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2.05. Tiles

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The term “tiling” originally referred to the laying of tiles and then, by metonymy, to the result of this act. It then refers to a floor or wall covering made of ceramic tiles – terracotta tiles, earthenware tiles, stoneware tiles (often called porcelain stoneware) – or marble or cement tiles or vinyl tiles. These different types of tiles are laid side by side and then glued or sealed. Tiles are commonly used to finish and decorate floors and walls in homes and other buildings, both indoors and outdoors.  In construction, tiling is done by the tiler.

Tiles are usually thin, square or rectangular tiles made of durable materials such as ceramic, stone, metal, terracotta or even glass. They are usually set in a grid to cover roofs, floors, walls, edges or other objects such as table tops.  On the other hand, tiles (“carrelages” in French and “tegels” in Dutch) can sometimes refer to similar units made from lightweight materials such as perlite, wood and mineral wool, which are generally used for applications on walls and ceilings. In another sense, a tile is a building tile or similar object, such as the rectangular chips used in games. The word comes from the French “tuile”, which in turn comes from the Latin “tegula”, meaning a fired clay tile.

Tiles are often used for wall and floor coverings, and can range from simple square tiles to complexes or mosaics.   Tiles are mainly ceramic, usually glazed for interiors and unglazed for roofs, but other materials are also often used, such as glass, cork, concrete and other composite materials, as well as stone. Tile stones are usually marble, onyx, granite or slate. Thinner tiles can be used for walls than for floors, which require more durable and resistant surfaces.


Decorative tiles or tile art are to be distinguished from mosaics, whose shapes are made up of a large number of small tesserae (small pieces of marble, stone, glass paste or ceramic, the basic material of a wall or floor mosaic) placed irregularly, each of one colour, usually of glass or sometimes of ceramic or stone. There are different tile patterns, such as herringbone, quincunx, squares, stacks, reels, Versailles parquet, matted tiles, art tiles, diagonals and encaustics, which can vary in size, shape, thickness and colour.

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Ancient Middle East

The first evidence of glazed brick is the discovery of glazed bricks in the Elamite temple of Chogha Zanbil (Iran), dated to the 13th century BC. Glazed and coloured bricks were used for bas-reliefs in ancient Mesopotamia, including the Ishtar Gate in Babylon (c. 575 BC), which has now been partially reconstructed in Berlin, with parts elsewhere. Mesopotamian craftsmen were imported for the palaces of the Persian Empire, such as Persepolis.

The use of sun-dried bricks or adobe was the main method of construction in Mesopotamia, where river mud was abundant along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. In this case, the scarcity of stone may have prompted the development of brick-firing technology as an alternative. In order to reinforce sun-dried brick walls, fired bricks began to be used as an outer protective layer for larger buildings such as temples, palaces, city walls and gates. The manufacture of fired bricks is an advanced pottery technique. Bricks are masses of solid clay that are heated in kilns to temperatures between 950° and 1,150° C. A well-made brick is an extremely durable object. Like sun-dried bricks, they were made in wooden moulds, but special moulds had to be made for bricks with relief decoration.

Ancient Indian subcontinent

Rooms with clay tile floors decorated with circular geometric patterns have been discovered in the ancient remains of Kalibangan Balakot and Ahladino. 

Tiling was used in the 2nd century by the Sinhalese kings of ancient Sri Lanka, who laid smooth, polished stones on floors and in swimming pools. Historians believe that tile-laying techniques and tools were very advanced, as evidenced by the careful finish and tight fit of the tiles.  Tiles from this period can be seen at Ruwanwelisaya and Kuttam Poluka in Anuradhapura town.

Ancient Iran

The Achaemenid Empire decorated buildings with glazed brick tiles, including the palace of Darius the Great in Susa and the buildings of Persepolis.

Later, the Sassanid Empire used tiles with geometric patterns, flowers, plants, birds and figures, glazed up to one centimetre thick.


The oldest Islamic mosaics in Iran consist mainly of geometric decorations in mosques and mausoleums, made of glazed bricks. The typical turquoise tile became popular in the 10th and 11th centuries and was mainly used for kufic inscriptions on mosque walls.  The golden age of Persian tile art began during the Timurid Empire. In the moraq technique, single-coloured tiles were cut into small geometric pieces and assembled by pouring liquid plaster between them. After hardening, these panels were mounted on the walls of buildings. But mosaics were not limited to flat areas. Tiles were used to cover the interior and exterior of the domes of many mosques. Other important tiling techniques from this period include girih tiles (girih are decorative Islamic geometric patterns used in architectural and craft objects, consisting of angular lines that form an intertwined pattern of braces). The girih decorations are said to be inspired by second-century Roman Syrian nodal motifs), with their characteristic girih, or white bands.

