Glass tile made easy: Shattering the complexities of installation

by Pierre Hébert

All photos courtesy Adobe Stock
All photos courtesy Adobe Stock

Originally inspired by Roman mosaics and stained glass art, contemporary designers continue to transform today’s walls and floors with glass tile creations. An explosion of glass tile technology over the past decade has also produced variations in style and texture. No matter the glass tile’s size, shape, thickness, surface finish, or backing, tile-setting mortar manufacturers have a solution for every installation.

Glass tiles are frost proof as well as resistant to heat, fading, and discolouration. Easy to clean and impervious to water and stains, glass tile is suitable for interior backsplashes, showers, swimming pools, fountains, and other outdoor decorative applications.

As the market for glass wall tiles flourishes, the popularity of glass tile floors also grows. Similar to laminate flooring, glass floor panels can be manufactured in any size, and can be produced in any colour or remain transparent.

Large-format glass tile rated for floors are usually textured to provide skid resistance and help hide scratches.

Variety is the spice of glass

Variations in shape, size, thickness, surface finish, and texture are all factors affecting the look and feel of a glass tile installation. These differences should be considered before the proper setting and grouting materials are selected.

Shape

While square is the most commonly manufactured glass tile shape, other geometric options include rectangles and polygons. Geometric shapes are typically used as border tile or decorative inserts while irregular, handmade pieces are more commonly used in mosaics or as decorative inserts. Rectangular pieces give the impression of width or height, while rarer-shaped octagons offer a unique appeal.

Size and thickness

Glass tiles and mosaics come in various different textures.
Glass tiles and mosaics come in various different textures.

Glass tile can be custom ordered in any shape and size. Small glass tiles measure 25 x 25 mm (1 x 1 in.), 50 x 50 mm (2 x 2 in.), or 25 x 50 mm. While small tiles can be purchased individually, they are more commonly mounted in 305-mm (12-in.) squares with a mat backing or removable paper overlay.

Larger glass tiles measure anywhere from 102-mm (4-in.) squares, extra-large at 610-mm (24-in.) squares, and more. The standard thickness for glass tiles ranges from to 4.5 to 8 mm (3/16 to 5/16 in.), with thicker options offering the most intense colour. The use of glass tile any thinner than 4.5 mm is rare due to higher vulnerability of breakage during shipping and handling.

Surface finish

Glass tile finish can be glossy or etched. Since glossy finishes appear more luminescent, they tend to reveal manufacturing flaws, cracks, and scratches. While this makes them unsuitable for floors and countertops, glossy finishes are ideal for showers and pools. Etched finishes appear opaque, offer less brightness and subtler depth of colour, and are used in residential and commercial applications.

Texture

Whether the tile is flat, rippled, low, random, or relief, each texture creates its own visual interest. Flat and rippled textures offer reflective, pool-like qualities, flat-texture tiles have a smooth finish, and rippled textures ‘ripple.’ Low-texture tiles have small dimples of consistent depth across the surface. Random texture tiles feature irregular ruts and peaks, giving the tile a mottled appearance. Relief tiles are moulded into various shapes for use as borders and decorative inserts.

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