If you haven’t been paying attention to the tile industry in the last 10 years, you don’t know what you’ve been missing. It has become one of the most dynamic sectors of the surfaces category.

“There are a lot of innovative products on the market right now,” says Eric Astrachan, executive director of the Tile Council of North America, in Anderson, S.C. “For example, there are photocatalytic products that clean the air for the consumer who really wants to know that their bathroom has anti-microbial properties. That’s a big innovation.”

But photocatalytic tile is merely one of many new innovations. In fact, there are so many new products and trends on the market that it’s hard to know where to begin.

Cersaie, the annual Italian exhibition of ceramic tile, gave us a glimpse of what’s hot these days. “On the style front, interesting cut-outs, lace, oversized flowers, skinny stripes, and mid-century modern will make their way to the tile runway,” wrote the trend report by Brooklyn, N.Y.–based Novita Communications, which represents Italian ceramic tile. “In line with the times, visitors can expect to see a bounty of organic influences ranging from rustic wood-looks to natural stone. As for green design and technological innovation, new slim formats are guaranteed to make a big impact on the [architecture and design] community.”

The use of slim tile has been growing for several years. Unlike traditional tiles, slim products are only 3 to 5 millimeters thick so they are lightweight, easier to install, and can be applied over existing substrates in remodeling and renovation situations. Some products have a fiberglass backing that makes them strong enough for flooring too.

Though slim tiles are very popular among European manufacturers, tile consultant and designer Ryan Fasan says, for his money, texture is probably the No. 1 trend right now. “For so many years the industry has been trying to create the flattest, squarest, trimmest product, and now the industry is doing everything it can to bend it, twist it, and warp it to make it interesting,” says Fasan, a project salesman for Bellavita Tile in Delta, British Columbia, Canada.

“The change in the industry has been exponential, especially in the past decade,” Fasan explains. “The way I see the ceramic tile industry working is a lot like the computer and technology industry. We’ll have a jump in technology and then a plateau as aesthetics catch up to technology and forces the next jump. That’s sort of where we’re at right now. The innovation in digital [printing] has really pushed that technology jump.”

Ink jet digital glazing technology, if you haven’t already heard, is the use of high-definition printing to produce tile that is a dead-ringer for real stone. Many in the tile industry say this technology has allowed the ceramic industry to branch off into never-before seen developments.

“Digital printing technology is very important to us because it allows us to produce a more natural product,” Dr. Vittorio Borelli, a representative of Italian tile manufacturer Fincibec Group, said at the Coverings show in March. Manufacturers, Borelli said, use up to 50 or more printing faces so they can avoid repetition in the tile and are able to apply glazes without touching the surface of the tile so “it looks more like a natural product.”

Those in the tile business will tell you that manufacturers from Spain and Italy are the trend setters and credit them with advancements in the industry. But smaller U.S.-based manufacturers, such as Heath Ceramics in Sausalito, Calif., Trikeenan in Keene, N.H., Portland Cement Co. in Portland, Ore., and Fireclay Tile in San Jose, Calif., produce some of the coolest artistic tile products around. Astrachan says, “For these companies, their designs are the most innovative, and many of them are adopting more green manufacturing processes, too.”


Concrete Works

New tile textures don’t only come in radical and extreme styles. They are also available in subtle forms. Part of the company’s custom work, the pieces of this custom Delta Hex wall create a textured wall that plays with light and shadows. The company offers custom and stock styles that are made from cement, come in various sizes, and are available in up to 38 colors. Portland Cement Co. 503-490-2226. www.portlandcement.com.

Faux Sure

Colonna looks like real marble, but it’s not. The line draws on the influence of classic marble in two ways: It mimics both the pattern and the sheen. Thanks to the advancement of digital high-definition printing technology the manufacturer is able to achieve an authentic-looking result. It comes in five colors and various sizes including 18 inches by 18 inches and 24 inches by 24 inches. TAU Ceramica. 34964 250105. www.tauceramica.com.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Anderson, IN, San Jose, CA.