Porcelain or ceramic? Red body or white?
The differences explained

At first glance, the only important thing about a tile is how it looks. Scratch under the surface, however, and you might be surprised to find just how much difference there can be between two similar looking tiles. From the first fired-clay bricks of ancient Mesopotamia to the ultra-thin 3mm architectural grade porcelain from Spain and Italy, there is a long history of technological advancement in the industry. But why does that matter to you? Well, there are some important considerations to make when selecting the right tile for your project. We’ve listed a few below:

  • Will your tiles be used indoors or outdoors?
  • Are they going on the wall, floor or both?
  • If they’re going to be laid on the floor, how much foot traffic do you expect?
  • What’s the load bearing capacity of the surface you plan on tiling?

Read on to discover what each material offers as a solution to these problems.

Red body

White body

Porcelain

Like wine, roses, and pasta sauce, ceramic tiles come in two options.

Ceramic tiles are made from two basic ingredients – clay and water – mixed with a few extra minerals to ensure a uniform appearance. The difference is colour comes down to which clay (a mix of sand, gypsum and shale) is used in the production process. Thanks to digital printing techniques, all tiles can be glazed in any combination of colours. Red and white refers only to what’s referred to as the “body”, “biscuit” or “bisque” of the tile – the bit underneath the glaze.

A red body ceramic tile being cut

A red body ceramic tile being cut

 

Red

Red body tiles are generally (although not always) :

  • Less expensive than white body or porcelain. This is due to the ease of production and relative price of raw materials.
  • Easier to cut than porcelain. This can be helpful if you plan to do the tiling work yourself.
  • Often more hard-wearing than white body, less so than porcelain. Some red body tiles are suitable for floors as well as walls – this is never the case for white body, which is only suitable for walls.
  • Lighter than porcelain, heavier than white body. The load-bearing capacity of your wall substrate has a weight limit, measured in kg/m2 and outlined in BS 5385-1:2018. For a more in-depth explanation, see our article on weight limits for tiles.
  • More porous than porcelain. Although all types of glazed tile can be used indoors, the freeze-thaw effect means all types of ceramic tiles are unsuitable for outdoor use unless specifically treated.

 

Common use cases for red body tiles

  • You are only tiling indoor walls, or floors with low foot traffic (check the individual tile page to confirm your tile is suitable for floors)
  • You’re on a budget and you want to do the work yourself
  • Your walls have a low load-bearing capacity

Some of our favourite pasta rojas (the Spanish term for red body tiles)

White

White body tiles lie somewhere between red body and porcelain. The lack of colour in the body allows lighter glazes to really pop, but the (relative) lack of hardness means they’re only ever suitable as wall coverings. Key points include:

  • Better colour definition than red body, especially with lighter glazes.
  • More expensive than red body tiles. This is due to the higher quality materials used in production.
  • Sharper edges than red body tiles. Due to the finer grain of the clay used, white body tiles are more often rectified. See our article on rectified tiles for a more information.
  • Lighter than porcelain or red body. The load-bearing capacity of your wall substrate has a weight limit, measured in kg/m2 and outlined in BS 5385-1:2018. For a more in-depth explanation, see our article on weight limits for tiles.

 

The back of a white body ceramic tile

The back of a white body tile

Common use cases for white body tiles

  • You are only tiling indoor walls
  • You want sharper grout lines
  • Your walls have a very low load-bearing capacity

Some of our favourite pasta blancas (the Spanish term for white body tiles)

Porcelain is a special form of ceramic, made from different clays and fired at a higher temperature.

A tile is classed as porcelain when it demonstrates a water absorption rate of less than 0.5% of its weight (red and white body ceramics normally land somewhere between 1 – 3%). This means they are impervious to the freeze-thaw effect, and can be used outside without cracking. The main material used is a type of clay known an kaolinite, which is fired in a kiln at temperatures generally exceeding 1200oC

 

A kaolinite quarry

A kaolinite quarry

There are many subcategories of porcelain which are explored further in our article Understanding Porcelain Tiles. However, all porcelain share some general characteristics.

The corner of a rectified, glazed porcelain tile

The corner of a rectified, glazed porcelain tile

 

Some of these key characteristics are

  • The least porous of any type of tile. To be classified as porcelain, water absorption must be less than 0.5% of its weight. This makes is better suited to areas that will be wet often, such as showers.
  • Harder wearing. Porcelain is a better choice for areas which have high foot traffic
  • More expensive although the initial outlay is often offset by the increased lifespan
  • Heavier . The load-bearing capacity of your wall substrate has a weight limit, measured in kg/m2 and outlined in BS 5385-1:2018. For a more in-depth explanation, see our article on weight limits for tiles.

Common use cases for porcelain tiles

  • You are tiling a floor with high foot traffic
  • You are tiling an area that’s likely to get wet often and/or be subjected to below-freezing temperatures

Some of our favourite porcelain tiles