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Timber v Wood Effect Tiles - Wood you Spot the Difference?

Aged Wood Effect Floor Tiles in Beautiful Artist's Studio


In our comprehensive series of articles on wood effect tiles, we’ve compared their advantages and disadvantage to natural timber floors and laminates. Thus far, by almost every measure, the ceramic and porcelain tiles have won out. But they aren’t the real thing, and we’ll now take a look at how well the factory produced wares stack up against nature’s own creations - from the perspective of physical appearance.


Style and Appearance:

Many years ago, the efforts of the tiling industry to replicate wooden planks were, frankly, laughable. The technology simply did not exist to manufacture wood effect tiles that gave real wood a run for its money. Not so any more. In recent times, with advances in modern production techniques, there’s now virtually nothing that cannot be replicated to the finest detail. Equipment available today affords designers and manufacturers enormous scope and flexibility in what they can achieve.


A plank of wood has colour, and a pattern which is often the result of its texture. These three defining characteristics help us differentiate between a smooth white maple, a dark aged walnut, and everything in between.


Today, with high definition inkjet printing having replaced the old, ubiquitous screen printing, and ever more dedication to the quality of molds being used, it is now almost impossible to tell the difference between a plank of natural milled timber, and its ceramic tile replica.


Distressed Grey Wood Effect Floor Tiles with Table and Chairs in Modern Home

But it’s not just that technology has caught up with nature - it has also opened up a plethora of new styles that were not within the reach of most peoples’ pockets, or not considered commercially viable by wood retailers.


Consider expensive luxurious walnut. Or reclaimed planks. Or any distressed look. Or a worn paint appearance, in any colour. Or a floor made from disused crates. Tile manufacturers can now take the woodgrain of oak, and produce it in a darker or lighter shade. Or imbue tiles with a dye stained appearance. They can skip unsightly knots and problematic cracks, and do not replicate them.


Tile manufacturers can match nearly all wood flooring planks for width and length. Check out the 120 cm Atelier wood effect tiles below as an example.


Atelier Taupe Wood Effect Tiles in Modern Living Room with Couches and Glass Coffee Table


What is now being offered is not just a simple selection of timbers from which you may choose the best fit for your home, but an improbably large selection of colours, sizes, and designs which can be used as the first building block when creating your living area.


These and many more designs are replicated with precision, and readily available at affordable prices. So from the perspective of style, wood effect tiles offer everything that their natural counterparts do, and a lot more besides.


Joints and Grout:

An issue worth touching upon is that of the joints between individual planks, or individual tiles. There can be a slight difference in appearance, and here we explain why.


When installing natural wooden floors, there is typically a visible joint of up to 1 mm in width between each plank. This allows for expansion caused by heat and ambient moisture absorption. It also allows the building to breathe. The same is true when laying tiles, but invariably the joint will be slightly larger. There are a couple of reasons for this:

  • The manufacturing process of tiles is such that there is often tiny discrepancies in size between one tile in a box and the next. In a nutshell, powdered clay is blown into a mold, pressed to shape, and sent to the kiln. The temperatures are in in excess of 1,000 degrees Celsius.
  • Combined with the natural moisture content in the clay, which can obviously vary, this means that not every tile will be precisely the same size. A tolerance of 1 mm over 1 metre in length (or 1/1000) is deemed perfectly acceptable. Try and make a batch of buns all exactly identical, and you get the idea.
  • When it comes to laying the tiles as close together as possible, this means that the tiler must allow for the occasional larger tile to fit into place. The only way to do this is to make the joint wider to accommodate them. This is why perhaps a 2mm or even 3mm joint has to be allowed for in the scheme.


The grout is wet when spread into the joints. When it dries, if the space is too narrow, there may not be a large enough mass there to hold itself together. The grout will crack, disintegrate, and eventually come up out of the joint. It's usually recommended that an absolute minimum of 1.5mm is left between tiles, but the grout manufacturers themselves will usually recommend more.


Wood Effect Tiles in Hip Apartment with Large White Couch


So in terms of matching natural hardwood floors for continuity of surface, our porcelain and ceramic wood effect tiles come within a couple of millimetres per joint. This is the only signal, and if you were on the lookout, that would lead you to spot the difference between genuine timber flooring, and a tiled floor.


To Wrap Up:

Our aim with this blog series is to give you as much information as possible to assist you with your flooring selection. Hopefully you’ve a clearer idea of which type of wood or wood effect flooring is best suited for your home. 


Note that all the images above are of wood effect tiles. You can find our great selection of wood effect tiles here.

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