There can be a lot of new terms that come up when purchasing or planning to install tile in your home. So we’ve compiled a quick list of some of the most commonly used and asked about along with their definitions to help you on your way. Let’s get started:

Back Buttering

This refers to evenly spreading adhesive on the back of tile with a trowel before setting. Doing so provides a stronger bond with the setting bed and is a must for sheet mounted tiles like mosaics and tiles that have an uneven back.

Backer Board

A setting surface for tile that is made from cement and sand. It is commonly used on backsplashes, floors, and counters and has fiberglass mesh on both sides.


The wall space above the counter top, sink, or stove area. This space needs to be protected from heat and water damage and that is why tile is the preferred material used.


Bull Nose Trim Tiles

These are trim tiles that have a single smooth and rounded edge. You’ll most likely see them on counter tops and corners.

Butt Joint

A joint formed by tiles that are abutting each other without using spacers.


A flexible and waterproof sealant that is used to seal areas where tile meets another material such as with expansion joints. They are also commonly used to seal the areas around plumbing and faucets.

Ceramic Tile

The most widely used and available type of tile around the world, ceramic tile is made from clay which has been fired at high temperatures and often glazed.


Coefficient of Friction

A measurement of slip resistance for tile. The higher the rating is, the more resistant the tile is to slips. The lower the rating the less grip it has and more slippery it is.

Decorative Tile

Sometimes referred to as art tiles, these are handmade or hand finished and come in an endless array of patterns, motifs and images. Many homeowners use them as accents for larger installations but they are just as home on a backsplash as well.



A white salt deposit found on the surface of tile grout and mortar, caused by the evaporation of salt-bearing water used during the installation process such as when mixing the grout.

Expansion Joint

A type of joint that uses flexible caulk instead of grout. This allows for movement preventing cracking of the tile which is very important in areas where tile meets another material such as a wall.

Field Tile

The tile that is used in the main “field,” or area of the project in contrast to accent tiles.

Floor Tile

Tile which is designed to be durable enough for use on the floor. Normally it is thicker and heavier than wall tile however floor tile can be used on the wall too.


A protective and decorative coating that is fired onto the tile in a kiln.


A cement-based powder that is mixed with water and used to fill in the joints between tiles. Tile grout may also contain sand and this type is ideal for larger joints.


These are decorative border tiles often with a raised design. They are particularly sought after when made from natural stone.

Marble Tiles

Natural stone tiles cut from marble that are known for their elegant looks, unique veining, and natural patterns.


A type of glue used to adhere tile to surfaces. It is best for smaller tiles and those used on the wall, not the floor.

Metal Tile

Often used on walls and backsplashes, metal tiles are made from stainless steel, aluminum, copper, brass, and iron.


Mirror Tiles

Glass tiles that have a reflective surface just like that of a mirror and which are used on the wall.

Mosaic Tiles

Tile that is two inches square in size or smaller and normally attached to a mesh backing. Mosaic tiles usually can be used on the wall or floor and some homeowners use them to create pictures or patterns.

Natural Stone Tile

Tile made from genuine stone which ordinarily means marble, granite, slate, limestone, travertine, or sandstone.



A term used to describe tile that is fired at a low temperature for a short period of time and that is highly porous and water absorbent.

PEI Rating

The Porcelain Enamel Institute’s rating of how durable a tile is. Using it can help you to determine where and how a tile can be installed. The scale starts at one and ends with five being the toughest materials.

Penny Tile

Circular shaped tiles that are similar in size to a penny, often also called penny rounds.


Porcelain Tile

Similar to ceramic tile however it is fired at higher temperatures and for a longer period of time. It also is more durable and absorbs less water which makes it not only a great choice for walls and floors but many times outdoor as well.

Rubber Tiles

A group of floor tiles made from recycled rubber or foam that are known for their forgiving and soft surface. There are options specifically made for small children, patios, garages, and playgrounds.

Rubbing Stone

A stone used for smoothing the sharp edges of tiles particularly after they have been cut.


A barrier applied to vitreous and semi-vitreous tiles that protects against water and staining.



A term used to describe tile that has been fired at about the same temperature as non-vitreous tile however for a longer period of time, to produce a material that has a medium amount of absorption.

Snap Tile Cutter

A device used to cut small amounts of tile by first scoring and then snapping them.


The base for a finished floor, typically made from plywood and attached to the floor joists.

Subway Tile

Rectangular shaped tile that originally was used in the underground subway train system.


Tile Nippers

A plier-like tool with carbide tipped jaws that is used to bite small chunks out of tile.

Tile Spacers

These are small pieces of plastic that are inserted in-between tiles during the installation process to make sure the spacing is even.

Trim Tiles

Tile used to finish off the main area of the installation, also sometimes called border tiles.


A hand tool used for applying thinset to wall or floor surfaces.


A term used to describe tile that is fired at very high temperatures for a long period of time and therefore only absorbs a very small percentage of water. For this reason they are often used as outdoor tiles.

Wall Tiles

Tiles made specifically for use on the wall. They are lighter and thinner than those used on the floor and therefore should only be used on the wall.


Waterproofing Membrane

A waterproof covering that comes in sheets or can be brushed on, which protects the sub-floor from water damage.

Wet Tile Saw

A power tool used to cut ceramic, porcelain, glass, and natural stone tile. These use water to keep the friction and dust to a minimum.

With this quick list of tile terms you’ll be able understand the basics without having to do any research of your own. However, many of these topics are covered in more depth on our site if you’d like to learn more.

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