Red Body vs. White Body Ceramic Tiles
Navigating the world of ceramic tiles? The distinction between red body and white body tiles is more than just color. Dive into this guide, enriched by Merola’s knowledge, to understand the differences and select the ideal tile for your space.
For many, the only important thing about a tile is its surface appearance. But look beneath the surface, and you might be surprised at just how different two similar looking tiles can be, based on their distinct tile body. Tile body refers to three important characteristics of a tile’s makeup: the raw materials, the forming technology, and the firing cycle.
For many applications, tile body is not of great importance; however, in select cases, one type of tile may prove more suitable to another. We covered the differences between porcelain and ceramic tiles in other Merola Tile articles. In this one, we will concentrate on ceramic tiles and explore the differences between red body and white body tiles.
The terms red body and white body refer to the tile itself — often called biscuit or bisque — rather than the glazed decoration. The glazed and decorative surface of a tile can be in any color or pattern regardless of the body that lies beneath.
Both red and white body ceramic tiles consist of the same two basic ingredients: clay and water. Small quantities of additional minerals are added to achieve specific properties and a uniform appearance, but essentially the difference in body color — white or red — comes down to the specific clay used in the production process.
Known as pasta roja, red body tile is very common in Europe, notably in Spain. Ease of production, and the relatively low cost of the raw materials, makes it less expensive than white body alternatives. They are available in a wide range of designs, and are also easy to apply, particularly when compared to porcelain tiles, which reduces professional installation fees and makes them popular with DIY tilers.
What is less well known is that many red body tiles have high mechanical strength and are more hard-wearing than white body alternatives, making them suitable for both floors and walls.
Red body tiles are, on average, lighter in weight than white body tiles or porcelain. This may affect transport costs and can be a positive consideration in wall constructions where the tiling substrate has a low load-bearing capacity.
Nearly all red body ceramic tiles are porous, and are thus unsuitable for external applications, except in areas with an extremely mild climate that never experience frost.
These tiles are often erroneously viewed as superior to red body tiles. This attitude is largely the legacy of the successful marketing campaigns run by the first generation of European single-fired tile manufacturers who wanted to position their innovative new white body tile as a premium option.
If white body tiles do have an advantage, it is when they are decorated with lighter glazes, as the light substrate provides the finish with maximum luminosity. Poorly glazed red body tiles, in contrast, may demonstrate show-through, where the underlying red clay is visible beneath the glaze. However, with a well applied engobe prior to glazing, this issue is easy to address and should not be a factor in contemporary tile ranges.
White body tiles are generally only suitable as wall coverings. They tend to be more expensive than red body tiles, due to the higher cost of the raw materials used in production.
However, in contemporary tile settings featuring thin grout joints and acute alignment, white body tiles are an excellent choice because the finely grained body makes them ideal for rectification. This is the accurate cutting or grinding of the tile edges to specific dimensions after firing, a process that is much less common with red body tiles.
White body tiles are normally lighter in weight than porcelain, so once again there may be lower transport costs, and construction benefits in applications where the substrate has a restricted weight bearing capacity.
In today’s market, the choice of red body or white body may well come down to size preference and availability, rather than technical performance or surface design. White body tiles are far more likely to be available in large formats, with many of the world’s leading manufacturers offering large format white body wall tiles to match modular porcelain floor tile ranges.
When it comes to small format wall tiles, artisanal style decors, molded listellos, and other traditional ceramic pieces, red body ceramic tile comes to the fore. Technically, red boy tile is as good as, or better than, white body alternatives. In Spain, where the performance of red body tile is perhaps best understood and appreciated, many commercial tiling contracts feature red body tile in preference to white body or porcelain because of the excellent price-performance ratio, and the material’s design versatility when it comes to architectural, renovation, or interior design projects.
In closing, it’s helpful to remember that a tile’s body color is a poor indicator of tile quality. True tile authorities understand that today’s best red body tile offers a high-end material at an affordable price. The quality of ceramic tile is down to the expertise of the manufacturer, the clay density, the pressing forces, and the firing profile in the kiln—not the color of the clay.
So, when judging a tile from a sample or in a showroom, it pays to bear in mind that, once installed, all you and others will see is your tile’s glazed surface: the body, or biscuit color, is hidden, making it immaterial whether the color is white or red. The perceived quality difference is just that: a perception.