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One of the differences between ceramic and porcelain tiles lies in how they are made. The manufacturing process can make porcelain harder than ceramic, and thus more durable. Porcelain tiles are harder in composition and more difficult to install than ceramic tiles. Porcelain tiles may also have full body designs, meaning their patterns go all the way through the tile, while a ceramic tile’s pattern often resides in the glazing on the surface.
While both ceramic and porcelain tiles are made from clay fired in a kiln, porcelain tiles are made out of a more refined material that is fired at a higher temperature. This process makes a tile that is hard and resistant to absorbing water. Porcelain has a water absorption rate of less than 0.05% while unglazed ceramic has an absorption rate of over 0.05%. The absorption rate is important because less water absorption means greater frost- and stain-resistance. Thus, because of its low absorption rate, porcelain is better for outdoor applications than ceramic tile.
The method of placing styles and patterns on the tile can be another difference between ceramic and porcelain tiles. The patterns on a ceramic tile are often in the glazing. These patterns are usually confined to the surface of the tile, and if the tile chips, the body color of the tile will show instead. Porcelain tiles, however, can have full body designs, and if they chip the same pattern can be seen all the way through. Some porcelain tiles are also glazed with a pattern, however, so chipping can be just as big a problem as with ceramic tiles.
Durability can also be another difference between ceramic and porcelain tiles. Porcelain tiles are harder and tend to be more durable than unglazed ceramic. When ceramic tiles are glazed, however, they can become more durable. Depending on the glaze, ceramic tiles are often used for walls, bathroom floors, and floors in the rest of a home — suitable for light to moderate traffic. Porcelain tiles can be used for virtually all applications, from low traffic to high traffic areas including industrial and commercial spaces.
The hardness of the tile can also lead to another of the differences between ceramic and porcelain tiles: how easy they are to cut. Since they are softer, ceramic tiles are much easier to cut than porcelain tiles. They also bond more easily to floors. Porcelain tiles often require specialized cutting equipment, and they do not bond well to floors. Since they are easier to install, a layperson installing tile by may opt to install a ceramic tile and leave porcelain tile installation to the professionals.