Tile Talk: 5 Most Popular Shapes and How to Use Them

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By Kate Reggev
We bring you the long and short (and round) of the typical shapes that tiles come in.

If you’ve stepped foot in a home renovation store, you’re probably familiar with the walls filled with tile samples of every size, color, and texture imaginable (and even some that you don’t think you could have ever imagined). 

Rather than feeling overwhelmed by all of the options, it helps to break the tile types down into some basic categories based on materiality, size, color, and shape. Even though there are countless tile manufacturers and many have created their own "standard" sizes and shapes—including some very unique ones—it is possible to give a general overview of what shapes you’re most likely to see. Here, we’ve collected five of these most common tile shapes, whether ceramic, glass, stone, or another material, to help you narrow down your choices.

Penny Tile

The penny tile, or circle tile, is a common shape that is growing in popularity. Originally popular in the early 20th century in black and white patterns, the penny tile is now available in a wide range of colors, materials, and finishes.

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Penny tile is both economical and easy to install, and is a good choice for curved walls because of the small individual tiles that are usually installed on a sheet. Because of their small size and curved edges, they require a little bit more mortar than other tile shapes, and this means that they’re slip-resistant and graphic at the same time.

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Mosaic Tile

Mosaic tile has its roots in the ancient world and continues to be used in a wide variety of locations in the home. Mosaic tiles are usually small square tiles about 2" square or smaller, going down to about 1/2" by 1/2", and are produced in a range of colors and materials. 

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Because of their small size, mosaic tiles are very versatile and can be used to create a range of patterns including borders and murals. When used as a border, the tile can help define zones or areas of a room, and it can create focal points when creating a mural. Smaller tiles like mosaics are great at creating texture because of the prominence of grout lines, but these too can be colored to blend in or be as bold as desired.

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Square Tile

Square tiles are the most common tile shape, and come in many standard sizes including 2", 3", 4", 6", 8", 12", 16", 18", and 24" square. If you’re looking for tiles for your floor, chances are you’ll be looking at tiles that are 6" or larger.

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Square tiles have the advantage of being easy to work with because they have no orientation, and it’s easy to calculate how much tile you’ll need, and it’s a breeze to mix and match with other tiles of different colors or even shapes (like a skinny, rectangular tile next to a square tile). 

Generally, tiling experts suggest using larger tiles, like square or plank tiles, in smaller spaces for fewer grout lines to break up the space. Of course, there are caveats to this, so use your best judgement—if your hallway is only 3’ wide, you might find that 18" square tiles actually feel out of proportion with the space, or they might feel just right.

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Subway Tile

Ah, the classic subway tile. Originally en vogue in the early 20th century when they were used to line the walls of New York City subway stations, subway tiles have become a mainstay of the tile industry because of their simplicity, versatility, and elegant proportions. As a subset of rectangular tiles, which come in a range of dimensions, subway tiles most typically come in widths of 1", 2", 3" and 4", with lengths of 4", 6", 8", and 12". 

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Subway tiles are most frequently used as wall applications including kitchen and bathroom backsplashes, but they also function well when used on the floors. Different patterns can be created by stacking the tiles for consistent grout lines and a more contemporary look, alternating grout lines for a classic look, or herringbone patterns for an elevated appearance.

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Plank Tile

Finally, plank tiles are yet another common variation on basic rectangular tiles that are becoming more and more popular as new tile-printing technology develops. These improvements have allowed ceramic tiles to be printed with patterns that so closely resemble wood or stone that it’s hard to tell the difference. 

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Plank tiles are distinct from subway tiles because of their longer proportions, typically in widths of 4", 6", 7", 8" or 9" and lengths of 12", 24", 36", and 48" to more closely resemble wood planks. However, because real wood is actually longer than these dimensions and also varies in length, it can be hard to fool a discerning eye, and so plank tiles are frequently laid out in herringbone or other patterns that work best with these shorter lengths. Ultimately, it’s recommended to use plank tiles in medium to large spaces because of the active patterns and visual interest they create. 

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