Tiles are presented in a vast array of shapes, sizes, colours, and compositions. In this article, we’ll demystify the tile finish. In particular, we’ll explain the difference between a matt and gloss finish. As the choice of matt or gloss can create a completely different look in your living space, it’s important to understand the visual effect of these two finishes. But before looking at aesthetics, let’s get down to the very basics and explain the difference between a matt tile and a glossy tile.
It’s All in the Glaze
Image: Carrara Brillo Tiles
But what is the actual qualitative difference between the two finishes? In terms of quality, strength and mode of fabrication, there’s no difference between a gloss and matt tile. In each case, the tiles have been formed with the same materials and by the same processes. The tiles are then usually finished with a durable coating called a glaze. And this is what distinguishes a glossy from a matt tile – the glaze can either be a glossy finish, as with the tile above, or a matt finish as demonstrated by our Safari floor tiles, shown here.
Image: Safari Tiles
Gloss is Smooth
The smoothness of the glaze surface is what makes a tile glossy or matt. The laws of atomic physics state that it’s absolutely impossible to achieve a surface that is perfectly smooth, but even on a microscopic level, a glossy glazed surface is exceptionally flush and uniform. Without getting overly technical, the undulations and protrusions on a glossy surface are limited to a length of about 390nm, an indiscernibly minute distance.
This distance is so infinitesimal that it’s actually shorter than the wavelength of visible light. As a result, the surface appears perfectly smooth! So when light falls onto a glossy glaze it bounces off the surface in a “specular” or mirror-like fashion that is highly reflective.
Matt is Smooth – But Not Quite as Smooth as Glossy
Although a matt glazed surface can also feel extremely smooth to the touch, it’s not as smooth at the microscopic level as a glossy glaze. Indeed, the bumps or undulations on a matt glazed surface, although indiscernibly small, are longer than the wavelength of light. As a result, when light falls on a matt glaze it is scattered diffusely - or in all directions (including back into the tile) - by the microscopic bumps on the surface.
Consequently, the matt surface appears to be duller or not as shiny or reflective as the gloss surface, even though matt glazes generally reflect the same amount of light, just not in the mirror-like fashion of glossy glazes. And even though we often equate ‘gloss’ with sheen or lustre, technically speaking the gloss is the amount of incoming light that is specularly reflected rather than diffusely reflected (or absorbed) by the surface.
Should You Use a Glossy or Matt Tile?
So enough of the technicalities and back to aesthetics. Where should we use glossy or matt tiles in our homes?
Ideal Spaces for Glossy Tiles
As glossy tiles bounce light around the room in a reflective, mirror-like fashion they tend to open up small spaces and make rooms appear larger than they actually are. The microscopically smooth finish tricks the eye. Thus, glossy tiles are ideal for use in smaller rooms such as on bathroom walls, in tight kitchens, and even in box rooms.
And as the mirror-like effect allows light to bounce back and forth around the room, glossy tiles are also ideal for use in rooms with limited light as they can make the space appear considerably brighter. Just look at how the high gloss sheen of the wall tiles below brings a delightful lightness and sparkle to this bathroom.
Ideal Spaces for Matt Tiles
As matt finishes are less smooth, they give a better grip and have far better traction than gloss tiles. Thus, matt tiles are an ideal choice for flooring – particularly bathroom or wetroom floors, or in high traffic areas such as entrance hallways. Outdoor areas are particularly suited for certain matt tiles due to their superior slip resistance.
If you want to create a calming space within your home in which to unwind and relax, then matt - with its soft, muted hues - is the perfect finish. The natural look of matt embodies an authentic, soothing ambience. For similar reasons, matt tiles are the unparalleled choice for those wishing to create a home space with a traditional or rustic look. Matt cement effect or wood-effect tiles - such as our wood effect tile below - help to create that gorgeous warm, homely setting.
Image: Pecan Floor Tiles
You should now be able to make an informed decision when it comes down to the aesthetics of choosing between matt or gloss tiles. If you’re considering a small bathroom, a light-challenged kitchen, or a dark hidden box room, then gloss tiles are the best option to open up and brighten those spaces. If you want to create a chill-out area in your home, or if you’ve a large living space in which you want to generate an authentic, warm, natural feel, then a matt finish is certainly the better choice.
And now here comes the caveat! You shouldn’t just base your choice of matt or gloss on aesthetics alone. There are practical pros and cons - related to maintenance, soiling, safety, and durability - that should be taken in account when considering your choice. We will present those factors in our article on the pros and cons of matt vs glossy tiles.
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