Considered as some of the most demanding and intricate projects, a mosaic tile design is not just an aesthetically pleasing feature, it is a true work of bespoke art. Assembled by a variety of materials, mosaics can serve as a focal point in any commercial project, residential building or home. The careful curation of mosaics has evolved ten-fold in terms of the intricacy, materials and composition from the Renaissance to modern-day, but the allure has remained. Usually composed of an assortment of colors and materials such as stone, glass or tile to create a picture or design, mosaic tile designers deal with an infinite amount of moving pieces (literally!) when it comes to bringing their vision to life. When designers are creating a mosaic masterpiece, making sure their art will stand the test of time should be the least of their concerns. This is where the importance of choosing a quality grout and mortar enters into the equation.

Mortar, or more frequently referred to as thinset in the modern tile industry, serves as the backbone of any mosaic installation as it is relied upon to adhere the tile to a suitable substrate. Once the thinset has dried, grout is then packed in the joints and provides a uniform look between the tiles as the final step when setting tile. Thinset and grout products not only provide additional reinforcement to the durability of a tile floor, they also add to the overall performance and aesthetics of a tile install, thus providing a long-lasting, easy-to-maintain finished surface.

However, selecting a grout and mortar that will endure time, wear and environmental elements without compromising the aesthetic of a project has been a challenge confronted by mosaic designers for decades. Today, mosaic tile designers have an infinite number of different products on the market to make their selection. Thanks to the variety of options available, mosaic artists can now select grout and mortar products that fit their specific needs. But, how much of a difference does selecting the right grout and mortar really make?

Grout and Mortar Can Make or Break an Installation

The value of grout and mortar lies in the strength, durability and stability they provide to a mosaic installation. Besides functionality, grout and mortar contributes greatly to the design of a project – providing a crisp and clean appearance. These products adhere the mosaic art in place, protect the edges of the tiles installed, fill the joints and provide a durable, easy-to-clean and maintain surface. Without grout and mortar, debris and unwanted elements can get in-between the tile, resulting in an installation that will rapidly deteriorate into a noticeable disfigurement.

When mosaic designers begin the process of researching suitable grout and mortars for their projects, the type of materials and location of the installation plays a huge role in the products needed. Is the mosaic going to be composed of tile, ceramic, glass or stone? Regardless of which material is chosen, each has different requirements. Knowing whether the project is exterior or interior and whether it is a wet or dry application, especially since submerged areas require specialized mortars, is another important factor to consider when choosing a product.

The actual design of the mosaic also has a significant impact on the grouts that can be used for installation. Smooth-textured grout, more commonly known as unsanded grout, is preferred in ceramic tile and stone installations with narrow joints. Sanded grouts are the best choice for tile joints that are wider than 1/8 inch (3 mm), typically up to about 5/8 inch (16 mm). This type of grout helps to eliminate cracks from shrinkage and has a coarser texture to provide strength.

From cathedrals to personal homes, designers should consult a manufacturer about which products are the most suitable for their project prior to the installation. In addition, because customers select tile installations for their long-term lifecycle, they should be informed that today’s high-quality grouts and mortars have strong warranty programs supporting them as part of the entire tile or stone installation materials system.

Products Now More Efficient and Effective Than Ever

It is no secret that when a client approaches a mosaic artist for a custom order, they expect a long-lasting, productive relationship with each installation, paired with the highest quality products. Attention to detail, not only in the physical design, but in the products sourced, is vital when it comes to having a competitive advantage in the installer community.

Over the last five years, consumers across the world have become more committed to long-term sustainable living and prefer to identify the impact installation materials will have on the environment. In turn, the tile and flooring industry has seen a significant increase in the quantity and quality of green products in order to meet today’s regulatory and consumer standards.

With this shift, new developments of grout and mortar are commonly made from recyclable, sustainable materials and emit low VOC. Many grout and mortar products now have information which supports green construction platforms (e.g. LEED, Living Building Challenge, WELL, etc.). This information includes Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) and UL Greenguard Certifications, Health Product Declarations (HPDs), which helps users identify tile and flooring installation materials’ impact on the environment (EPD), compliance with low VOC emissions standards (UL GreenGuard Gold) and any associated hazards (HPD).

In addition to these long-term green building initiatives, manufacturers have also honed in on engineering grout and mortar products to save time and money in the workplace with solutions that provide quicker cure times, which in turn can speed up installation schedules. For example, multifunction products with two-in-one and three-in-one functions can effectively shave days, or even weeks, off schedules for mosaicists. These formulations also work overtime to offer a combination of benefits such as crack isolation, sound reduction and adhesive, and while often requiring minimum downtime for the installer or designer.

The Options are Endless

In addition to the leaps and bounds the grout and mortar categories have made in terms of long-term performance, safety and ease-of-use, some of the latest innovations seen today are the infinite amounts of features that allow for the finished product of an overall mosaic installation to succeed.

With any mosaic project, it is all in the details, which is why designers are constantly looking for ways to enhance their appearance via different grout options. Besides functionality, color is increasingly the number one deciding factor for designers when choosing the look and feel of their projects. Whether going for a subtle, low-contrast look with black on black, seeking a tonal balance with adjacent colors or trying to achieve a pop of color, grout provides the modern designer with a plethora of options.