The mihrabs, which formed the central room of the mosques, were usually the places where the most sophisticated tiles were placed. The 14th-century mihrab of the Imami Madrasa in Isfahan is an excellent example of the aesthetic union between Islamic calligraphy and abstract ornamentation. The broken arch, which frames the mihrab niche, bears an inscription in kufic characters, used in the 9th-century Koran.  One of Iran’s most famous architectural masterpieces is the 17th-century Shah’s Mosque in Isfahan. The dome is an excellent example of tile mosaic, and the winter prayer hall contains one of the finest sets of cuerda seca tiles in the world. A wide variety of tiles had to be made to cover the complex shapes of the hall with coherent mosaic patterns. The result was both a technological triumph and a dazzling display of abstract ornamentation.

During the Safavid period, mosaic ornaments were often replaced by a haft rang (seven-colour) technique. The images were painted on simple rectangular tiles, glazed and then fired. Apart from economic reasons, the seven-colour method gave the artists more freedom and took less time. It remained popular until the Qajar period, when the colour palette was expanded to include yellow and orange. The seven colours of Haft Rang tiles were usually black, white, ultramarine, turquoise, red, yellow and fawn.  The Persian tradition continued and spread throughout much of the Islamic world, most notably with the Iznik pottery of Turkey during the Ottoman Empire in the 16th and 17th centuries. Palaces, public buildings, mosques and mausoleums (‘türbe’ in Turkish) were heavily decorated with large, brightly coloured, mainly floral designs and surprisingly complex friezes, including floral and calligraphic motifs, as well as geometric patterns.

The Islamic buildings of Bukhara in Central Asia (16th-17th centuries) also show very refined floral decoration. In South Asia, monuments and shrines decorated with Persian kashi tiles have become a distinctive feature of shrines in Multan and Sindh. The Wazir Khan Mosque in Lahore is one of the masterpieces of Kashi art of the Mughal period. The North African Arab tradition of zellige uses small coloured tiles of different shapes to create highly complex geometric patterns. It looks half like a mosaic, but because the different shapes have to fit together exactly, it looks like a tile. The use of small fields of coloured glass also makes it similar to enamelling, but with ceramic instead of metal as the support.

Azulejos are derived from Zellige, and the name is also derived. The term is both a simple Portuguese and Spanish term for zellige, and a term for the later tiling according to tradition. Some azulejos are small-scale geometric patterns or plant motifs, others are a very picturesque monochrome blue, and still others are neither. In the Baroque period, very large scenes were painted on tiles, usually in blue and white, for the walls. Azulejos were also used in Latin American architecture.  Medieval influences between Middle Eastern and European tiles came mainly from the Iberian Islamic peninsula and the Byzantine and Ottoman empires. The zelliges of the Alhambra are said to have inspired Mc Escher’s paving. Medieval encaustic tiles were made from different colours of clay, which were moulded and fired together to form a pattern that, instead of resting on the surface, ran through the thickness of the tile and therefore did not wear out.

Medieval Europe

Medieval Europe made extensive use of painted tiles, sometimes with very complex designs, few of which have survived. Both religious and secular stories were depicted. The imaginary tiles depicting Old Testament scenes on the floor of Jan van Eyck’s Annunciation (1434) in Washington are an example. The 14th century Tring Tiles in the British Museum show childlike scenes from the life of Christ, perhaps for a wall rather than a floor, while the 13th century Chertsey Tiles, although from an abbey, show scenes of Richard the Lionheart fighting Saladin in very high quality work. Medieval lettering tiles were used to apply Christian inscriptions to church floors.

Delft earthenware wall tiles, usually painted on a single (fairly small) blue and white tile, were ubiquitous in Holland and were exported on a large scale to northern Europe from the 16th century, replacing many local industries. Several 18th-century royal palaces had porcelain rooms whose walls were entirely covered with porcelain tiles or panels. The surviving examples are Capodimonte in Naples, the Royal Palace in Madrid and the nearby Royal Palace in Aranjuez.

