Color Variation in Tiles - What to Know before you Buy

‘I loved the way this tile looked in pictures, but my sample looks different - they said it’s natural variation in tiles but what does that mean?’

This is just one of the scenarios you can experience if you make a tile purchase without being fully aware of what color shade variation means within tiles. It’s no secret that some tiles have variations from batch to batch, or from piece to piece, forged by special manufacturing techniques, or just due to Mother Nature. You might say ‘Oh, no. That’s not the tile that I picked!’ when the color is actually true, simply because the material has natural variation from piece to piece or swirling through larger field tiles!

Calacatta Gold Marble Kitchen Tile Backsplash with Natural Stone Veining

Color variation is what makes natural stone tiles so unique - the final installation is always one-of-a-kind with Calacatta Gold Diamond & Square Mosaic Tile, thanks to the veins that swirl uniquely throughout each marble piece. 

Have you ever noticed different color shades that vary from piece to piece in ceramic tile boxes, or realized how the veining on two marble pieces never looked alike? That’s called the color variation – basically the difference of shades between tiles within the same collection. This variation may be stronger between tiles depending on the design you want to achieve and your personal preferences. For example, tiles with high degrees of color variation may not be a good option if you prefer a uniform look for your design, while the same variation can be a desirable design element if you aim for an authentic look that is hard to replicate!

Whether that be natural stone, ceramic, porcelain, or glass, color variation in tile is something you should consider when selecting materials to fully complete your design vision. This post is created to help you know what type of variation – be it subtle or extreme – you can expect from different types of tiles as well as how to best prepare for them to create the designs you love!

What Causes Color Variation in Tiles?

When it comes to color variation between tiles, different factors play a role in how much variance you’ll find in different materials. 

Natural Stone Slate Tiles add Natural Color to a Tuscan Kitchen or Coastal Bathroom

Natural stones, like our Slate Mosaic Tile are designed to showcase the high levels of variance you’ll find in the material and make it part of the overall aesthetic! 

In natural stone tiles – such as marble, travertine, limestone, and slate – expect to see a unique work of art in each piece of stone forged by Mother Nature using heat, pressure, and minerals. Minerals and other organic matter result in different amounts of color and movement in stones – it takes millions of years for minerals to harden and create the random shades and texture variation in these natural stone tiles. 

Did you know that iron deposits could cause spots of orange, red, and brown streaks in limestone, but red, green, black, or brown hues in a slate? Not only the minerals but also fossils of ancient sea life and other life forms get infused into natural stone to create a huge array of colors and veining in each piece so that no two tiles are exactly alike. In fact, this is one of the biggest selling points for natural stone tiles!  Marbles like Calacatta Gold, Carrara, and Nero Marquina are prized for their dramatic veining that create their signature marble effect.

The quarries where these stones are sourced influence the veins and variance that makes them so desirable - the mountains of Italy create the creamy whites, stormy grays, and rich gold of Calacatta marble or the less variable Bianco Carrara; Central Italy produces the stormy gray hues of Bardiglio marble; Spain is where you’ll find the rich black with white lightning veins of Nero Marquina. No two pieces of marble are alike, so no two marble tiles are alike!

Porcelain Hexagon Wood Look Floor Tile

Although our Esagona Intarcio Nut Wood Look Porcelain Tiles showcase a natural wood look, these manmade tiles tread the line between variance by design and a level of control over the finished look. The result - perfectly imperfect manufactured designs that have an organic beauty!

Natural stone tiles are known for their variance but manmade tiles – such as ceramic, porcelain, and glass – can have unique shade variations to create designs with tones and textures that vary from one piece to the next. As the manufacturing technology in tile production has gotten more advanced, we’re now seeing these tiles in multiple color shades with a more artisan look - such as porcelain tiles with a wood-look that mimic hardwood planks, or ceramic Zellige tiles that showcase the handcrafted appearance and true craftsmanship of Moroccan terracotta. These tiles are made to prove that machine-made products can also create looks where one piece looks like no other! 

