Tuesday, January 10, 2012

What are Encaustic Cement Tiles?

It a new year and it’s always good to start the year out on the right foot. So, today’s post is about clearing up the mystery with encaustic cement tiles. I often get calls asking if we have a specific encaustic cement tile in stock. It happened again just the other day. And, when that happens, I always have to stop and explain that there is no such thing as encaustic cement tiles. I’m sure the customer really doesn’t want to hear me describe the differences – they just want to get their tile.

Encaustic tile made in the United States
Examples of Encaustic Tile made in the US
Image courtesy of Filmore Clark

However, it’s important to understand the difference and what an encaustic tile is and what a cement tile is. The names get confused by everyone even by tile manufactures and tile vendors. Both tiles are un-glazed; but, there are very important differences. Encaustic tile is generally frost-proof and can be used in any outdoor applications. Cement tile can't be used in locations subjected to hard freezes and is more commonly found in Mediterranean or Tropical climates. Now you know why I ask what tile you are looking for and where it will be used?

Encaustic tiles are made of two or more colors of clay which are inlaid together to create the pattern. Then the tiles are fired. Encaustic tiles have been around since medieval times but encaustic tile as an art form reached its apex in the mid 1800’s when renowned maker, Minton's Ltd , became the supplier of durable decorative finishes for walls and floors in churches, public buildings, grand palaces. Even the US Capitol sports a Minton encaustic tile floor.

A Minton encaustic tile floor in an office at the United States Capitol
A Minton encaustic tile floor in an office at the United States Capitol.
Image from Wikipedia

To this day, England has the most prevalent encaustic tile installations because Minton tile is an English company.

Cement tiles are made of concrete and the color in the pattern comes from mineral pigments which are mixed and poured into a mold. The mold is removed and the gray cement is fills the rest of the tile body, then the tile is hydraulically pressed and the tile is cured for about 3 weeks. This method was developed in the mid-19th century and hasn't changed much since then. You can get a pretty good idea of how cement tiles are made by watching this video.

Alcala Cement Tile Patio mediterranean patio

To be even more accurate, cement tiles should be called concrete tiles because cement is one of the materials used to make concrete. However, I’d be thrilled if folks wouldn't call them encaustic cement tiles - because no such tile exists.

There's two other posts that help explain the Difference between Encaustic and Cement tile by Zoe Voigt on Tile Style and Cuban tile isn't encaustic, it's cement. It's not really cement either, it's concrete. by Paul Anater on Kitchen and Residential Design.

Avente Tile does not sell encaustic tile. But, a fellow pattern addict and lover of artisan tile, Lee Nicholson was kind enough to share some photos of encaustic tiles you can find in her Art Tile Showroom, Filmore Clark. The showroom offers the best in American art tile and is located West Hollywood, California.

Encaustic tile made in the United States
Examples of Encaustic Tile made in the US
Image courtesy of Filmore Clark

We hope this post has helped you understand the difference between encaustic and cement tile. It is important to make sure you know what tile you want and what will work best for your installation. I hope your new year is off to great start, too! If you have questions about cement or encaustic tiles, post a comment below and we'll find an answer.

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