The Difference Between Vitrified, Clinker, and Ceramic Tile

Tile floors perform differently depending their type. Before installing them in your facility, make sure you've chosen the right tile for your environment.

There are many kinds of tile, all with their own unique properties. Differences in manufacturing processes create stark differences between the glazed ceramic tile you may have in your home and the fully vitrified porcelain and red clinker tile made by Argelith.

So what is the difference between ceramic and vitrified ceramic tiles? Or between porcelain and ceramic? And what is clinker tile, anyway?


Fully vitrified ceramic tiles contain elements such as quartz, feldspar and silica that melt at very high temperatures, creating a strong tile with very low absorption and very high resistance to wear. These industrial tiles are the gold standard for strong, durable flooring. Sometimes specifiers refer to these tiles as clinker tiles, because "clinker" has been generalized to refer to all industrial ceramic tile. As you'll see in the section below, though, fully vitrified tile is actually much stronger than true clinker, which is only partially vitrified.

Fully vitrified tiles begin with natural minerals ground to an extremely fine powder and pressed into molds. Pigment can be added to give the tiles a specific color. Because the color is not dependent upon a glaze, vitrified ceramic tiles are full body tiles – that is, each tile is a single layer with uniform color and density throughout. This means that should a tile scratch or chip, the damage will be less visible and will not compromise the tile's ability to withstand moisture and chemicals.

Unlike residential ceramic tiles, vitrified porcelain tiles are unglazed, so the color and hardness remains consistent throughout

After leaving the molds, the tiles are dried to the ideal moisture content. As water evaporates, it creates space in the tile so the ceramic molecules can be pressed closer together in the next step. It's a delicate science: too little moisture could create a brittle tile, but Argelith has perfected a proprietary system to produce tiles as hard as steel with an absorption rate less than 0.1 percent.

The tiles are then fired for more than an hour at more than 1,200 degrees Celsius, melting the mineral elements and further drying and hardening the tile.

With an absorption rate of less than one-tenth of 1 percent, these tiles are virtually waterproof. When installed with a water-resistant mortar and grout, they make an ideal floor covering for wet environments like car washes and food processing plants. Unlike plastic floor coatings, however, they allow moisture seeping up from underneath to evaporate, mitigating some of the problems caused by moisture vapor transmission from the concrete slab.

Argelith’s fully vitrified tiles are laser measured by an advanced, proprietary quality control system that can detect imperfections to a fraction of a millimeter. This industry-leading technology is one of the innovations that makes Argelith’s factory the most technologically advanced facility of its kind.

See our collection of fully vitrified tile.


These brick-look red ceramic tiles are known in some circles as classic German clinker tile. While some people call all vitrified industrial tile "clinker tile," these tiles are the real deal, and can be distinguished from their stronger fully vitrified cousins by their Old World red color. If specifications call for "light grey clinker tile," the architect is actually looking for the fully vitrified tile described above.

Argelith still mines the clay for its red clinker tiles in its own quarry. Like the fully vitrified tiles, making these partially vitrified tiles involves grinding clay and minerals into a fine powder that is dry pressed into molds before being fired at high temperatures. This results in a very dense, very strong tile, but without the extra hardness and water resistance of vitrification.

With an absorption rate of less than 4 percent, red clinker tile is stronger and less absorbent than glazed ceramic tile but is not as strong as fully vitrified tile. Argelith's red clinker has an absorption rate around 2 percent. It is recommended that clinker tile be treated periodically with clinker oil, which fills microscopic spaces in the tile to make it stronger and more resistant to moisture.

See our red clinker options.

Red brick style ceramic is known as the classic German clinker tile. This ceramic tile differs from vitrified tile in its hardness and durability


Residential ceramic tile is typically glazed ceramic. These residential-grade tiles are made of clay mixed with water, coated with a liquid glaze to add color, shine and hardness, and then fired in a kiln. While beautiful, these ceramic tiles are less strong and more absorbent than vitrified tiles. Because they are not moisture or frost resistant they are not appropriate for outdoor use, and though they look great in the home, they do not have the mechanical strength or chemical resistance needed for commercial applications.


Industrial tile is an excellent choice for many, but not all, industrial and commercial facilities. Connect with one of our knowledgeable account managers to learn if tile is the right choice for you.

the difference between vitrified and ceramic tile