There is a higher level of control with the variation you’ll find in manufactured tiles - the difference from piece to piece is intentional to create a more natural look in your home or business.

In short, with each tile material comes options that display a moderate to dramatic range of variation! To help you find out how much color variation you can expect before a tile purchase, we have grouped our favorite tiles into 3 color variation levels – low, medium, and high – with expert tile tips to make sure you get the look you’re after!  

Tiles with Low Color Variation

Low variation tile means there will be a limited color difference between each tile, or a uniform appearance. When the tile is laid, the finished result will look consistent to the sample or photos you’ve seen before ordering. Simple glass tiles, ceramics, and porcelains in a single color shade are examples with minimal to no difference among the pieces. Generally, lower variation tiles work better to impart a sleek feeling to your room, best when you’re dressing up a space with a variety of other colors and textures, or just to want to add one single color that’s the focal point of the decor. 

Matte White Ceramic Subway Tile Kitchen Backsplash

A good example of a uniform tile is solid white ceramic tile in this minimalist kitchen design, which is a popular choice for a consistent and timeless look. The flat surface ensures it’s not affected by light or surrounding colors, and it can be a subtle addition to even the most overwhelming design palette. When you want to soften the uniform effect of a solid white tile, we recommend a matte finish that will add a quiet elegance to your installation. 

For those seeking a more glamorous look while still sticking to a single shade, tiles in saturated colors will certainly grab your eye! Rich colors add an instant dramatic flair to any room, but it’s important to trick the eye and open up space too! Glass is an excellent choice for a uniform but colorful wall or floor tile, as it can be made in any color of the rainbow. Opt for a glossy finish with deeper tones to let the light play off the tiled surface, or a frosted finish for a matte look.

Bold Blue Glass Tiles with no Natural Variation

The single shade in Cobalt Blue Herringbone Glass Tile is vibrant enough to get all the attention in the bathroom and convey a variety of feelings including energy and inspiration! The uniform color 

Tiles with Medium Color Variation

Medium color variation tiles will show distinguishable shade differences among pieces – both the texture and color hues vary slightly from tile to tile while usually trying to represent the variation and richness of natural and handcrafted materials. Ceramic tiles with a handmade look, porcelain tiles that mimic wood, brick, or stone, hand-poured glass tiles, and several types of marble tiles come with medium color variations – they contain subtle differences within similar tones which make them wonderful options for a more personalized look.

Faux Brick Wall with Porcelain Tile - Medium Variation Between Tiles

Brick look porcelain tiles have the look of natural materials, but with a standard level of variation that will keep your dining room, fireplace surround, or kitchen backsplash looking stylish!

If you’re keen to create organic decor, wood-look porcelain tiles mimic the warm color shading found in natural wood without the stains, scratches, and hassles of cleaning or refinishing real wood. Rustic wood-look tiles feature the appearance of long, ingrained scrapes that replicates the aged appeal and beautiful texture on wood planks in various shades of the same color. This moderate level of variation between the planks makes the entire surface appear natural while offering the long term benefits of engineered hardwood.

Hand Poured Glass Tiles add an Artisan Touch to your Kitchen or Bathroom Remodel

If you see high color variation as a challenge to fit into your decor, another option to try a less specific color aesthetic is using hand-poured glass tiles like our Ocean Glass tile collection designed with the coastal beauty of sea glass. Sea Glass Louvre Blue Mosaic Tile in the picture above is inspired by the motion of the waves– the swirling shades in different blue tones make it a great addition to any sea-inspired bathroom décor. While its blue color is uniform with similar shading tones, it still ensures that no two designs will ever look exactly alike! 

