Tile Terminology: A Glossary of Important Mosaic Tile Terms

There is nothing more frustrating than watching a video about a subject like mosaic tiles and not understanding key terms in it.

What is a substrate? What's the difference between Carrara and Calacatta marble tiles? What is a waterjet and how is it important to tiling?

There are plenty of terms in the industry that aren't necessary for someone to know if they are not planning to lay the tile themselves, like substrate and v-notched trowels. But, you do need to know the basic terms used for tiles and grouts when you're picking a design for your next home design project.

Here is my list of tile terminology for the people interested in knowing what they're choosing for their next tiling project, but who will leave the dirty work of installation to someone else.

Abrasion Resistance

A rating from 0 to 5, with 5 being highly resistant to abrasion that determines how well a tile material withstands foot traffic or friction on its surface. Do not use tiles with 0 rating on a floor where they are subject to lots of wear and tear.

Absorption

The absorption rate, expressed as a percentage, for different tile materials. Porcelain has a very low absorption rate of only .5 percent, making it ideal for humid areas like the bathroom and kitchen.

Backsplash

It's the area behind your kitchen or bathroom countertops that is tiled over to protect the walls from moisture damage.  

Border

A tile border can be laid an outline of the floor or as a decorative feature along the tops of walls or tubs or to frame a mosaic.

Carrara Marble Tile

A type of bluish-gray marble that is only quarried from one city in the world: Carrara, Italy. The veining is smaller and finer than Calacatta marble and it is less expensive.

Calacatta Marble Tile

This stone is also quarried from the same region of Carrara Italy, but has far more distinctive and dramatic veining. It also is has a much whiter background which makes the bold veins really stand out.

Cement Tile

Made from cement that is pressed and not fired. They can come in a tremendous variety of designs, many of them using traditional Moroccan tile themes.

Ceramic Tile

Ceramic tile is a fired clay that doesn't meet the low absorption rate of porcelain tile. It tends to absorb more water, making it softer and less durable than porcelain.

Custom Tiling

Custom designs are unique, one-of-a-kind, creations requested by a specific client and installed to their design specifications.

Dimensional Tile

Tile that often looks sculpted and has a high relief created with modern tools, creating a 3-D effect.

Engraved Tile

Ceramic and stone can be engraved with lasers such that the design is cut into the material with precision. Here is a grid pattern that has been engraved into a ceramic tile.

Etched Tile

Etching works by removing only the top layer of the material in an abrasive action using sand, acid, or even a waterjet. It doesn't cut as much as it wears down the area and thus the finish can be slightly rougher than an engraving, if done with sand. Here's a stone tile done with a waterjet tool.

Floor Tile

Tiles designated as "floor" tiles mean they can withstand a large amount of abrasive action, but are too thick or heavy to hang on a wall.

Glass Tiles

Tiles made from glass that are either glazed or unglazed. They can come in strips, like Soho strips or they can also be vitreous glass tiles that are small mosaic pieces.

Glazed Tile

Any tile that has an additional glazing put on top to protect the top layer from moisture. In the case of glazed glass tiles, the glaze is more to alter the decorative coloring.

Grout

A mixture of silica, sand, and cement used to fill in the joints between tiles. It can come in many different colors, not just white.

Hand-Painted Stone Tile

Tile that is hand painted by artisans to create beautiful, unique, borders and murals.

Honed Stone

A finish that is semi-polished, but not matte. It softens the surface of the stone and makes it smoother.

Medallion

A circular design inset that is a highly decorative feature in a room. Here is one on the floor.

Mural

A work of art that is detailed on a wall, it can be made with tiles or paint or any other media.

Mosaic

A work of art created with tiny pieces of stone, glass, metal, or any other small item. Mosaic tile is typically 1" square or less and put together on a grid backing, for easier tile laying.

Pool Mosaics

Work of arts, created with mosaic pieces, that are going to decorate the bottom of a pool

Porcelain Tile

A type of ceramic tile that is fired at very high temperatures to create a hard tile that has an absorption rate of less than .5 percent.

Stone Tile

Tiles made from any natural stone, including marble, slate, and limestone.

Tile Layout

The repetitive pattern used to lay out the tiles. Tiles can be laid out in a grid pattern, which is the traditional block layout. However, there are also a variety of other types of patterns, including diagonal, brick, herringbone, and chevron. Here is a basketweave pattern.

Wall Tile

Tile designated as wall tile is not recommended to use on floor projects because it won't be able to withstand the wear and tear.

Waterjet Technology

A modern cutting tool using a highly pressurized water stream to make precise cuts in fragile or difficult-to-cut materials, like stone.

What Else Is There to Learn?

There is still much more to learn in tile terminology when it comes to the different names given to stones and ceramics, so here is a YouTube video that can provide more of a visual dictionary for specific types of tile materials:

Still have questions about the different types of tiles available? Contact us for a consultation to learn more.

About the Author

Nelson Londono founded Artsaics in 1998 after learning the ins and outs of designing custom artistic tiles and stone mosaics. The New York-based surfacing company specializes in producing stunning artistic tiles & stone designs with fine natural stone from around the world. Nelson and his team's passion lies in working with their hands, heads and hearts to make each and every space a unique reflection of self expression. You can learn more about Artsaics here.