AMA - "Ceramic vs. Porcelain?" Expert Breakdown
Updated: Feb 24
We've spent a lot of time and effort this year expanding our online communication tools for homeowners and design/construction professionals alike. To the surprise of no one based on the year we've shared... they're getting used a lot! From the dedicated chat on the website to messengers on every social network, there's a lot of ways for you to get in touch with us quickly and easily to have your questions answered.
And we love it when you reach out with questions and feedback so keep 'em coming!
There are quite a few questions we get on the regular and we thought it might be useful to have an AMA section for some key topics so we can create a permanent reference as well as keep updating them with new or relevant information as questions emerge or standards change.
For the first instalment, we thought it would be good to tackle the "ceramic vs. porcelain" conundrum. This is one area that gets a lot of questions and has a lot of confusion due to marketing jargon and rapid innovations. Let's clear some of that up shall we?
Q1: What's the difference between porcelain and ceramic?
There is a misconception that ceramic and porcelain are different animals. "Ceramic" is the over-arching term like "dogs" and "Porcelain" refers to a classification or breed of the species like "Labrador Retriever".
Porcelain by definition is a "ceramic tile that has a water absorption of 0.5% or less, when tested in accordance to ASTM C373". Due to a number of manufacturers making product that did not achieve this standard yet used the porcelain name, a certification body called the Porcelain Tile Certification agency (PTCA) was created.
To make things even simpler - All of the product recommended for floors that we stock for sale in our Burnaby tile showroom and warehouse are certified porcelain.
Q2: Is porcelain "better" than ceramic?
CT-Team: We've already dealt with the false assumption that porcelain is something "other" than a type of ceramic. So, is it better?
It's simply a ceramic tile made for specific specification situations. The high density (low porosity) of porcelain tile makes it ideal for situations with heavy exposure to moisture and temperature fluctuations. Basically any time the tile assembly is going to be saturated for long periods (shower bases, pools & fountains), exposed to aggressive vapour (steam showers & refrigeration units) and/or broad and rapid swings of temperature (exteriors). There are plenty of situations where higher porosity ceramics are preferable - especially when vibrant colors and brilliant surface finishes are desired. The higher the porosity of tile, the lower the firing temperature is which means a broader array of oxide pigments and delicate silicates are viable. Utilizing the entire array of ceramic bodies allows for budget optimization and limitless design potential.
Q3: What does the term white-body mean?
CT-Team: There are actually quite a few different body-types for tile and they often indicate what porosity range the body falls into. To make things simple, we will deal with them from the highest porosity to the lowest with some general rules of thumb:
White-Body Ceramic: Generally 10-20% porosity and suitable for walls only. The clays used for these tiles are lighter in color (usually closer to flesh-tones). Almost always fully glazed and useful for interior wall applications. All of the wall tile currently stocked at Centanni Tile are white-body ceramics.
Red-Body Ceramic: Made from regional clays with high iron-oxide content, typically Spanish and can be anywhere from 3-15% porosity. Often at a very competitive cost due to locally available resources in close proximity to production facilities. Always fully glazed, including a fully opaque engobe (or primer coat) of glaze that seals off the body and provides a light background for pigment application.
Gres or Stoneware: Often a greyish color, these ceramic bodies are denser and generally 3-0.6% porosity. Ideal for residential flooring applications and other mostly dry, medium traffic locales. Much of this category has dwindled as manufacturers transitioned to porcelain production lines and procurement chains. We don't currently have anything in this category in our collection.
Glazed Porcelain: If you see this in the description, it means that the body for all colorways is the same (generally greyish) color. The glaze layer incorporates all of the pigmenting and decoration. These tiles are always fully glazed.
Colour-Body Porcelain: The body color of the tile matches the median tone of the graphics. This is done with mineral pigments or body-stains prior to pressing the tile. Contrary to popular belief, it's not so you "won't see a chip if someone drops a pot". The reason for coloured bodies is to achieve deeper and more nuanced colors in the surface as well as provide a broader array of installation techniques like mitres and bullnosing. Often semi-glazed, using the body color as an integral part of the decoration. These tiles are generally treated with an invisible protective glaze to seal off the surface porosity and ease in cleaning.
Technical or Through-body Porcelain: The Thor of tile. Made for airports, shopping malls and subway platforms. These tiles do not incorporate a glaze-layer and the decorations permeate the entire body of the product. Decoration techniques and available colours are much more limited for this category with colors tending to be less saturated or bright than those possible when glazes are used. Much more difficult to clean and can be stained but the only ceramic tile that will pass deep-abrasion resistance as required for heavy, demanding traffic situations.
If you're starting a project and want to learn more about selecting appropriate tile to optimize your budget and liveability, consider checking our our Specification & Selection deep dives.
Hope that helps clear up a few things. If there's any other topics that you appreciate seeing us address, please reach out and ask!
- The Centanni Tile Team