The unstoppable evolution of thin porcelain tiles

By Ray Smith, Managing Director, Porcel-Thin

Over the past five years, more and more architects have embraced the aesthetic and technical benefits of today’s ultra-thin porcelain tiles.  The core reason for thin porcelain’s growing appeal lies in the material composition and manufacturing techniques.  While standard tiles are made using wet clay, porcelain tiles are formed from the dry dust of high quality porcelain clays. The result is a finer-grained tile which is harder and smoother.  While ceramic tiles are baked to reduce their high water content, porcelain tiles are fired at a much higher temperature, producing a finished tile with lower water absorption.  This makes them tougher, longer lasting and far more frost-resistant than ceramic alternatives.

Porcelain clays are also far denser, have a higher feldspar content and contain fewer impurities than ordinary clay, giving porcelain tiles their great strength and superior wear characteristics.
Consequently, the porcelain tiles distributed by Porcel-Thin typically have much higher PEI ratings than ceramic alternatives – typically around PEI 3 to 5 – making them ideal for heavy residential and commercial traffic.  Hard-wearing, strong and with a high resistance to water absorption, porcelain tiles are also far superior for outdoor use, in all weathers.

 

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Porcel-Thin’s business ethos is that only one surface material is superior to a porcelain tile and that is a thin porcelain tile.  By working closely with some of the most technically competent manufacturers around the world, particularly in China, Porcel-Thin has moved porcelain floor and wall tiles forward by applying innovative design and next generation manufacturing techniques.
Typically a mere 4.8mm thick, Porcel-Thin’s porcelain tiles are less than half the thickness of standard 11 to 13mm porcelain tiles.  This results in amazingly lightweight tiles that still offer all the aesthetic and technical benefits of thicker porcelain alternatives.

As a company, we were perhaps the first to fully appreciate that thin porcelain tiles were the future; and to demonstrate our belief and commitment, today we sell thin porcelain tiles and nothing else.  This single-minded focus has enables Porcel-Thin to become acknowledged experts in this exciting material and, just as importantly, in the correct and most site-efficient, laying procedures.

By offering an extensive range of exquisite porcelain tiles, exemplary customer service and a real dedication to state-of-the-art testing, Porcel-Thin has been able to establish a peerless reputation for thin porcelain contract tile supply.  While Porcel-Thin’s lightweight, ultra-thin porcelain tiles clearly offer a range of practical benefits and attractive style choices to specifiers, architects and interior designers; I believe that it is our range of added-value specialist services that makes us the go-to people for tile contract supply.

From single, luxury homes, right through to large scale international projects, Porcel-Thin’s dedicated contract supply department provides timely, professional support that customers can rely on. With experience in both domestic and commercial developments, including current projects in London, Dubai and Las Vegas, our specialist team are well versed in all aspects of tile contract supply.

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Site-savvy installation expertise
If anything is holding back thin porcelain tiles in the UK, it is the following two factors.  The first is a lack of knowledge among a small minority of potential specifiers.  This is quite easily rectified.  The second, and a more serious obstacle, is the lack installation knowledge and advice that makes some tiling contractors reluctant to work with this material.  We constantly see instances where a contractor tries to steer a client in a different direction because they are unsure of the appropriate installation procedures or their own technical competence.

This is a great pity; and completely unnecessary.  Today’s high performance tiling adhesives offer problem-free fixing of thin porcelain tiles on virtually any flat, stable, substrate – wall or floor – and are fast and simple to use on site.

Despite this, we experience steady demand for our training workshops, where we disseminate information on the many benefits of thin porcelain tiles, but also about the correct way to test and install them.

For instance, Porcel-Thin provides independent PTV tile slip resistance and Light Reflectance Value (LRV) testing for specifiers, interior designers and architects.

PTV testing to determine the exact slip resistance of any type of porcelain, ceramic or stone tiles enables the company to offer advice and products best suited to any environment and usage.
LRV testing allows Porcel-Thin to accurately ascertain the exact colour of any porcelain tile or surface covering; thereby making it much easier for interior designers to attain consistent results when matching or contrasting tones.

