong question that customers tend to ask logically is “where are your tiles from?”, in expectation that the country of origin would tell them everything about the quality of that tile. Not so.
We would like to explain what you need to look for in order to assess and compare the quality between different tiles, as well as what would be the right questions to ask.
This is probably the most important aspect that defines the quality. Leading manufacturers invest a lot into achieving products that look just like real natural stone. It starts with cooperation with leading design studios that create most beautiful and unique looks replicating natural stones. Average factories would just try to copy or have very basic design files. Design files combined with the latest printing technology equipment define the overall result. Kaolin’s most obvious benefit is our print quality.
Our Kaolin factory uses industry-leading printing technologies to reproduce stone and marble to the finest detail without pixellation and create a depth not seen before in a porcelain tile. One of the biggest downfalls of porcelain tiles to this point has been the digital inkjet print limiting design and creating a tile that was very easily picked as a poor imitation of the real stone. This was mainly due to technology only offering ceramic printing to a maximum of 300-400dpi and a binary or single size ink drop. This old technology can easily be seen in transitions of pattern to plain areas and fades as pixellation.
The creation of each single look is a sophisticated process that starts with identifying the source of inspiration. There are very basic and simple looks such as concrete, for example that do not require very complex designs. Those and other plain colour designs are usually dated and not designed for the latest state-of-the-art technology. Precious stone looks, on the other hand that become possible thanks to advanced printing technology require a very in-depth and sophisticated design file. The creation starts with scanning of real natural stones and improving its looks before getting translated into an image. Those images are a combination of different layers that creates an almost 3-dimensional look.
We take this technology further with tiles such as our Precious Stone and Showpiece ranges printing up to 12 layers to create a depth to the tile usually reserved for natural stone.
Tiles are normally printed with just 4-5 layers or channels, one for each of the main ink colours (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow) plus Black and then a finish or texture print. Kaolin will print this base range to create the basic design but then layer the tile with additional features of print sitting much higher in the glaze layer creating an almost 3-dimensional effect.
Left: Standard quality tile with print lines | Right: Good quality tile
Another easy way to check the quality of the print is to check whether there are print lines. Print lines happen from blocked print nozzle heads and especially when printed only in a few layers, those print lines will remain quite obvious. Good quality tiles shouldn’t have any. Here you can see similar looking tiles with and without print lines – the difference speaks for itself.
White Marble Looking Tiles
When choosing white marble look porcelain tiles, there can be a big difference between a good and a poor looking tile. One of them is the colour of the body of the tile, but we will cover that further. Please look at the plain white area of the tile. Like a real marble, it’s not just plain white, it has some tiny veins, it has some hues and different colour shades, so do high-end porcelain tiles. To look very close to real marble they are printed everywhere, including in plain areas.
Here we have an example of Kaolin Arabescato porcelain tile and real Arabescato Marble – as you can see, there is almost no difference.
Also pay attention to a seamless transition between grey veins and plain areas of the tile – it should look as smooth as possible.
Left: Real Arabescato Marble | Right: Kaolin Arabescato Porcelain Tile
Left: Good Quality Marble Look Tile | Right: Standard Quality Marble Look Tile
Pressed Vs Cut-To-Size Tiles
A major difference in the quality of your finished result will directly relate to whether your tile is pressed to size (not to be confused with cushioned edge tiles) or cut to size. Pressed to size tile is superior in every single way, while cut to size tile might result in having at least one or more of the following problems. Some of them are very easy to identify with a naked eye.
Pressed-to-size tiles are tiles that are pressed directly to the correct size. The edges at the end of the process are rectified and polished. The sizes are true to the size advertised and edges are 90-degree bevelled and smooth.
Cut-to-size tiles are tiles that are pressed into larger format and then cut to the correct size at the end of the process. It is usually done to save cost and there is no guarantee the tile will be true to the advertised size.
