There are many different styles, looks and color patterns available when it comes to aesthetics, although one has to be okay with visible grout lines. Perhaps making these lines more acceptable is that the price of tile is quite reasonable in most cases. Tiles for countertop use are made from three basic materials, those being ceramic, porcelain and stone. Recently, other materials have begun to be used such as concrete and recycled glass.
History of Tile
Ceramic tiles have been used for more than 4,000 years and were popularized in ancient Babylon around 575 B.C. Over the next thousand years, Roman and Arab production techniques spread to Italy and the rest of Europe. To this day, Italy is one of the largest exporters of tile worldwide. Although created for purely artistic uses such as mosaics, ceramic tile started to develop more functional uses as a flooring, wall, and countertop surface. Now, with even newer improvements, tile blends low cost, fair hygiene characteristics, and a reasonable amount of durability with its aesthetic value.
The Make Up
Ceramic and porcelain tiles are made in a similar manner, the only difference being that porcelain is made of denser, lower moisture base clays that can be manufactured in a through-body process with colors that are uniform throughout the depth of the tile. Through-body porcelain can be cut and mitered in shapes making it more usable in areas around a sink and accidental chipping will not be as visible. Other porcelains and ceramics have a base color that differs from the top glaze.
Ceramic and porcelain tiles are shaped clay that is fired at extreme temperatures in a kiln. Glazed tiles are baked twice, giving them their durability and luster. Ceramic and porcelain can be painted with individual pictures, single motif isolated designs or multi-tile patterns that can be arranged when laid down. Ceramic tiles come in the widest variety of shapes and sizes, usually 1 to 6 square inches, while porcelain tile usually ranges from 11 to 14 square inches.
Stone tile offers a budget-minded consumer the basic look of solid stone slab without the significantly higher price tag. The most common material for stone tile, by far, is granite, with marble used to a lesser extent. Marble is a softer more porous stone and is generally not ideal for use as a countertop. Of course, the trade-off in price is that with tile, there will be grout lines which are less visibly appealing and require extra maintenance and care. For the most part, stone tiles are available in 12 inch squares.
All tiles can be used for backsplashes and edging options, but formed edging tiles are often made in different batches than the surface tiles. Because of this, grain and pattern, especially in granite, can vary slightly. Sink options include tile-in, which sit below the surface of the tile, but self-rimming, top-sitting sinks are also used.
Tile Resources (PDF Documents)