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Cheap Tiles vs. Expensive Tiles

various types, colors, and shapes of tiles

Frequently, the question arises, “What influences the disparity in the cost of various tiles?” Is it that a pricier tile provides better durability, or is the price fluctuation dependent on other factors?

The reality is that numerous variables dictate the price of manufactured tile products. Durability, aesthetic appeal, manufacturing costs, and availability predominantly drive the fluctuation in prices. In this article, we will delve into the factors determining the price you pay per square foot for your tiles.

Table of Contents


Physical resilience and longevity are key features that contribute to the pricing structure of tiles. This refers to their inherent hardness, ability to resist scratches, and performance under pressure or harsh conditions. These properties are linked with the tile’s endurance factor and often justify a higher cost.

Resistance to Scratches, PEI Rating, Mohs Hardness Rating

Ceramic wall tiles bring forth a cornucopia of vibrant colors; however, they don’t qualify as strong enough for floors or countertops. The quantity of abrasions gauges a tile’s PEI rating its glaze can withstand before wearing off. The most robust tile glazes (commercial-grade porcelains) get a rating of 5. In contrast, the most fragile tile glazes (suitable merely for wall applications) receive a rating of 1.

Tiles boasting superior PEI ratings are apt for a broader array of installations; hence they are usually pricier. Nevertheless, there are anomalies: decorative tiles (like artisan handcrafted glazed ceramic wall tiles) are typically pricier than most floor tiles, even though they are far less resistant to scratches.

Mohs hardness comparison chart

In recent years, most tile manufacturers have shifted to the Mohs hardness scale—a more comprehensive scratch test scale—to signify scratch resistance. However, PEI ratings persist in older lines. A tile with a PEI rating of 5 is roughly equivalent to Mohs 7-9, whereas a tile with a PEI rating of 1 aligns more with Mohs 4-6. As expected, a higher MOHS rating typically commands a higher price.

A tile could be less costly if its clay body is brittle or not tinted to match its glaze. Through-body and color-body porcelains tend to be pricier than glazed porcelains since the clay is colored to harmonize with the surface glaze.

Example 1: A robust porcelain tile, ideal for use in commercial spaces like shopping malls and airports. The clay body is dyed grey and peppered with darker grey speckles to match the color and texture of the surface glaze. Any chips will be less noticeable. Its price point surpasses the average.

Example 2: A ceramic tile rated for floors. The tile was fired at a lower temperature without any additives, allowing it to retain its natural red color. It is more brittle and susceptible to chipping, with chips being more noticeable. This tile is reasonably inexpensive.

Porosity, Absorption, and Freeze/Thaw Resilience

Tiles' Thaw Resilience

Denser, more robust tiles often command higher prices due to the expensive and time-consuming process of firing them at extremely high temperatures. When a new tile is formed, it’s submerged in water for a specific duration. Upon removal, it’s weighed to determine the volume of water absorbed. A porcelain tile absorbs less than 0.5% of its body weight in water.

The less dense the clay body of a tile, the higher its porosity and, consequently, the greater its moisture absorption. Low-density tiles are suitable for walls and low-traffic floors but not for high-traffic areas.

More robust tiles are adaptable to numerous applications. A denser tile will endure better in an outside space where water can infiltrate the tile’s pores during winter, freeze, expand, and cause the tile to crack. If you drop a weighty cast iron pan on a high-density porcelain tile, it’s less likely to crack than a weaker ceramic tile.

Visual Effect

Being part of the interior design industry, a tile’s aesthetic appeal and the technology behind it significantly impact its price.


Nearly every tile has a variation rating (ranging from V1 to V4), indicating the extent of variation from one tile to another.

V1 – Uniformity, every tile appears identical

V2 – Minor or subtle variation, tiles are reasonably consistent

V3 – Significant variation, either in color or pattern

V4 – Extreme variation, akin to many porcelain tiles designed to mimic slate


While consistency (a V1 rating) is desirable for solid color tiles, tiles that emulate stone or wood are more appealing with higher/natural-looking variations. As more natural-looking variations necessitate advanced technology, these tiles generally have a steeper price tag.

