Porcelain Tile vs Ceramic Tile: Differences & Benefits of Each

Porcelain Tile vs Ceramic Tile: Differences & Benefits of Each

As you prepare for a remodeling project that involves tile, the terms "porcelain" and "ceramic" will likely come up again and again. Looking at pictures of the two varieties, it might seem that they are exactly the same.

While ceramic and porcelain do have a lot in common, there are key differences between these two materials. Understanding what sets them apart from one another will help you decide which variety is best for your project. This guide to porcelain tile vs ceramic tile will provide the insight that you need.

Common Characteristics of Porcelain and Ceramic

Before diving into what makes porcelain tile different from ceramic tile, it makes sense to go through a quick overview of what these two materials have in common.

Both tile types are considered ceramics. That tells you two things:

  •  They are made of clay.
  • They are fired at high temperatures.

You could think of porcelain as a specific type of ceramic tile. In other words, all porcelain is ceramic, but not all ceramic is porcelain.

Really, though, when it comes to tile, porcelain and ceramic are generally regarded as two different materials. To understand what classifies some tiles as porcelain and others as ceramic, let's dig into learning more about each type.

What Is Porcelain Tile?

Kaolin clay is used as the starting material for porcelain tiles. This clay has a very fine texture.

The clay tiles are fired at a minimum of 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit. Sometimes, the temperature is as high as 2,500 degrees.

This manufacturing process renders porcelain tiles heavy and dense. Even unglazed, they're excellent at resisting moisture. In fact, to qualify as porcelain, a tile must have an absorption rate of 0.5% or less.

Porcelain Pros

Because of its ability to keep out water, porcelain can be used in damp areas like kitchens and bathrooms.

Porcelain's strength and density help protect it from cracks and other damage. You can use it in areas that are subject to shifts in temperature, such as near the kitchen stove and, sometimes, even outdoors.

Porcelain tiles are frequently glazed, and the glaze can take on a wide variety of colors and patterns. Some porcelain tiles are even made to resemble wood planks or natural stones, such as marble or travertine.

Another color feature of porcelain is that it's considered a through-bodied or full-bodied material. The porcelain is the same color throughout the tile. That means that chips are easier to hide.

You may choose porcelain for:

  • Color and pattern variety
  • Strength and durability
  • Ability to withstand moisture
  • Variety of shades and patterns
  • Through-bodied color

Porcelain Cons

Considering the above list of pros, using porcelain for your renovation product might seem like a surefire choice. Even still, in comparison to ceramic, there are some drawbacks to porcelain tile. They include:

  • Higher starting price point
  • More difficult to cut and not as suitable for DIY installation
  • Harder underfoot

What Is Ceramic Tile?

Ceramic, too, is made of clay, but it's a rougher blend. It may contain some kaolin clay, but not as much as porcelain has.

Ceramic tiles aren't fired in as hot of a kiln. The temperature is usually well under 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

These tiles can be glazed or unglazed. Bare ceramic tile absorbs more moisture than porcelain tile does, but glaze can increase its ability to resist water penetration.

Ceramic Pros

Because of the differences in manufacturing processes, ceramic doesn't end up quite as durable or water-resistant as porcelain, but that doesn't mean that there's not a place for it in renovation projects.

One major asset is that you can install ceramic tile on a lower budget. Although there are certainly expensive tiles on the market, the starting price is generally lower than it is for porcelain.

Plus, glaze adds a great deal to ceramic tile. It not only guards against moisture, but it can also transform tiles from plain clay shades to nearly any color of the rainbow.

You may choose ceramic tiles for:

  • Use on walls or floors, particularly in dry areas
  • Softer feel underfoot
  • Interesting colors
  • Affordable starting prices
  • Easier cutting and DIY installation

Ceramic Cons

Even though there's a lot you can do with ceramic tiles, you're simply not going to get as much strength, durability and water-resistance as you will with porcelain. Plus, ceramic tiles don't have through-bodied color, so when one chips, you'll easily spot the tile's original shade.

Reasons to think twice before installing porcelain may include:

  • More prone to damage and not sturdy enough for countertop use
  • Easily noticeable chips
  • Higher level of water absorbency, especially in unglazed varieties
  • Not suitable for outdoor use or other places subject to significant temperature shifts

Your Porcelain Tile vs Ceramic Tile Decision

For a recap of the similarities and differences between porcelain and ceramic tiles, watch this quick video:

Of course, you don't have to settle the porcelain tile vs ceramic tile debate entirely on your own. If the many different options in the tile aisle at your local home improvement store are still making your head spin, you need the expertise of a professional tile company.

Our Artsaics design team can help you weigh the pros and cons of various materials and choose the tile layout that's best for you. Reach out today to schedule your consultation.

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.