Contemporary Stone & Tile Design recently spoke with Brittney Harmond, a representative for Ceramics of Italy, to discuss the latest trends in large-format porcelain slabs. The general definition we are using for large-format porcelain slabs are sizes measuring up to 5 1/4 x 10 1/2 feet and thicknesses ranging from 6 to 20mm (approximately 1/4 to 3/4 inch). Advances in technology have allowed these products to evolve and broaden the number of indoor and outdoor applications where they can be used. Here is what Harmond had to say on the subject: 

CSTD: In the past few years, what have been some recent developments in the production process of large-format porcelain slabs? 

BH: Originally invented by the Italians, large-format tiles have been around for a long time and are very popular in the European market. Over the past several years, as Italian manufacturers have invested in innovative technologies to create even more natural-looking stone, and marble-like slabs, they are becoming more widely accepted and requested in North America. The advent of 3/4-inch-thick tiles, for instance, presents a format that more closely imitates real marble slabs, which is appealing to American and Canadian customers.  

Another recent development is through-body veining, and Gruppo Concorde’s Natura-Vein Tech is a perfect example of this. This groundbreaking technology deposits colored raw materials throughout the entire thickness of the tile using a controlled sedimentation process, allowing for the production of large-format, through-body porcelain tiles on an industrial scale. The resulting large-format tiles feature edges that are visually consistent with the surface -- just like the veins in a real marble slab.

CSTD: What are some of the benefits of large-format porcelain slabs?

BH: Large-format porcelain slabs make grout lines virtually disappear, so they are ideal for covering large surface areas when the goal is to create a seamless appearance with minimal visual breaks. This visual continuity can actually make a space feel bigger and more expansive. Large formats are especially popular with marble-look styles, because they mimic the effect of massive quarried slabs. Plus, with fewer grout lines, large-format porcelain slabs are very hygienic and easier to clean than smaller formats -- a very important feature in today’s climate.

Many stone and tile fabricators are becoming more comfortable working with this material, so using large-format porcelain slabs can actually reduce installation time in comparison to smaller tiles and mosaics, which require many hours of precise application. Large-format porcelain slabs are also versatile. They can be used to cover the floors, walls and countertops in a single project, or even cut to size to build custom furniture.

CSTD: One of the bigger trends we are seeing out there is using porcelain outside. Does this work well exterior wise?

BH: Yes! Outdoor applications with large-format porcelain tiles are certainly gaining popularity in the North American market. Porcelain already has inherent qualities that make it a superior choice for exterior applications -- like natural resistance to extreme weather conditions and excellent insulating properties. So the large-format size makes it even more desirable for things like ventilated rain screen building facades and exterior walls. 

Of course, large-format porcelain slabs can also be used to build durable outdoor kitchen counters and tables, but we are seeing a lot of growth in the exterior facade category at the moment. In fact, a recent update to the 2021 International Building Code now allows porcelain tiles as big as 36 x 72 or 48 x 48 inches to be used for adhered exterior facades. This update reflects the recent innovations in lightweight, gauged porcelain tile panels and slabs, and advancements in mortar technology, giving architects, designers, fabricators and installers greater flexibility to use large-format tiles for exterior applications.

CSTD: To make sure the slabs maintain top quality, is there any routine maintenance that needs to be followed after they are installed, such as sealing, certain types of cleaning, etc?

BH: In general, porcelain tiles are very low-maintenance and require minimal care after installation. This is thanks to the durable nature of the material, which is scratch- and stain-resistant for an entire lifetime of use. Glazed or polished porcelain tiles do not require sealing, as the surface is already impervious to moisture and liquids. And, like any surface, porcelain tile should be cleaned occasionally with soap and water, and regular use of harsh cleaners should be avoided. 

A few of our manufacturers have even gone so far as to create their own innovative, self-cleaning technologies. 

CSTD: Is there anything else in regards to large-format porcelain slabs that you would like to share with our readers?

BH: The functional and aesthetic benefits of large-format porcelain tiles allow them to be used in almost any design project. The wide variety of large-format tiles makes them incredibly versatile and suitable for installations ranging from floors and walls to custom furnishings like countertops, islands, bathroom vanities and tabletops. The hygienic benefits and easy-to-clean surfaces of these tiles make them especially ideal for food preparation areas like tables and countertops.