Design Repetition 

Patterned glazed tiles tend to display repeat patterns. A tile line where each tile bears the exact print is relatively inexpensive (as they are cheaper to manufacture). In contrast, a tile without a repeating pattern will be costlier.

Print Quality and High Definition Porcelain

The quality of the glaze impacts the tile’s appearance. The patterns are primarily created with inkjet technology. If the print quality is poor, the design may appear fuzzy or spotty (analogous to a pixelated, low-resolution image). High-quality print results in clean lines, sharp details, and a more natural, convincing look for the tile.

Superior print quality enhances the image and, subsequently, the price.

Polished Tiles and Luxury Looks

Certain tiles are pricier due to their more sophisticated, elegant, or expensive appeal. Compare a fetching hand-glazed ceramic tile priced at $20/sqft with an industrial kitchen floor tile priced at $4/sqft. Though the floor tile is more durable and less expensive, it needs more attractiveness and sophistication.

Polished porcelain tiles usually command a higher price than their unpolished counterparts. The polishing process adds to the cost, as does the fact that polished tiles often look more elegant.

Manufacturing Costs 

The overall cost involved in creating tiles termed the manufacturing outlay, impacts their final price. This includes everything from the raw materials to the firing process and the use of advanced technology and stringent quality standards during production.

Firing Temperature

Porcelain and ceramic tiles, made from clay materials, are fired at high temperatures. Achieving these high temperatures (which create denser, more durable products) is challenging and therefore contributes to higher costs.

Some tile lines feature both a porcelain floor tile and a ceramic wall tile. Wall tiles are generally cheaper than floor tiles due to the lower heat required to produce them.

firing tiles


Some companies invest more in research and technology for their products. They’ve developed less brittle clay blends that facilitate installation, inkjets that print more realistic and natural-looking patterns, more durable and freeze/thaw-resistant tiles, and more appealing and versatile materials.

These technological advancements in tile production result in superior products, but such products usually come with a higher price tag.

inkjets printing
Inkjets printing

Production Quality

Some tiles are manufactured with higher production standards, including:

  • Better color consistency across batches
  • Fewer broken pieces and superior shipping and packaging quality
  • More size consistency from tile to tile
  • Fewer flawed tiles

Higher standards typically equal higher prices, analogous to comparing a Chevrolet with a Audi.

Origin and Logistics 

The place of manufacture and the logistics involved in transporting it from there to your home significantly impact the tile’s cost.

Consider tiles made in China, Italy, and America. Each country’s shipping costs and production standards differ significantly and contribute to the price of the tiles. Additionally, tariffs and import taxes can increase the final price of tiles manufactured abroad. For instance, Italian tiles, known for their quality and craftsmanship, are generally more expensive due to the higher cost of manufacturing and shipping.

Leading ceramic tile manufacturing countries worldwide in 2021
Leading ceramic tile manufacturing countries worldwide in 2021

Environmental Regulations

Manufacturers in countries with stringent environmental standards (such as the United States or Western European nations) often face higher production costs, as they must comply with rigorous emission norms and other environment-friendly practices. These costs, of course, get passed on to the end consumer, thus inflating the price of the tiles.

Volume of Production

Manufacturers who produce tiles on a larger scale can distribute their costs across a larger number of units, thereby lowering the price per unit. On the other hand, artisan tile manufacturers who create unique, handcrafted tiles produce fewer units and have a higher cost per unit.

Market Demand and Availability

Finally, the price of a tile is influenced by its demand in the market. A tile pattern that is currently trendy might cost more because of the high demand. In contrast, if a tile is rare or difficult to source, it may cost more due to its limited availability.


While durability is a significant determinant of tile price, other factors such as aesthetics, production costs, location of manufacture, environmental regulations, production volume, and market demand also play crucial roles in determining how much you pay for your tiles. Whether you are looking for a budget-friendly option or a luxurious, handcrafted piece, understanding these factors can help you make a more informed decision.

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