For many in the tile industry, it has probably recently passed into the realm of consciousness that one of the most popular trends right now is wood- and stone-lookceramic tile. It seems that everywhere you turn, another tile manufacturer has launched a new line that replicates these natural materials — and for good reason. With the technologies that are available today in tile production, the durability and ease of maintenance of ceramic, cost effectiveness and the green factor, it is no wonder why the appeal of these tiles has grown so big.

The start of something big

“It started five years ago with the introduction of the digital printing system in Spain,” explained Paulo Pereira Jr., Porcelain Merchant at MS International, based in Orange, CA. “The digital system was initially used for wall tile development and later expanded to floor tiles.

“With the expansion of digital printing technology inside the porcelain industry, printing design details, such as stone veins and wood grains, are now applicable to uneven surfaces,” Pereira went on to say. “Nowadays, once natural stones and natural wood products are scanned into the system, digital printers can reproduce an almost exact replica of the natural product on a porcelain tile surface.”

Explaining the trend

There are many factors and reasons for the popularity of these tiles. It seems that, overall, the biggest reason for this growth is the peace of mind that using these tiles bring to a design. Stone- and wood-look tiles may be used for a plethora of reasons, including their ease of maintenance, availability over its natural counterparts, strength and the eco-friendliness of the product. Adding a natural element, such as wood or stone, to the design of an interior is a look desired by many, but some people may worry about the impact on the environment that using real wood or stone may have, or the maintenance that natural materials require.

“Wood-look ceramic tiles have been growing exponentially in our industry,” explained Rodolfo Panisi, CEO of StonePeak Ceramics in Crossville, TN. “The U.S. residential and commercial consumers always like to incorporate wood in their interior designs. Now it is possible to do this without being concerned about the maintenance.” When using stone- or wood-look ceramic tiles, consumers do not need to worry about resealing or re-staining their floors in the years to come.

“Porcelain tiles will not have the wear-and-tear that you would see in a wood floor in any high-traffic area, and you won’t have the worry about staining and sealing,” said Michael Mariutto, President of Mediterranea, which is based out of Doral, FL. “As a manufactured product, tile also delivers a consistency in production, so you can count on the same quality, design and shading in box after box of tile.”

Also, by favoring one of these replicated natural material collections, consumers are now able to choose exactly the look that they want — any rock can be “quarried” without lifting a shovel, and any type of wood can be “milled” without ever starting a chainsaw. “As a designer, you first look closely at the scenes of nature and design all around you, especially seeking out rare, hard-to-find woods that are not readily accessible,” explained Mariutto.

The popularity of these tiles is being fueled by the technical qualities of the product. “Ceramic tiles are about twice as strong as granite,” said Panisi. “This product is practically impervious, and has a higher mechanical impact and abrasion resistance.”

And people are asking for it. Ulises Liceaga of Fractal Construction LLC in New York, NY, explained the wish many of his clients have for these tiles. “Clients often prefer how durable these products are,” he said. “If you are designing a space that lasts a lifetime, you want a product that keeps its grace with age. With advancements in technology, these products are becoming increasingly more realistic, beautiful and functional.”

Considering that budget is almost always a factor in designing a project, ceramic tiles are usually a cost-effective solution. Using wood and stone can be a more expensive element to use in a design. Typically, consumers are happier when saving money, especially when the difference is barely perceivable. “Clients get a luxurious look for half the price,” said Liceaga. “Now that the industry has expanded, even more efficient, sustainable, believable products are being released. You are lowering the price without lowering the quality and beauty of a space.”

Sales and production needs

As the percentage of tile companies’ sales of wood-look tiles is rapidly increasing, production facilities are transitioning to accommodate the demands. For the look of wood, a new plank-size ceramic tile has hit the market. Most popular sizes include 6 x 24, 6 x 36 and 8 x 48 inches. “In our Tennessee factory, we specifically made many mechanical improvements to allow cutting during the production — creating 6- x 24-inch and 8- x 48-inch planks completely rectified (sized), allowing installation without, or limited, grout lines,” explained Panisi, when discussing changes that StonePeak has made to keep up with the demand.

Mediterranea has also updated its facilities to keep up with the market changes. “The implementation of inkjet technology has revolutionized the design process,” said Mariutto. “Additionally, rectification equipment has become more essential for precision cutting of wood-look tile, to better simulate the natural product.”

For all these reasons, it seems that the future for wood- and stone-look tile is strong. Companies such as StonePeak and Mediterranea are geared for the market demand and are ready to take on the future. “The ceramic tile industry is still relatively young in the U.S. compared to other industries, such as carpet and vinyl,” said Panisi. “Things that will make ceramic tiles gain market share in the flooring industry is more U.S. production, more affordable prices, increased awareness by the consumer through better information, lowering of installation costs and more push by the ‘do-it-yourself’ industry.” Mariutto also added, “Sophisticated, high-quality wood and stone looks will endure in the American marketplace, as they offer a superb look and an ease of maintenance that natural wood cannot match.”