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Types of tiles-Tiles and finishes

By  Last updated: 12th July 2013

Tiles and finishes, such as laminate or stainless steel, provide a protective cover for your wet areas and work spaces and heavy traffic areas throughout the home.

Types of tiles

Ceramic tiles

Made by firing clay and can be glazed, which adds colour and pattern, or remain unglazed to create a natural look and are available in a range of colours, shapes and sizes.

Terracotta – the cheapest ceramic tile, terracotta is porous, prone to chipping and cracking, and will stain. They are unglazed and create a natural look with earthy colours. Natural terracotta is not ideal for outdoor use, but some manufacturers make pre-sealed, salt-safe products.

Stone – includes limestone, travertine, marble, and more. Natural stone tiles have a great look. They’re more expensive than terracotta, and while they are more durable – especially older stone, like marble – you should seal them if using them outdoors.

Mosaic tiles are small pieces of stone, glass or ceramic, which are glued onto a base to create patterns and designs. Mosaic tiles mainly feature in bathrooms, but look stunning when used as a kitchen splashback. The tiles can be laid as plain colours or use different colours to create stunning designs and patterns.

Marble & Granite tiles are very hardy and durable, needing very little maintenance once down. Polished tiles can create a slippery hazard.

Porcelain tiles

Glazed porcelain – this tile has a porcelain ‘biscuit’, or foundation, over which a ceramic is applied, to give the look of, for example, terracotta, but with more durability.

Glazed through-body porcelain – the drawback of a glazed porcelain tile is that the surface glaze has the same weaknesses as a normal ceramic tile – it’s prone to chipping, and when it does, you’ll see the differently coloured porcelain biscuit underneath. A glazed through-body tile mixes a pigment into the porcelain so the biscuit looks the same as the glaze. If the glaze chips, it won’t look so unsightly.

Double charged – this is a popular choice because it gives the look of natural stone like marble and granite, but with the strength of a full porcelain tile. They’re so called because two different hues of porcelain are fused together when the tiles are made. Although these tiles don’t have the headaches of natural stone, they are more expensive.

Round edge and bullnose – some retailers such as Amber offer a service to give tiles a rounded edge, for use on stairs or around a pool. They can also take this concept a step further with tiles of a uniform thickness, and laminate them together and shape into a bullnose. These laminated tiles are then used to create an aesthetic overhang effect like a paver.

When selecting tiles, remember:

  • Dark or off-white grout is easier to clean than white grout
  • Consider the extra floor height and it’s affect on the doors and room entries
  • Experiment by laying tiles in non-traditional patterns for a different look – ask your tiler for some ideas
  • Tile over the top of existing tiles if possible.

Buying tips

  • Lower-end ceramic tiles are generally not recommended for outdoor applications, although they can be protected with a sealer
  • High-end porcelain tiles are saltwater and chlorine safe, won’t absorb oil and other food matter from entertaining and barbecue areas and are more resistant to losing their colour over time
  • There are a number of products on the market that mix the best qualities of porcelain and ceramic that are suitable for situations where a full porcelain tile is not required, like under a patio
  • Make sure you’re buying good quality, pre-treated tiles, or at the least, are using a good sealer.


Generally a good way to ascertain the quality of tiles is by the country of origin. Tiles from Italy, Spain, and Arab countries, for example, are produced to a higher standard than tiles from countries like China.

Don’t just buy a tile if it’s porcelain, make sure it’s been made properly. For example, a good tile may be vitrified – fired at the same temperature as glass, 2300C – which will give the tile massive strength. However a cheaper porcelain tile may not be sealed properly.

Non-slip rating

For outdoor applications, tiles must be non-slip, as governed by an Australian Standard. Tiles are given an ‘R rating’ based on how they perform in a test using a ramp and oil. The lowest allowed rating is R9, and the highest possible is R12. For pool areas, the tile must be at least R11.

Strangely, the texture of the tile is not a good indicator of its slipperiness. The most non-slip tiles are some of the smoothest – high-quality tiles from countries like Italy and Spain.


  • Competent DIYers can do their own tiling, but if you are uncertain of your skills, leave the work to a qualified tiler
  • Use a tiler for your bathroom refit to strip or resurface existing tiles before refitting new ones
  • Consider colour, function, durability, style, slip rating and maintenance when researching flooring and wall tiling options

Installing tiles

Tiles must be laid on a concrete slab, which will give the tiles a uniform flatness. They are glued to the slab and finished with grout between the gaps.

If your tiles are not already protected against the elements, you need to apply a pre-sealer to them before laying. The oily mixture makes it easy to fix the tile with grout. After the tiles are laid, a penetrating seal is applied. This mixture literally penetrates halfway through the tile to protect it. This process is especially important for ceramic tiles.



Corian is a smooth non-porous acrylic material used for benchtops and splashbacks that has no open joins, eliminating mould and mildew. Corian sheets are joined together with a special adhesive, giving a smooth, seamless appearance, and creating the impression that an entire area – such as a long kitchen benchtop – has been made from a single piece.

Stainless steel

Stainless steel is a stylish hardy option that won’t discolour and is fairly easy to clean. Brushed stainless steel is the most popular finish, says Greg from Terry Hayes Agencies, as it doesn’t show blemishes as easily as a reflective finish. The stainless steel is cut to a standard (average) size of 900mm or 1200mm with a height of 750mm (other sizes are available), which enables same day installation. Clean the surface with a special stainless steel cleaner and take care not to use abrasive products to prevent scratching the surface.


Laminate splashbacks are a cheap and versatile option. They come in a variety of finishes and looks to suit most décor from plain colours to marble look-alikes, which can match or contrast benchtops. Laminate is ideally suited to smooth flat walls, if walls are not super smooth, the laminate can be glued to board, than affixed to the wall with liquid nails. Laminate splashbacks can be bought from kitchen stores and are available for DIY or DFY (done for you) installation. You could expect to pay about $300 per sheet, which covers about seven meters of spashback 600mm high.

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