How to Make Your Own Ceramic Tiles

Detail of the traditional Talavera mosaic used to decorate a public fountain in a street of Puebla, Mexico

Victor Ovies Arenas / Getty Images

There’s nothing better than making your own set of ceramic tiles, whether it’s for a set of six coasters (they make the best Christmas or birthday gifts) or whether you want to be truly ambitious and make an entire set for your bathroom or kitchen, let your creativity run wild.

Why Make Your Own Ceramic Tiles?

Get really creative with your home décor and get stuck into making your own tiles. You have the freedom to use whatever color and pattern and size you fancy, and it’ll certainly be a one of a kind look for your bathroom or kitchen. If tiling an entire room is a little ambitious, you could just use them behind a sink to be used a backsplash or with an elegant design to be used around a fireplace.

A lovely festive idea is to make small square ceramic tiles and paint them with Christmas scenes. Pop a hole in the top (big enough to thread string through) and hang them up on the Christmas tree. It’s a great Christmas activity to do with children, and if you coat a clear glaze on top of the Christmas decoration, you’ll be able to re-hang them on the Christmas tree for years to come. 

What Clay Bodies are Good to Use?

Having the right type of clay body is important when making ceramic tiles. The key factor is that the clay has a high amount of grog (a material in clay, which contains a high quantity of silica and alumina). The clay should be heavy-duty, as it will need to be durable and most importantly, completely waterproof when fired. Lakeside Pottery recommends that you should ‘use a clay body that matures at the temperature you will glaze fire at’ and to make sure ‘the absorption rate after firing should be three percent or less.’

The reasoning for this is that the tiles will be completely waterproof with no possibility that any water will be able to seep into them. Sculpture clays (or Raku clays) are also a good type of clay to use as they have slightly less chance of warping or cracking. Cracking and warping can occur if a ceramic piece has dried either too quickly or unevenly. Unfortunately, evidence of this won’t usually be apparent until after the firing process has been finished.

Different Ways of Making Ceramic Tiles

There are a few different ways of making tiles, and you’ll need to decide which one works best for you. Firstly, you’ll need to determine what you’ll be using your tiles for. If they’ll be for something like tiling a kitchen then they’ll need to be completely identical so they can match up perfectly. Therefore a stainless steel tile cutter could be your best bet. For example, a tile cutter from Scarva comes in at around $60 and is made of stainless steel. It’s sized at 108cm x 108 cm (although you can buy any size you need), so can keep cutting the same size tile as many times as you need.

All you need to do is roll out your clay, making sure you roll it a similar size each time. This is just to make it easier to cut through, as of course, the tile cutter will make sure it’s the exact same width and height each time. Then put the roughly sized clay in the tile cutter, pushing down on the steel handle, and the tile will pop out of the bottom of the cutter. To make the whole process easier, you could invest in a slab roller, which means you’ll have to do less work in rolling out the clay before you put it in the tile cutter. If you don’t need each tile to be an identical size, then you can always just roll out your clay by hand using two sized flat wooden guides to roll onto, this will make it's an even depth. Another way is using a clay slicer; this is less common, but still a good method. You’ll need to wedge your clay well first and get it into the square shape you desire, then just run your clay slicer over the top, pulling off a perfectly sliced tile each time as you make your way down the clay block. If you prefer using the slab roller (if you have one, this is really is the easiest way), then roll out a huge slab and use an adjustable clay divider. Then run the divider across the clay slab, and it’ll cut six long strips of identical length, then you can cut as many tiles as you need from the strips.

Drying and Firing Tiles

Bisque firing your tiles in the kiln then putting them through a separate glaze firing is the best way to make sure they will be durable. Single firing, although great for many things, is not ideal for making tiles, as the glazes come out less robust and run the risk of flaking off. As mentioned before, drying your tiles properly is crucial, so they don’t crack at any point. The best way to dry the tiles evenly on each side is to dry them between two sheets of drywall; this ensures the moisture leaves the clay evenly and dries at an even rate. After drying your tiles on the drywall, transfer them to a wire rack so that the air can get to them. When bisque firing your tiles, you can stack them all up in the kiln, or you can pop them in a special tile rack, which should mean less chance of breakage.