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June 28, 2016

Crossville experts talk two tile movements taking the product to places it’s never been before.

Tile has evolved over the years from very small scales (4 in. x 4 in. and 2 in. x 2 in.) that covered the walls and floors of bathrooms and the occasional kitchen, to a design solution for multiple areas of the built environment. But achieving that has been a hurdle that we are just now starting to overcome. In the U.S. we remain one of the great consumers of tile, however, compared to other countries we are still very far behind on a per capita basis.

R&D is always looking to blaze a new trail. Customers are requesting new looks and colors, often seeking to step out of the grey and beige world that has been predominant for so long. But, grey and beige in many shades continue to reign supreme, and there is still a demand for creating new looks in the warm comfortable tones that clad many of our tiled spaces.

One way of achieving them is through digital inkjet printing. Pioneered nearly 15 years ago, it is now considered the greatest breakthrough in tile decoration.

This process has evolved to use ceramic inks that can be digitally printed and fired, and in the last few years the technology has been so refined as to achieve looks and textures never before thought of as a possibility. This technology offers many benefits to both the production process and the end user. This includes decreased time for product setup, not contacting the tile (which results in less breakage), better repeatability from run to run, and increased randomization make this new technology invaluable. From the customer’s standpoint, these new images/patterns are now applied to the tile surface in very high resolution. This high resolution non-contact type of printing also allows complete coverage edge to edge, even on very rugged or textured tile surfaces. Tile has been the most durable surfacing product available for centuries and now with state of the art digital inkjet printing, the new design and aesthetic offerings are more realistic and diversified in ways never imagined.   

The second big innovation pushing the tile industry forward at a rapid pace is large scale porcelain tiles. In the U.S. market these products are still in their infancy, really making progress in the last 3-5 years. Measuring as wide as 3-5 ft., lengths of 10+ ft., and as thin as 3 mm (1/8 inch) they provide all of the physical properties of porcelain, but in formats that can compete for the space formerly held by paneling, plastic wall protection, solid surface type materials, and even wallpaper.  

Innovative manufacturing techniques inject strength, despite the tile’s thinner profile. By eliminating the mold during the pressing phase, they can have very high bending strengths and retain very little of the internal stresses common in traditional manufacturing techniques. The additional benefit of pressing without a mold and in very large formats, is that it creates efficiencies in the production process that make this technology very attractive to manufacturers. Some products—especially in the thinnest formats—additionally incorporate a fiberglass mesh bonded to the back that can greatly increase the impact resistance. More tile and fewer grout joints is allowing the design professional to see tile in a whole new light.  

Make sure you have clear answers on where these tiles can be used and how they can be installed, i.e. floors or walls, and interior and exterior. Also, hire an installer that has worked with the material and received some type of training on the tools, techniques, and proper handling.The synergy between these two technologies is bringing porcelain tile products to market that are changing the face of what the world thinks of when you say the word “porcelain tile.” As inkjet printing continues to innovate, and as the production process produces increasingly larger formats and variable thicknesses (already 3 mm -30 mm or 1/8 in. to approx. 1 in.), what is yet to come is unknown, but from our perspective it is very exciting.  

Stay tuned!

The Technical Services Group at Crossville is a four person team responsible for overseeing all technical literature—such as product brochures, catalogues and installation guidelines—training, answering of technical questions from the field, and claim resolution, just to name a few roles. Noah Chitty serves as director and Tim Bolby as executive director. You can reach them at their email addresses below or at (931) 484-2110.

Noah Chitty: [email protected]

Tim Bolby:  [email protected]

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