When looking at the latest introductions of tile lines, it is apparent that technology is the driving force behind many innovative products – making for exciting fresh designs. In particular, it cannot be denied that formats are significantly expanding. Bigger tile sizes are all the rage, and it does not appear that their popularity will cease any time soon. Moreover, tile manufacturers are not the only ones to develop new products around this fast-moving trend, as it is important to consider the installation of these large formats as well. As a result, manufacturers of installation products are also creating new products that allow for quality installations.

“Larger sizes better display the richness of the stunning graphics now obtainable with ink jet processes,” said Marianne Cox, Director of Brand Marketing for Marazzi USA | Ragno USA. “We’re currently seeing integration of different types of material such as wood, concrete and stone -- all incorporated into a single graphic. Unleashing creative designers with color, textures and materials assures this concept will only grow and be refined on multiple levels. Additionally, the larger formats make rooms appear more expansive, since fewer grout joints are involved.”

When it comes to the latest developments in large-format tiles, Cox and Marazzi’s product development team cite the wood aesthetic. “Wood looks continue to be strong -- showing both authentic and stylized versions; plank looks predominate. Cotto that has taken on the feel of concrete is emerging as a trend.”

And when it comes to installation of large-format tile, Cox explains that special measures need to be taken. “Large-format tile certainly requires a level of expertise not associated with their smaller counterparts,” she said. “Specialized setting materials and equipment are necessary for proper installation. We recommend the use of a CTI certified installer who has past experience with these large modules.”

Linsey Waldrep, Vice President of Marketing at Crossville Inc. in Crossville, TN, also sees large-format tile lines as a hot trend. “The increase of tile sizes is happening because of a few reasons – manufacturing technology that allows us to press larger sizes, the market’s evolution from acceptance to preference for ‘big’ and the creation of setting materials that make large tiles more simple to work with for installers,” she explained “Large field tiles are here to stay. The market is accustomed to – and fond of -- the looks these tiles offer. We’re already seeing more inventive patterns and modularity that help grow the tile category as a whole.”

Larger sizes better display the richness of the stunning graphics now obtainable with ink jet processes  ”

--  Marianne Cox, Director of Brand Marketing for Marazzi USA | Ragno USA

Waldrep went on to say that Crossville is now creating modular sizes from large-format field tiles. “The larger sizes allow us to make plank sizes that are versatile and expand the custom pattern possibilities of our product lines,” she said.

Noah Chittey, Technical Director at Crossville, stresses that quality setting materials are essential for successful installation of large-format field tiles. “As these big options have become more popular, setting material manufacturers have stepped up to offer non-slip, non-slump mortars that address specific installation requirements,” he explained. “Also, it’s essential to prepare substrates to achieve level or flat surfaces to best accommodate large tiles. With proper setting materials and substrate prep, installers can achieve even floors and wall tile installations more easily. Better experiences for installers equate to wider use of large field tiles in the market.”

Among setting material manufacturers who have developed installation products specifically to be used for large-format tiles is Custom Building Products of Seal Beach, CA. “We recognize the trend toward larger tile and the growing demands of large-format tile installations,” said Steve Taylor, Director of Architecture and Technical Marketing for Custom Building Products. “To answer the needs of installers, as well as the needs of a variety of application types, we recently introduced a new line of large-format tile mortars. This includes our line of medium-bed mortars designed for large-format tile and stone installation. Because easy-to-use and spread mortars are important to installers today, it was important to engineer a product to meet the needs of both large- and small-scale jobs – no matter who is doing the installation.

“Several things factor into our new family of mortars,” Taylor went on to say. “First, these are medium-bed mortars that allow thicker mortar applications to compensate for irregularities in the subfloor with no slump performance. Custom’s Complete Contact is engineered specifically for floors – delivering greater coverage to the tile without the need to back butter large and unwieldy tiles. Achieving complete coverage is critical to eliminating hollow spots or incomplete bonding that could lead to cracks and bond failures.”

When developing new product lines, such as the one for large-format tile, Custom Building Products starts by talking with tile contractors to understand the challenges they face on jobsites every day. “From there, we go to our lab, where our scientists and chemists begin the process of developing new technologies that answer the fundamental needs of our customers,” said Taylor. “After laboratory product development and product field testing, we refine our formulas to meet the installers’ needs. Finally, we work with our great distribution partners to bring the product to market.”

Taylor believes that it is important for installers to realize that mortar coverage is a key to a successful installation of large-format tile. “A medium-bed mortar is highly recommended when installing large-format tile in order to compensate for irregularities in the tile and substrate,” he said. “An easy-to-spread, medium-bed, large-format mortar is necessary in order to provide non-slip and non-slump support. Also, installers should keep timing in mind. For jobs that require speed, such as in high-traffic areas like shopping centers or office lobbies, a rapid setting formula is necessary to quickly lock file into place.”

Agreeing with Waldrep and Chittey, Taylor sees the future of large-format tiles continuing to grow. “The consistent trend that we’ve seen over the years is that tile continues to get larger,” he said. “What’s changed more recently, though, is the growing trend of plank and wood-look tiles. This presents a whole new set of challenges for installers who work with these types of tiles. Using a higher quality large-format mortar developed specifically for these tiles -- along with sub floor preparation and crack prevention membranes or mats -- is critical for a complete and successful installation system.”