PORCELAIN TILE VS. CERAMIC TILE: GOING BELOW THE SURFACE
On the surface, the choice between porcelain tile and ceramic tile can seem simple. Porcelain tile is more durable, has color throughout and is less porous, making it a viable option for outdoors and heavy-trafficked use. Ceramic is softer, making it easier to cut with a wet tile saw or snap tile cutter. Its limited manufacturing process produces a color that is only baked into the surface, and overall makes it a cheaper option than porcelain.
If we stopped there we would be doing you a major disservice. Yes, both porcelain and ceramic tile both fall under the same classification of ceramics. And yes, there is a difference in the manufacturing process. But both are viable options depending on your intended use, needs, and aesthetic appeal.
The term “porcelain” is much too loose. It can be applied to a tile that’s considered high quality from the manufacturer–basically their opinion; or a European reference to lighter-colored body tile, regardless of the manufacturing quality; or a tile that’s considered impervious according to the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), meaning that it is glass-like or “vitreous”– virtually non-absorbent to water. Therefore, a tile labeled “porcelain” is not necessarily of better quality than a ceramic counterpart, or even another “porcelain” designated tile.
UNDERSTANDING PORCELAIN AND CERAMIC TILE RATINGS
Both porcelain tile and ceramic tile are fairly equal competitors, all things considered. When evaluating porcelain or ceramic tile, look for the following information on a label or designation located somewhere on the tile:
Grade: The lower the grade, the better the tile’s appearance. A grade 1 means that no visual imperfections can be distinguished at a distance of three feet. A grade 2 means that no imperfections can be seen at ten feet. Grade 3 tile, the lowest grade, is rarely found in stores. If you see it, continue past it unless you are skilled at installation and attempting a 19th century inherently flawed look.
PEI: Porcelain Enamel Index – the hardness, or scratch-resistance rating. A PEI of 1 is acceptable for walls. A PEI 2 is best suited for bathrooms and kitchens, where light thru-traffic is anticipated. A PEI of 3 is an appropriate hardness for all residential applications, and PEIs of 4 and 5 are rated for commercial and heavy commercial applications, respectively.
The hardness rating is equally effective in either choice of porcelain or ceramic tile. A ceramic tile with a PEI rating of 3 will hold up equally as well as a porcelain tile with a 3 rating. If there’s no rating, don’t buy.
W.A.: This stands for the “water absorption” rating. The lower the number, the more impervious or vitreous the tile is – resistant to water, and therefore suitable for outdoor uses and able to withstand freeze-thaw cycles.
C.O.F: The coefficient of friction rates how resistant the tile is to slipping. Evaluate the wet ratings and dry ratings against your desired use.
FROST: This indicator specifies susceptibility to frost. Important when considering for outdoor uses.
TONE: The higher the tone rating, the more varied the tile pieces are in a package in terms of color and textures. What does this mean for you? Carefully blended placement is necessary to ensure optimum appearance.