The company also has a lot to offer when it comes to selecting the ideal tile for specific applications. From antibacterial tiles ideal for medical institutions, through to ultra-large format digitally printed stone or wood reproductions, Porcel-Thin’s lightweight yet incredibly strong tiles aim to set a worldwide benchmark for quality and design.

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Material options
With an ultra-low water absorption rate of just 0.05, Porcel-Thin’s porcelain wall and floor tiles offer excellent resistance to moisture and dirt.  Independent testing has confirmed that they are nearly twice as strong as conventional, full-thickness equivalents.

Our partner manufacturers have also managed to pull off the seemingly impossible by making Porcel-Thin porcelain tiles not only lighter and stronger but larger.  The tiles in the Mona Lisa and Mono collections measure 1,200mm by 600mm or 1,800 by 900mm; and yet are light enough to be easily handled by one person.

This mega-format provides faster installation, and also limits the number of required grout joints, resulting in an attractive surface finish that is virtually seamless.

An added benefit of these ultra-thin materials is that Porcel-Thin tiles can be easily applied directly over existing tiling.  This makes them ideal for refurbishment or re-modelling projects; cutting down on the time and money spent on removing old finishes and making good afterwards.   These lightweight tiles also impose less overall loading in building construction: and this will be an increasingly important factor going forward.

With thin porcelain there are also huge benefits in on-site handling, lower production and transportation costs: all factors that play well in an era where sustainable construction is so high on the agenda.

Book-matched brilliance
Porcel-Thin’s Calacatta marble-effect porcelain tile range is the perfect blend of practicality with classical elegance.  A sophisticated reproduction of white marble with strong black veins, the book match collection can create up to seven striking and eye-catching mirrored patterns; all of which are easily achieved to cover an area 4.8 metres in width by 3 metres in height.
Using ultra-realistic digital printing, these Calacatta marble effect tiles recreate the opulence of natural stone, without the drawbacks of cutting and installing heavy, fragile natural marble.  In addition, the mirroring effect of book match thin porcelain tiles enables the creation of stunning fractal designs, highly suitable for the creation of large feature walls in both domestic settings and commercial spaces.

The hardwearing nature of Porcel-Thin’s book matched marble-effect tiles also lends itself to uses for which natural marble would be unsuitable, such as the construction of feature floors in the entrance halls of large luxury houses or commercial reception areas.

Porcel-Thin is extending it’s range of book matched marble-effect tiles through 2017 to ensure that there is an attractive, hardwearing and scratch-resistant mirror pattern available for use wherever high quality and elegant designs are valued.

As the use of wet and dry underfloor heating grows specifiers are finding that thin porcelain tiles are the perfect partner for UFH.  While ordinary ceramic tiles, natural stone and even wooden floors can be installed above UFH systems, large thin porcelain floor tiles make the most of an UFH system because the ultra-thin format allows the underfloor heating to heat up faster and work more efficiently.  This, in turn, makes it more appealing to the end-user.

With a thickness of between 4.8mm and 5.5mm, our large porcelain floor tiles are significantly thinner than traditional porcelain tiles (typically 10 to 13mm thick), and thus require around a third less energy to reach and maintain their required temperature.  Consequently, our ultra thin porcelain tiles also heat up faster than standard tiled or wood floors, ensuring that the underfloor heating much more responsive,” says Smith.

Despite their slim profile Porcel-Thin’s large porcelain floor tiles are incredibly strong and hardwearing, due to their being pressed rather than extruded.  This rugged, highly resistant, construction also means that Porcel-Thin’s tiles do not require any additional strengthening, such a fibreglass mesh.  This is a real but often overlooked benefit of Porcel-Thin tiles.  Some alternative thin facing materials make use of strengthening materials can actually cause lesser thin tiles to fail.  This is because, when it heats up, the mesh matting expands at a different rate to the surface material, causing internal stresses in this laminated material.  Being fully heterogeneous, Porcel-Thin’s large porcelain floor tiles do not experience this problem.

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Insider’s guide to cutting and installation
It is fair to say that the installation advice provided by the Porcel-Thin team is sometimes at odds with the accepted wisdom of the UK tiling fraternity.  I think this is down to the fact that we are dedicated to this material and have amassed more experience on site and are thus in advance of the mainstream when its comes to specifying and successfully installing thin porcelain tiles.  We also have a long working relationship with many of the UK’s finest tiling contractors and can draw on a plethora of successfully completed contracts to prove that our innovative and carefully considered installation techniques really work.