Add artisan style to your kitchen remodel with Zellige ceramic tiles

Zellige-style ceramic tiles also have a reputation for their unique style and medium-level shade variation on their translucent glazes– these tiles perfectly replicate the uneven surface and handmade look found on original Moroccan tiles that have been prized for centuries. Zellige-style ceramic tiles capture the signature old-world feel and mimic the uneven distribution of color in each tile. These charmingly irregular tiles – such as Mallorca Grey 4x4 Ceramic Tile in this kitchen backsplash design – brings a natural warmth and simplicity with a deliberately moderate variation in shading, that’s multifaceted enough to be used anywhere but prominent enough to be noticed. The unique surface of each tile, and the slight variation in glaze application, not only produces an organic texture and shifting color palette, but will reflect light differently from piece to piece.

Tiles with High Color Variation 

While some homeowners are steering towards a more consistent look throughout their tile design, some think higher variation is what truly brings beauty into their home! As opposed to contemporary and modern styles with more consistent color, higher color and shade variations are favored by rustic and classic styles to bring a more natural and earthy look such as found in nature. In this level, higher random color variation is present from tile to tile - any tile may have a different color and the final installation is totally unique.

Bardiglio Marble has a high level of natural variation between tiles

Check out the gorgeous marble tones in our Bardiglio 3X6 Beveled Marble Tile - a high variance marble material!

Natural stone is the only material that brings the beauty of high color variation into a tile design. While there are marbles with pure color or less veining intensity, the majority of marble tiles are known to have beautiful color variations that add character to each piece. Veins can be large and frequent, delicate and minimal, white, gold, grey, or other colors – there’s no way to control the natural characteristics of these tiles. In the end, it’s up to Mother Nature to decide how these tiles look! 

Gorgeous Calacatta Gold Marble floor tiles

Marble tiles with a high color variation create beautiful movement on your walls, backsplashes, floors or fireplace surrounds by blending in different tones in the same pattern which makes it easier to fit various color schemes. The high color variation in patterned marble tiles - such as in this bathroom floor with our 10" Calacatta Gold Hexagon Tile - adds complexity and unique style to your home. While this authentic look is hard to replicate, rest assured that any marble tile is timeless enough to last for years to come!

How to Avoid Unexpected Color Variation

Bold Natural Marble Variation in Black and White Nero Marquina Tiles

Unless you’re using a manufactured tile with a uniform look, a certain level of variation should be expected from tile to tile. While some amount of versatility may be acceptable, you need to find your range and make sure the variation does not present any challenges for your desired look. To ensure there are no surprises in the end, here are a few points we’d like you to keep in mind before you purchase your tiles:

Check the type of material you’re ordering - if it’s one that has a high level of natural variance as listed above, you can take extra steps to get an idea of what to expect when your tile arrives!

  • Request Lot Photos to see sheets of the material side by side and see variance between pieces in the materials that are ready to ship.
  • Order samples! For natural stones and glazed tiles,  it’s recommended to order several samples to accurately depict the effect the variation will have on your final installation. 
  • Whether you’re installing natural stone, porcelain, ceramic, or glass, have your contractor lay out tiles on your floor and decide on where you want the lighter or darker shades to go to ensure you like the final look and placement. Placing tiles before you spread your mortar is the best way to make sure your final install fits your vision!
  • Order extra. This will help the installer to set aside the tiles that you don’t like as well as help with tricky cuts.  (We always recommend adding at least 10% overage to your order for pieces that need to be trimmed to fit, breakages during installation, etc.)
  • Do you need to place an extra order for additional tiles? As color variation may differ from one production or batch to another, order tiles from the previous lot so that you have the same shading and texture of the tile. Ti

Knowing which tiles have color variation, and preparing for the result can have a huge effect on the final look, so it’s important to understand what variation means and why it matters when choosing tiles. No matter what tile material is used for the project, keep in mind that low to moderate variation in tile color generally results in a more ‘uniform’ surface, while strong color variations are closely linked to ‘designer’ looks. But in the end, it’s all in the eye of the beholder to determine what’s the most desirable! Whichever way you choose to go, don’t skip ordering tile samples to see and touch your tiles before you set your heart on any design! 

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