With the increasing demand for natural stone in the commercial marketplace, our favorite marbles, like Calacatta, Carrara, and Statuario, are becoming increasingly rare in the pure whites that we love. As quarries worldwide dig deeper for the noble material, premium fees are being slapped onto larger slabs, making the look of a bright marble with gorgeous veins harder to squeeze into the budget of many homeowners’ renovation projects. The good news is there is still plenty of stone to go around, and the material is self-replenishing. The bad news is it takes millions of years to fully mature, leaving us with an increasing amount of grayer tones. While we may not be in the middle of a Carrara crisis, stone and tile companies are looking to innovations in digital printing to make the look of our favorite marbles more attainable.
At this year's Coverings tile show, we sat with Ryan Fasan, the technical consultant for Tile of Spain, one of the leading exporters of the world’s tile. He gave us the scoop on the latest advancements in tile printed using scanned copies of stone to resemble the real thing. So relax—we can still have the French kitchen of our dreams, and at a fraction of the cost.
MYDOMAINE: What should we consider when deciding stone vs. tile?
RYAN FASAN: Since stone is a nature-made material, we are at the mercy of what’s there. If you are going to use natural stone, be sure that, firstly, the building itself will survive for a good long time, secondly that the stone being used will stand up to the intended use of the environment, and finally that the installation is done well so there are no issues if the building is around for a couple centuries. If the answer to any of those questions is even a "maybe not," there is absolutely no reason why a high-definition ink-jet ceramic shouldn’t be the first choice.
MD: How is digital tile coming to the rescue?
RF: We use high-definition photos and editing software so we can take pictures of semi-perfect slabs, remove any naturally occurring flaws from the image, and then print multiple copies of that truly natural variation for years to come. Our ink-jet printers today can apply even white and metallic inks, making it possible to reproduce almost any stone varietal and even come up with new ones never before seen in nature! The printing software and hardware has also improved by leaps and bounds since it was first introduced, making most of our high-end ink-jet collections have a variation of around 240 square feet before any repeating tiles.
MD: What are the perks of digitally printed ceramic tile vs. real-deal marble?
RF: As I say, technical characteristics are one big reason to go for ceramics. I have seen multiple kitchens with a white or creamy marble on the floor or counters, and because marble is calcareous (mostly composed of calcium carbonate), it reacts poorly with acids. That’s everything from soy sauce to wine; think about what we use in our kitchens every day! A glazed ceramic has none of these issues with acids and is unaffected by the sun, requires no sealers, is easily cleaned with hot water, saves on cost, and reduces waste of material in the fabrication process.
MD: Give us the insider's scoop on your top three digital-tile manufacturers coming out of Spain.
RF: As Tile of Spain is an association that represents 100-plus manufacturers, singling out three is difficult. Some of my favorites in terms of stone looks are Ceracasa, Tau, Porcelanosa, Aparici, and Vives.
Want to see the remarkable qualities of digital marble firsthand? Check out these sources to order samples, and visit Tile of Spain to learn more about this innovative new product.
Would you consider purchasing a digitally-produced marble? Tell us in the comments.