True To Size
At Kaolin we are very proud of the fact that all our tiles are pressed to size – it means they are ‘True to Size’. There is nothing more frustrating than ordering a tile that is advertised as 600×1200 or 750×1500 and then finding out it is 5mm smaller (595×1195 or 745×1495). Because that is what happens with cut-to-size tiles. It becomes even more frustrating when utilising more than one tile in the same area and trying to get the grout lines to line up.
It is quite common when using rectified tiles – there is often a size difference, even from the same manufacturer. Why? For economic reasons, most tiles today are manufactured in a larger size and then cut down to multiple smaller sizes to provide the end user more options. Product lost to the cutting process or setup error/variations often leads to tiles smaller than advertised and very often different in size to other tiles, even from the same manufacturer. Kaolin doesn’t cut tiles to size. Every tile is pressed to the intended size and you will always receive a tile true to size.
Top: Standard Quality Tile measuring 745mm | Bottom: Kaolin Tile measuring 750mm spot on
There are a lot of issues with tiles as sizes get bigger with bowing or ‘lipping’. All tiles are allowed a certain amount of bowing in manufacturing and are still deemed to be first quality by international and Australian standards. This bowing can be up to 0.5% or 2mm either way and still meet standards. With one tile bowing concave and the other convex, you can experience up to 4mm difference in the height of two tiles laid side by side. (Place two tiles face to face or back to back. This will highlight the bowing effect and quickly show you if the tiles are flat.)
At Kaolin, our tolerances are a lot stricter. Our maximum allowance on our 900×1800 tiles is only 0.02% variation or 0.3mm. This means it is a lot easier for your tiler to achieve that perfectly flat floor with no lipping or high edges to trip on or catch dirt.
We are so confident in our tiles’ flatness that we allow grout joints down to 0.5mm when laying stackbond and even recommend bricklaying or a 50% offset with joints as small as 1.5mm.
Left: Standard quality tiles | Right: Kaolin Tiles with no lippage
Another downside of cutting tiles to size is that the edge isn’t always truly rectified. When cutting tiles to size with a diamond blade, the tile will have little chips from the cutting process. To remove these small chips, manufacturers will often put a small bevelled edge on the tile to create a smooth edge. This creates another issue by making grout joints larger than the spacer used. Quite often you will also see saw-marks on the edge, resulting again in a bigger undesirable grout joint. With a tile having a small 0.5mm bevel, add in a 1.5mm spacer and you end up with an undesirable 2.5mm grout joint. There is also the issue of flaking grout as the strength in the grout joint is quite weak when it is only as deep as what’s allowed by the small bevel.
Kaolin tiles are a true 90-degree bevel with no chamfering/bevelling. We hone/polish the edge of our tiles, which gives a sharp/clean joint that is true to the spacer size. Use a 1.5mm spacer and the joint will be 1.5mm. Use a 0.5mm spacer and you will have the smallest grout joint of any tile currently on the market. Only Kaolin offers the range of tiles suitable for seamless joint tiling.
Left: Bevelled Edge | Right: True Rectified Edge
Minimal Grout Joint
Nothing is worse than buying beautiful tiles and then getting a big, large grout joint. Obviously, it depends more on the quality of the tiler and the right choice of colour for the grout joint.
Always ask what size of joint a manufacturer would advise as that would basically tell you their confidence in their product.
At Kaolin we have tiles where we advise ‘Seamless Joint Tiling’ of only 0.5mm. Because that is how confident and proud we are that our product is technically the best on the market. Please refer to our whitepaper on ‘Seamless Joint Tiling Technology’ to discover how only Kaolin Tiles can achieve such a small grout joint.
Left: Normal Tiling | Right: Kaolin Seamless Joint Tiling
By looking at the tile body – the biscuit, you can get lots of information about the quality as well.
You can see impurities and a biscuit with different colours. Usually, it happens on cheaper tiles made with raw materials of lower quality. Pure clay is naturally white. When the biscuit is off-white, beige or brown, it means there are impurities still left in the clay. They can affect the physical properties of the tile.