Porcelain tiles are generally harder and more durable than ceramic products.  Some people believe that this makes them harder to cut and shape, but this is not the case with Porcel-Thin.  Although it is, indeed, an incredibly strong, solid porcelain tile, with the correct tiling tools and knowledge Porcel-Thin tiles can be easily cut, drilled and shaped for a perfect finish every time.  
To prove the point Specifier’s Guide readers can visit our website – www.porcel-thin.com – and watch a simple video in which I demonstrate how easy it is to cut, drill and shape Porcel-Thin large format ultra-thin tiles using a variety of tools and techniques.

For cutting straight edges, or even curves, the most effective solution is a professional glass cutter with an integral oil reservoir.  Offering fast, smooth cutting, the life of the tungsten carbide wheel is greatly extended by the lubricating oil which is dispensed via a pressure release system. These oil-filled glass cutter, originally designed for 6 to 12mm thick glass, make light work of Porcel-Thin’s 4.8mm thick porcelain tiles, producing sharp, clean cuts time after time.  All that is required is a straight-edged guide.

Using this type of glass cutter on a suitable work bench allows even the largest tiles to be scored and snapped in one fluid, continuous, movement: something that is very hard to achieve with conventional tile cutters.

I also know, following extensive testing, that a standard width notched floor trowel, with adhesive mixed at the stiffer end of its mixing envelope, simply will not provide the degree of adhesive coverage required to achieve failure-free installation.  My preferred method is to mix the adhesives at the upper limits of its wetness range, creating a easily deformable mix.  When this adhesive is spread with mastic trowel with a serrated edge it provides a high count of thinner adhesive beads.  The thin porcelain tile, back-buttered with a 1mm skim, can then be slid into position, achieving extremely high coverage rates.  The adhesive coverage is far superior to than delivered by the alternative method of vertically placing the tile and using downward pressure to spread the adhesive beads.

To prove the enhanced coverage achieved with the ‘slim bead and slide’ method, I advocates that fixers use a simple glass sheet as a ‘trial’ tile.  This allows the specifier and installer to clearly see the enhanced coverage that this method achieved by the ‘skim and slide’ method.

I am a form advocate of training and information dissemination.  Porcel-Thin is happy to provide fully researched and tested guidance advice, free of charge, to any architect, interior designer or specifier on installation techniques, adhesive selection or other related areas such as selecting suitable backerboards, installing tiles over UFH systems, and selecting and installing movement joints; as well as practical advice on edge protection, adhesive and grout formulations, and tiling trims.  My ultimate aim is to ensure that the manifold benefits of thin porcelain tiles are not compromised by poor site practice and ill-conceived installation techniques.

Cutting-edge new designs
The classic splendour of Statuario marble is flawlessly reproduced by Porcel-Thin in the new Statuario Onyx marble-effect wall and floor tiles.  Utilising cutting-edge digital printing techniques, this new stone-effect tile forms part of the popular 3D Shadow tile collection.  Statuario Onyx marble-effect tiles replicate the much-prized white Italian stone, shot through with elegant veins; the colour of which, in natural marble, can vary from grey to gold.  In this aspect the Statuario marble-effect floor and wall tiles are similar in appearance to the classic Carrara and Calacatta marble tiles already in Porcel-Thin’s Ferrara Collection; enabling easy matching while maintaining the subtle individuality of each collection.

Available in the extra-large 1,800 by 900mm format, or in a smaller 900 by 900mm option, the new Statuario Onyx marble effect tiles a striking new addition to the portfolio.

Porcel-Thin’s Paris collection is the epitome of modern style.  Chic and sophisticated, it comes in an impressive range of thirty-six different designs: from classic plain colours like pure white, warm cream, bold aquamarine and elegant grey, through to contemporary patterns and even abstract nature prints.

The Aquamarine large porcelain tiles make an elegant and practical substitute for coloured glass in kitchens and bathrooms.  An excellent choice for a hardwearing splashback, they featured in one of the bathrooms created by Porcel-Thin for the 2015 Sleep hotel design event.