Far East

Several other types of traditional tiles are still produced, for example the small, brightly coloured zellige tiles of Morocco and neighbouring countries, which almost resemble mosaics. With a few exceptions, notably the Nanjing porcelain tower, decorated tiles or glazed bricks are not common in East Asian ceramics.

Modern Europe

The Victorian period saw a great revival in tile work, mainly in the context of the Gothic Revival, but also the Arts and Crafts movement. Patterned tiles, or tiles that form patterns, were now mass-produced by machines and were reliably level for floors and inexpensive to produce, particularly for churches, schools and public buildings, but also for corridors and bathrooms in homes. The more durable encaustic tile was used for many applications. Wall tiles of various styles were also revived; the rise of the bathroom was an important factor, as was a greater appreciation of the benefits of hygiene in the kitchen. William De Morgan was the leading English tile designer, strongly influenced by Islamic motifs.

Since the Victorian era, tiles have remained the standard for kitchens and bathrooms, as well as many types of public spaces.

Portugal and Säo Luis continue their tradition of azulejo tiling today, with azulejos being used to decorate buildings, boats and even rocks.

Tiles are mainly intended to protect against rain and heat and are traditionally made from locally available materials such as clay, granite, terracotta or slate. Modern materials such as concrete, glass and plastic are also used and some clay tiles have a waterproof glaze. A large number of tile shapes (or “profiles”) have been developed.

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Making mosaic tiles

Tiles are usually made of ceramic or stone, although recent technological developments have also made it possible to manufacture rubber or glass tiles for floors. Ceramic tiles can be painted and glazed. Small mosaic tiles can be laid in different patterns. Floor tiles are usually laid in a mortar consisting of sand, cement and often a latex additive. The spaces between the tiles are usually filled with sanded or unsanded grout, but mortar is traditionally used.

Natural stone tiles can be beautiful, but as a natural product they are less uniform in colour and pattern and require more planning for use and installation. Mass-produced stone tiles are uniform in width and length. Granite or marble tiles are sawn on both sides and then polished or finished to a uniform thickness on top.

Other natural stone tiles, such as slate, are usually ‘riveted’ (split) at the top, so that the thickness of the tile varies slightly from one part of the tile to another and from one tile to another. Variations in tile thickness can be controlled by adjusting the amount of mortar under each part of the tile, by using wide lines of grout that “creep” between the different thicknesses, or by using a cold chisel to eliminate high spots.

Some natural stone tiles, such as polished granite, marble and travertine, are very slippery when wet. Stone tiles with a split surface, such as slate, or with a sawn and then sanded or honed surface are more slip resistant. Ceramic tiles intended for use in wet areas can be made more slip-resistant by using very small tiles so that the grout lines act as grooves, or by pressing a perimeter pattern onto the tile.  Natural stone tiles vary in hardness, so some softer stone tiles (e.g. limestone) are not suitable for high traffic floors. 

On the other hand, ceramic tiles usually have a glazed top surface and if this is scratched or pitted, the floor will look worn, whereas the same degree of wear will not be visible or will be less visible with natural stone tiles. Natural stone tiles can be stained by spills and must be sealed and resealed periodically with a sealer, unlike ceramic tiles where only the joints must be sealed. However, due to the complex, non-repeating patterns of natural stone, small amounts of dirt are not visible on many natural stone floor tiles.

Floor tiles

The tendency of floor tiles to stain depends not only on the application and periodic reapplication of a sealer, but also on their porosity or the porosity of the stone. Slate is an example of a less porous stone, while limestone is an example of a more porous stone. Different types of granite and marble have different porosities, with the less porous types being more popular and more expensive.  Most sellers of stone tiles point out that there will be variations in colour and pattern from one batch of tiles to another of the same description and variations within the same batch. Stone floor tiles are generally heavier than ceramic tiles and slightly more susceptible to breakage in transit.

Rubber floor tiles are used in a variety of ways in both residential and commercial applications. They are particularly useful in situations where high traction or protection is required on a floor that is easily broken. Common applications include garage floors, workshops, patios, pool decks, sports fields, gymnasiums and dance floors.  Plastic floor tiles, including interlocking floor tiles that can be installed without glue or adhesive, are a recent innovation and are suitable for high traffic areas, wet areas and floors subject to movement, moisture or contamination by oil, grease or other substances that can prevent adhesion to the substrate. Common applications include floors in old factories, garages, gyms and sports facilities, schools and shops.

