How have advances in printing technology led to the growth in popularity of porcelain tile? Clare Thomas of Indigenous explains.


Natural-effect porcelain tiles have changed dramatically over the past few years – and in a very good way. Remember the old ‘faux’ effects, with that distinctly plastic appearance and lots of pattern repeats? Thankfully, advances in digital print technology have transformed this surface sector; nowadays, it can be difficult for the untrained eye to notice the difference between an effect and an authentic material. There’s also lots more choice, with concrete, cement and metal effects joining the better-known woods, stones and marbles. However, the arrival of more realistic finishes isn’t the only reason that these tiles have become so popular.

Versatility is playing a big part. Wood effects are a good example and they’ve now firmly established themselves in wet environments, from domestic bathrooms to spas, where real wood can be unstable and problematic. Options span from planks to individual parquet-type pieces, which can be used to create patterned geometric, herringbone and chevron designs. New textured finishes are also reinforcing the natural effect and providing good grip too, so previous concerns about porcelain safety are no longer an issue. This, in turn, has fuelled interest in outdoor application, as well as seamless installations from indoors to outdoors.

Other practical features, like stain resistance, are also making a difference. This has seen the popularity of marble-effects soar. Natural marbles are notoriously sensitive to acids, which can cause issues in bathrooms and kitchens. As well as the obvious food culprits, cosmetics and cleaning products often have a high acid content, so etching is a common problem. Most marble effects, on the other hand, can safely be used across all surfaces without any risk of staining.

Urban-style concrete and cement effect porcelains are an emerging trend and here speed and ease of installation play

a big part. Raw concrete and cement can be very tricky to install or ‘pour’ into place, so a porcelain tile finish offers a very convenient alternative. Tiles are generally lighter and easier to handle, so the installation process is more straight- forward. Metal effects are also joining the mix, in finishes including copper, gunmetal, platinum and brass – and the industrial/chic mix is stunning.

In terms of maintenance, porcelain is very easy to look after but a few points should be borne in mind. Polished tiles will sometimes need to be sealed after installation, especially if a factory-finish hasn’t been applied. The polishing process can open up micro-pores in the surface, which can make the tile more vulnerable to staining. Check with the tile manufacturer to see if a compatible product should be used or which treatment they recommend. Also, a grout protector should be used to protect joints in all cases. Unlike porcelain, grout is very porous and will quickly become stained.

Going forward, gentle pH-neutral cleaners are the best option for every day cleaning of porcelain effects, as they won’t damage any sealant or grout protector applied. Additionally, keep an eye on heavily textured tiles too, as dirt can accumulate in the high-low surfaces. Left unchecked, this could create a slip issue. Alkaline-based products can be useful in removing build-up, as they will break-down organic dirt, but always seek recommendations from the tile manufacturer.

As the quality of porcelain effects improve, and their features become more recognised, they’re being specified in countless new ways. For many, they’ll never replace the real McCoy, but, as they evolve, they’re presenting new opportunities and are fast becoming a surface sector in their own right. TILES | 25

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