Tiles have been used by man for aesthetic purposes since a long time. Excavations have revealed that a number of civilizations in Babylon, Egypt, America and China used a variety of hardened clay to decorate walls, floors, pitchers and pots. Further, the discovery of natural pigments to color these tiles led to the development of colored and decorative tiles.
Apart from being used as a decorative item, the renaissance period saw the development of tiles into a canvas. During this period, a number of renowned artists painted their masterpiece on tiles. One of the main reasons for the popularity of tiles as a canvas was its high durability and the appealing background that it provided.
Fired clay tiles gained popularity in the United States during the late 19th century due to the widespread availability of the raw materials used to create them. Continuous development in tile manufacturing technology led to tiles being created through a systematic process by using roller kilns, higher firing temperatures and shorter firing cycles. Although this process has become outdated, the tiles created through this process are still in use around the United States.
Apart from the process of manufacturing tiles, the size of tiles have also undergone a tremendous change over the years. Earlier, standard sizes of either 4” x 4” or 8” x 8” were manufactured; with advancement in manufacturing technology, there is no limit to the size of tiles that can be manufactured. If the rate of technological advancement is anything to go by, we are sure to see a lot more changes in the size, shape, color and thickness of tiles.
Even the process of decorating tiles has undergone a significant change over the years. Earlier, glaze was applied on the surface of the tile using bell applicators; however, change in technology has facilitated tile decoration using flat silk screens, rotor or roller screens, laser screens and digital ink.
It was during the late 20th century that the trend of using porcelain tiles gained popularity. The main reason for the popularity of porcelain tiles was that they were ‘freeze thaw stable’ and had water absorption of less than 0.5%. These characteristics ensured that porcelain tiles could be used in any temperature and in any condition. Even NASA realized these characteristics and started using porcelain tiles on space shuttles to protect it during the re-entry procedure. Now, technological advancements have enabled tile manufacturers to create tiles that have the same surface color as the body color. This makes wear and tear marks almost non-existent on these tiles.
Tiles have been popular over the years due to their three main characteristics: they are hygienic, economical and green. Tiles are highly hygienic and are widely used in hospitals and educational communities due to this reason. Since tiles are highly durable and require little maintenance these prove to be highly cost effective in the long run. Finally, tiles can easily be recycled and are manufactured using natural materials, thereby reducing wastage and encouraging a ‘green’ change.
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