Large scale production of porcelain tile is undertaken in many countries, with the major producers being China, Italy, Spain and Turkey. There are also countries undertaking now in competitive production, such as Australia and strong growth in Brazil.
Porcelain is a tile that is generally made by the dust pressed method from porcelain clays which result in a tile that is dense, impervious, fine grained and smooth, with a sharply formed face. The wet clay, usually quarried, is extruded into shape before firing or baking at very high temperatures, resulting in an attractive and very hard surface.
Porcelain tiles come in both glazed and full bodied or vitrified and have a finish of satin, gloss and even semi polished or lappato. The main difference is a glazed porcelain tile has a porcelain base, or “biscuit”, and then usually a printed pattern or finish on the top. Full bodied or vitrified porcelain has the one base or biscuit material that runs all the way to the surface of the tiles. Glazed porcelain is more often than not used in internal applications, whereas full bodied porcelain is more commonly used externally. The advantage of full bodied over glazed is that should you chip the tiles’ surface, you don’t tend to see the chip as much. Some glazed porcelain tiles, for instance, may have a very light coloured biscuit with a dark surface layer, or vice versa, which will stand out more when chipped. Always try to choose a tile where the surface and the biscuit are at least the same colour tone to minimise the difference if chipped.
Porcelain tiles usually have a much lower water absorption rate (less than 0.5%) than non-porcelain tiles, making them frost resistant or frost-proof and suitable for internal and external use. Glazed porcelain tiles are much harder and more wear and damage resistant than non-porcelain ceramic tiles, making them suitable for any application from light traffic to the heaviest residential and light commercial traffic. There is glazed porcelain and there is full bodied porcelain too. Providing the top glaze colour is of similar colour tone to the base or biscuit and you do chip it badly, it tends not to stand out that much – so always pick a tile of similar tone and you’ll have years of worry-free tiling.
Full body porcelain tiles carry the colour through the entire thickness of the tile, meaning chips are less noticeable, virtually impervious to wear and are suitable for any application from residential to the highest traffic commercial or industrial applications. With massive advances in modern high resolution digital printing, manufacturers now have so many more choices of finishes available too. They can take high resolution images of any material and replicate this on to tiles. Things like natural stone in granite, limestone, sandstone and travertine and even Carrara marble can be replicated so authentically that you would be hard pressed to pick the difference from the tile and the natural stone piece they’re copying! There is even a polished concrete look which will give you that industrial look in your kitchen and living areas without the polishing dust and fumes of continual resin sealing.