Mineral fibre tiles are made from a range of products; wet felt tiles can be made from perlite, mineral wool and recycled paper fibres; rock wool tiles are made by combining molten stone with binders which are then spun to make the tile; gypsum tiles are based on a soft mineral and are then finished with vinyl, paper or a decorative surface. Gypsum tiles can be used to decorate rooms with normal humidity levels. Gypsum absorbs moisture very quickly and is therefore not suitable for kitchen or bathroom decoration.

Ceiling tiles

Ceiling tiles are lightweight tiles used in buildings. They are set in an aluminium grid; they have little thermal insulation, but are generally intended to improve the acoustics of a room or to reduce the volume of air to be heated or cooled.  Ceiling tiles are very often patterned on the front side; these are usually intended to improve the acoustics of the tiles. 

Ceiling tiles also act as a barrier to the spread of smoke and fire. Breaking, moving or removing ceiling tiles can allow hot gases and smoke from a fire to rise and accumulate above detectors and sprinklers. This delays their activation, allowing fires to develop more quickly.

Ceiling tiles, especially in older Mediterranean houses, were made of clay and placed above the wooden ceiling beams, on which the roof tiles were placed. Later they were plastered or painted, but today they are usually left bare for decorative purposes.  Modern tile ceilings can be recessed (nailed or glued) or installed as suspended ceilings

Materials and processes

Wall and floor tiles used for interior and exterior decoration belong to a class of ceramic products called white ceramics. Tile production dates back to ancient times and peoples, including the Egyptians, Babylonians and Assyrians. For example, the step pyramid of Pharaoh Djoser, built in ancient Egypt around 2600 BC, was the first of its kind in the world and contained coloured glazed tiles. Later, ceramic tiles were produced in almost all major European countries and the United States. In the early 20th century, tiles were manufactured on an industrial scale with the invention of the tunnel kiln around 1910, which increased the automation of tile production. Today, tile production is highly automated.

The manufacturing process

After the raw materials have been processed, a number of steps are necessary to obtain the final product. These steps include dosing, mixing and grinding, spray drying, forming, drying, glazing and firing. Many of these steps are now carried out using automated equipment.


Ceramic materials for tiles include earthenware, stoneware and porcelain. Terracotta is a traditional material used for roof tiles.

Porcelain tile

This is an American term defined in ASTM C 242 as a ceramic mosaic tile or paving stone that is usually made by pressing dust and is composed to produce a dense, fine-grained, smooth tile with a strongly shaped surface. It is usually waterproof. The colours of these tiles are usually light and bright. 


Like mosaics or other patterned tiles, pebble tiles are tiles made up of small pebbles attached to a substrate. The tiles are usually designed in an interlocking pattern, so that the final installations of the individual tiles fit together to create a seamless look. Pebble tiles, a relatively new tile design, were originally developed in Indonesia from pebbles found in different parts of the country. Today, pebble tiles feature all types of stones and pebbles from around the world.

Digital printing

Printing techniques and digital manipulation of art and photography are used in what is called “custom tile printing”. Dye sublimation printers, inkjet printers and ceramic inks and toners can be used to print on different types of tiles for photographic quality reproductions. Digital image capture through scanners or digital cameras allows bitmap/matrix images to be prepared in photo editing software. Specialised custom tile printing techniques allow heat and pressure transfer or the use of high temperature ovens to fuse the image to the tile substrate. This has become a method of creating custom murals for kitchens, showers and commercial decoration in restaurants, hotels and corporate lobbies.  Technology recently applied to digital ceramic and porcelain printers allows images to be printed with a wider colour gamut and greater colour stability, even when fired in a 2200° F or 1204° C kiln.

Engraved diamond

The invention relates to a method of printing custom tiles using a computer-controlled diamond drill. Compared to laser engraving, diamond engraving is more permanent in almost all circumstances.  

The mathematics of tiles

Some tile shapes, mainly rectangles, can be reproduced to cover an area without space. These shapes are known as tessellations (from the Latin tessella , “tile”). The geometric patterns of some Islamic polychrome decorative pavements are very complex (Girih ), even supposedly quasi-periodic, such as the Penrose pavements.

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Text from Wikipedia:Tile
Text translated from wikipedia carrelage
Text from Ceramic-Tile
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