The Paris range has already found favour with high end designers and luxury developers.  Interior design and project management consultancy, Nicola Scannell Design recently made use of Porcel-Thin’s porcelain bathroom tiles in a luxury south-London home refurbishment and extension, using a mixture of the Vintage Floss and Tree pattern porcelain tiles to create a cool, modern look.

The company’s standard 1,200 by 600mm thin porcelain tiles are robust enough for both indoor and outdoor applications, allowing for a wide variety of design options. Even at only 4.8mm thick the matt or polished porcelain tiles will resist water from a power shower or steamy bathroom.

Another popular option in Porcel-Thin’s range are highly realistic wood-effect porcelain tiles.  These offer all the warmth and elegance of timber yet still retain the convenience of a hardwearing, easy to maintain, modern surface.

Offering the textured feel of natural wood, but without the drawbacks which prevent timber products being used in areas such as bathrooms and wetrooms, Porcel-Thin now has two premium porcelain wood-effect wall and floor tile ranges: Pattaya and Mono Lisa.

Pattaya draws it’s inspiration from the elegant wood grain patterns of South East Asia.  It is available in five tones, from Rice White to Ebony, with three natural colour shades. The Mono Lisa range, available in a 1,800 by 900mm format, provide a choice of two ash-effect ash tiles in light or dark tones, together with a Wood Wave tile with a deep colour reminiscent of dark mahogany or rosewood.

Wood-effect tiles can be used in all areas of the home including challenging locations such as bathrooms, steam rooms, wet rooms, swimming pools or exterior areas.  Due to their high strength and durable nature, wood-effect porcelain tiles can also be used in high traffic areas, such as entrances or hallways.  Together with their innate weather resistance this allows for designs which flow from the exterior of a building into the inside: design styles which ‘bring the outside, inside’ are very much in vogue at the moment.

New antibacterial tiles
In 2016 Porcel-Thin launched a new range of porcelain, antibacterial tiles that take advantage of the properties of Zinc Oxide (ZnO); a compound that is well known for its ability to kill and control a wide variety of harmful bacteria. The zinc oxide nanoparticles used in the new antibacterial tiles are highly stable, have a long shelf life and, most importantly, contain high levels of antimicrobial agents.  These properties create an ultra-thin porcelain tile that is ideally suited for long term use in any environment where cleanliness and hygiene are major considerations.

One of the biggest problems with traditional bacterial control ceramic and porcelain tiles is that once the glaze, which houses the antibacterial properties, is damaged (through ageing, wear and tear, etc) the effectiveness of the tile is compromised.   Once this first and only line of defence is breached, the exposed inner make-up of these tiles can allow bacteria to form.

Porcel-Thin’s new concept of imbuing the whole of their bacteria control porcelain tiles with antibacterial properties solves this problem at a stroke.  With the entire porcelain tile containing antibacterial zinc oxide nanoparticles the new Porcel-Thin product retains its bacterial fighting properties, even if the surface is penetrated.

These new antibacterial  tiles have undergone independent testing by the UK Health & Safety laboratory and were found to be extremely effective in killing both MRSA and MSSA.  Their tests recorded that a bacterial kill rate of 98% and 96% respectively was seen over a 24 hour period.

These antibacterial tiles are ideal for use in a wide range of applications. Perfectly suited for medical institutions, such as hospitals, doctors’ surgeries, dentists, clinics or even veterinary surgeries, their long lasting, durable bacteria control can also be highly desirable in places where hygiene is an important consideration, such as food and beverage production units or research laboratories. Moving beyond such specialist environments, antibacterial tiles can also be of great value in gyms, health clubs, swimming pools or businesses such as tattoo parlours, beauty clinics and therapy rooms.

As stated earlier, I believe that only one surface material is superior to a porcelain tile … and that is a thin porcelain tile.  I want every specifier in the UK to be in a position to explore the aesthetic, technical and practical advantages of the incredible material.  We find that once specifiers have worked with the latest generation of thin porcelain tiles they never look back.  Thin porcelain is surface finish of the future.

Porcel-Thin
Unit 17
Rotherhithe Business Estate
214 Rotherhithe New Road
London  SE16 3EH
T: 020 7394 9468
E: info@porcel-thin.com
W: www.porcel-thin.com