Broken Ceramic Tile Mosaics

People often email me asking where to get 4-inch glazed ceramic tile in a range of colors to break up with a hammer for making a mosaic. The simple answer is nowhere. Colorful bathroom tile has gone the way of the dodo, at least for now. (I explain why in the last section of this post.)

The good news is that it is possible to get a similar experience making a mosaic from colorful glass tile, and there are several reasons glass tile is superior to glazed ceramic, especially if your mosaic will be outdoors.

Why You Want Glass Tile Instead Of Ceramic

Yes, you may be inspired by the idea of breaking scrap tile with a hammer and making a fun piece of art from ordinary easy-to-find materials, but the idea doesn’t jive with reality in at least two ways: First, colorful ceramic tile isn’t a commonly available material any more; it’s rare not ordinary. Second, breaking tile with a hammer creates a large amount a scrap, and the pieces you produce tend to be jagged or cracked or oddly shaped. How ecologically sound or fulfilling is it to create all that waste?

But here is the real reason glass tile is clearly a better choice: Glass is impervious to moisture and therefore frost proof. If you use ceramic tile outdoors, moisture penetrates into the tile and then freezes and cracks off the glazing. It seems counter intuitive, but glass is MUCH more durable than glazed ceramic tile when used outdoors, at least when it comes to freezing temperatures. (Of course, If you have access to hard porcelain tile with solid color throughout, then that is a different story, but porcelain tile is as hard to find these days as the softer varieties of glazed ceramic tile.)

Random Shapes Of Glass Tile

The most valid reason people have for wanting to use 4-inch glazed ceramic tile for their mosaic is that it is big enough to produce large randomly shaped pieces when broken up. Mosaic tile is 1 inch or less according to the generally accepted industry definition of “mosaic,” so it can’t produce big pieces. But stained glass and stained glass cuttings can easily be cut into large random shapes using a mosaic glass cutter. The selection of colors is broader than that of ceramic tile (even back in the 1970s when brightly colored ceramic tile was commonly available), and the colors are more complex and vibrant.

If you are willing to work in smaller pieces, then mosaic tile can be used, and it can be cut into irregular triangles and irregular trapezoids as easily as rectangles, so you can get more “random” shapes in your mosaic

This mosaic was made with 3/4″ vitreous glass tile cut up with a mosaic glass cutter, and it could have been made with irregularly shaped pieces as easily as rectangular pieces cut from the same type of tile:

“Charging Bull” mosaic. Note that the pieces could have easily been cut more randomly: trapezoids, triangles, odd irregular shapes. You don’t have to cut rectangular or square pieces from tile.

Why No CERAMIC Tiles In Bright Colors?

People don’t tile their bathrooms with bright yellows and oranges the way they did in the 1970s, and once people stopped using bright colors in ceramic tile, the factories stopped making them. Now the factories all churn out the same endless variations on beige and gray, and I’m not exaggerating by much.

A year ago, I finally attended the world’s largest trade show for floor coverings, and it was absolutely monotonous: hundreds and hundreds of manufacturer booths all displaying stuff that was hard to tell apart, all beiges and grays, and each booth with banners and flyers claiming to be on the cutting edge of interior design. It was comic self-parody, and it was easy to get lost on the floor of the trade show because it all looked the same.







4 responses to “Broken Ceramic Tile Mosaics”

  1. Jen Fornal Avatar
    Jen Fornal

    What an incredible resource you have created. I just wish I had found it sooner. I hope you can help me resolve an issue we are having with the grouting of a large (3ftx5ft) mosaic at our local elementary school. Everything was going great until we grouted today and we have lots of cracking going on. We experimented with changing our grout color by adding acrylic paint and think we messed with the composition too much and caused the cracking. Needless to say we are looking for a solution to fix the cracks and are hoping there is one beyond removing the grout and starting over… We used hundred of small glass tiles. I can send photos to show you if that helps. I would greatly appreciate any advice. We were thinking we could put a layer of sanded grout over the cracked grout as there seems to be room. Thanks so much for any help!

    1. Joe Moorman Avatar

      Thanks! You might have used too much acrylic paint, but I suspect you used unsanded grout, which should only be used to seal hairline cracks. You can always scrape out old grout with a grout scraper or generic metal tool (old screw driver) and then regrout.
      I hope this helps.

  2. Joni Johnson Avatar
    Joni Johnson

    Your web page is such a wonderful resource! D9 you have any suggestions for how I might use mosaic tile to embellish and hide cracks on a large terra cotta urn? I’d love to add some whimsy to hide the cracks and a hole where the shards were too crushed to use in the rebuild.

    1. Joe Moorman Avatar
      Joe Moorman

      Hi Joni,

      That sounds like a good application for thinset mortar.

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