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What's the Difference between Glazed Tiles and Unglazed Tiles?


2 minute read

The Meaning of Glazed:

Many people assume the word “glazed” means shiny or glossy. However, in the tile industry, the word is used to refer to the coat of enamel or liquid glass that is applied to almost all ceramic and porcelain tiles. Glaze is a substance, rather than a description.

 

Most tiles are glazed. The glaze can be a matt or glossy finish. There are many tiles that are available in both finishes - plain white tiles, for example. They'd be described as either matt white tiles or glossy white tiles, with both of them being glazed.

 

Glazed Porcelain Floor Tiles

Glazed Floor Tiles on a Stairs

What Does “Unglazed” Mean?

Tiles are made of clay which have been fired in a kiln. If glaze is to be applied, it's done before the tile enters the kiln. The glaze then fuses to the top surface of the clay body of the tile during the firing process. In the event that no glaze had been applied, the resultant tile is deemed to be “unglazed”. This is the simple difference between glazed and unglazed tiles.

 

Unglazed ceramic and porcelain tiles gain their colour from mineral deposits that were present in the clay from which the tiles were composed, or by the addition of natural pigments. These pressed pigments can be designed to form a pattern, and the patterns run right down through the tile (a “full body porcelain tile”), as opposed to just being a design on the surface of the tile. This gives unglazed tiles an earthy, natural appearance.

 

As unglazed tiles have no liquid glass protective coating, they will absorb liquid, which will lead to staining. Thus it’s necessary to apply a protective sealant to unglazed tiles, which will require re-coating from time to time. Glazed tiles, by comparison, will remain non-absorbent for a lifetime.

 

Unglazed Floor Tiles

Unglazed Floor Tiles 

Specialist, unglazed matt porcelain floor tiles are often selected for commercial spaces which expect heavy footfall, for example in hotel lobbies, airports, etc. These floor tiles are very heavy, very dense, and expensive. Since the colour and pattern run right down through the tile, very heavy use over time could wear the tiles right down, but the original colour and pattern would still be visible.

 

Unglazed tiles will invariably be matt in appearance, with one notable exception: polished porcelain tiles, which start off life as unglazed tiles. Despite their highly reflective, mirror-like surface, no glaze is present. Their high sheen is achieved through polishing with an industrial scale buffer. 

The Difference between Glazed and Unglazed Tiles:

 

 Glazed Tiles Unglazed Tiles
Production Technique A liquid glass coating is fused at very high temperatures to the top surface of the tile in a kiln. No coating.
Appearance An infinite selection of colours, finishes, textures, and styles, achieved using inkjet printing technology. A natural, earthy appearance.
Stain Resistance The non-porous glaze does not absorb liquid (similar to glass being water-proof).

Ceramic will absorb liquids and stains.

Porcelain may absorb stains.

Thickness Less dense / thick. Denser and thicker.
Slip Resistance Ordinarily less slip resistant. However, modern production techniques can produce anti-slip variants. Somewhat slip resistant by their nature.

 

So in summary, there are tiles:

  • With a glossy glaze
  • With a matt glaze
  • With no glaze, but a matt finish
  • With no glaze, but polished to a high, glossy sheen.

 

One of our tile suppliers, Gayafores of Castellon in Spain, has provided the video below. It shows their tiles receiving a glaze, and then being fired in a modern 100 metre long kiln that operates at over 1,100 degrees celsius. 

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View a great selection of beautiful glazed floor tiles, starting at just £10 per square metre.

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