It is important to notice and make sure that the colour of the body/biscuit matches the colour of the surface. The difference between the colour body and dirty biscuit is that the colour body is very consistent in colour. It starts with pure clay and is coloured with oxides. Nothing looks worse if you choose a white marble tile, but the body ends up brown. The black tile should also have a black body.
Salt and Pepper
It is a good quality body that looks more natural, especially for certain looks, such as granite outdoor pavers where an edge may be exposed.
It is a high quality body, trying to achieve veins in the body and imitating the surface colours as well. The veins while providing a more natural look are not aligned with the surface print.
Natural Vein Body
The latest technology, so far only possible by Kaolin and a few other brands, prints the vein through the body. This looks just like natural stone, and the colour and veins will always be there.
There are plenty of different surface finishes available for tiles. Each of them has its own strength and weakness and each client has different choices and preferences.
Polished tiles are like diamonds – they have to be polished up to a high level to provide you with a strong depth because that is their major strength. Only by using high quality glaze and specialised polishing equipment can one achieve this high depth. For polished tiles, check the luminosity; for better quality polished tiles, it should be higher than 90% or even 95%.
For a polished surface finish, it would be important to choose tiles with a superior glaze and polished finish with no imperfections. While a perfect polished finish adds another level of depth to the tile and can look crystal clear, an inferior glaze or poor polishing process will highlight any flaws in polished tiles and can result in one or more of the issues outlined below.
So how do you identify these issues? You can shine a light at the tile and observe its reflections and how smooth it is. An imperfect glaze might show some bubbles or worse, you can see the print being almost scraped from the tile edge. That can be caused by a low thickness of glaze, poor quality glaze or the uneven flatness of the tile surface.
Swirl marks are a sign of poor quality or worn polishing heads and can take away from the desired look. This can be more prevalent in honed finished tiles.
Crack in the Glaze
A crack in the tile’s glazing is another imperfection.
A major strength of honed finish is its warmth; it is not as shiny as gloss, but also not as cold as matt. The degree of luminosity should be around the human body temperature of 36%; however, anything between 29% and 50% can be considered a honed finish.
Left: Smooth Matte | Right: Textured Matte
Matte finish can be very flat and smooth with a textured or leathered finish. Look for texture as it gives an extra real effect, and take a closer look at the new leathered finish where the texture aligns with the printed veins.
Using the latest printing technology, we are able to closely replicate the fine veins and textures normally only seen in actual marble slabs. Precisely aligned with the pattern/print, it gives the look of real leathered marble, adding an additional tactile element to a traditionally visual surface.
It is important to know the number of unique faces for each tile, so you don’t get repetitions very often. But we would like to emphasise the word ‘unique’ as there are plenty of ways for a tile to technically have lots of faces, but still look repetitive.
First of all, some manufacturers would mirror the same face like in a picture on the right. It is nice to have a bookmatch set, but not if that is just two random faces – if you lay them next to each other, it will look repetitive.
Design File Face Trick 1 – Mirroring
Another common way is to slightly move the image across the tile. From a unique area design covering 2 different faces, you can create 3 or more faces. Again, technically speaking it is a different face, but if you capture strong veins and lay them together, it will look even worse.
Design File Face Trick 2 – 3 out of 2 faces
Another way is to have a face, which is a zoom-in of another face. It may look less repetitive compared to the previous tricks, but the printing quality could be much worse and very pixelated as you zoom in on a picture that is not designed for that size.
Design File Face Trick 3 – Zoom-in on the same face
Also the number of faces depends on the size of tile: 20 faces for 600*600 result in only 7sqm, which is approximately 2 faces for a 1.2*2.7 large slab. So, if you have a tile in this size with only 4 faces, it actually covers a larger unique area than a 600*600 with 20 faces.
Left: 20 faces of 600*600mm covering 7.2m² | Right: 4 faces of 1200*2700mm covering 13m²
The length of the warranty provided is a good indicator of the manufacturer’s confidence in its product. At Kaolin, we do provide a lifetime warranty, as we believe our product is made to last forever.
We do hope that by reading our guide, you would have a better idea about how to compare the quality of different tiles and ask relevant questions based on this information.