Tile Trial Outcome

By March 31, 2014Uncategorized

I was so excited to share my DIY tile backsplash idea last week. This weekend I was able to give it a shot to see if it would actually work.

The verdict? Yes, I found a process that worked! But from an aesthetic standpoint, I’m kind of “meh” on it…

Here was my process.

First, I grabbed 12 of these $.16 tiles from Home Depot. Can we say CHEAP!?! The price alone made this solution attractive.

I also grabbed a $4 scrap piece of drywall (what they sell for patching) and all of the necessary tiling tools and supplies. Have I mentioned yet that I’ve never actually tiled a single thing in my life?

So anyways, I went ahead and added my thinset and set the tiles. I like tiny grout lines so I went with the smallest spacers Home Depot had—1/16″.

While the adhesive was setting up, I removed the spacers and started to assign different “methods” to each of the columns. This is a trial after all and I wanted to try a number of different options. My four methods were:

1.) No sanding, no primer, no topcoat (so essentially painting my Moroccan pattern right on the ceramic tile with no prep)

2.) Yes sending, no primer, no topcoat (painting right on the tile with a little bit of sanding prep)

3.) No sanding, yes primer, yes topcoat

4.) Yes sanding, yes primer, yes topcoat

Before I move on and show you the results, the first disappointment came when I noticed how ivory these “snow white” tiles actually are. The painted tiles are on the left two columns (painted the same color as my walls—Behr’s Ultra Pure White) and the right two columns are the natural tile.

I didn’t let the whole ivory thing deter me too much at this point. There was a good chance I wasn’t going to get away with no painted tile anyways to make this idea work.

From a finish standpoint, painted tile isn’t bad. It just looks like, ehrm, painted tile. You can mimic the sheen of a ceramic tile by using a semi-gloss paint but the smoothness of the ceramic is hard to replicate. No matter how smooth you get your painted tile, it will look different—a tiny bit more texture and a little bit more matte.

So, moving on, it was time to paint on the Moroccan pattern. Now, please do not judge the pattern in these photos. I did this very quickly with an oil-based paint pen. Obviously I would be using a stencil and a dabber for the real thing. I think this looks a little too homemade.

So sans grout, here is what the tiles are looking like at this stage. The painted tiles are much easier to draw on because they have some texture to grip on to. The ceramic tiles were much more fussy—I tended to slip around on those pretty often. But in the end, as far as the painting goes, the result is pretty similar.

I will say the paint-less tiles looked the most authentic of the two. It helps tremendously that the tile in and of itself started from an unaltered state, unlike the top-coat-painted tile.

I let the tiles dry for about 24 hours and the next day, I grouted. I used a non-sanded grout as that’s what the container recommended for grout lines 1/8″ wide or less (and mine are 1/16″).

This is where certain methods started to go wrong.

This is a bad photo but take a look at the tiles with no primer (on the right). The paint started to chip immediately. I also noticed that my wet rag had black paint residue after wiping that side down.

This is probably all very confusing but this means method #1 and method #2 are out of the running. Chipped and bleeding paint is no good!

Now, the tiles on the left faired very well. The fact that I sanded one and not the other didn’t seem to matter. I rubbed on these pretty aggressively with the same rag and I did not get the same black paint residue as I did with the other tiles.

All of this to say, in order to pull this off, the tiles have to be primed and painted before stenciling with any type of pattern. Waiting to grout until the last minute worked well too.

I’m on the fence with all of this because I’m not sure I’m loving it. I worry the painted tile looks a little too DIY if you know what I mean.

I’m going to noodle on this some more, rub the tile a couple more times and see where I net out.






Join the discussion 25 Comments

  • Kim says:

    I actually kind of like the hand drawn look – the irregularity makes it more authentic to hand painted tiles. I wonder if you might consider using the products meant for painting tile – someone posted a link the other day – and do the tiles PRIOR to installing them (because the tiles would have to be baked to set.) Then you could discard the flubs, cut the tiles you need to cut (without having to worry about using pieces of stencil for odd corners) AND accomplish the most tedious work before installation. That would significantly decrease the amount of time you’ll be putting your kitchen out of commission.

    Meanwhile, you might want to try some kitchen cleansers on your test board.

  • I love that you made a trial board and good to know about the paint staying on there once you prime the tiles first. I actually quite like your hand-drawn motif, but I get what you say about it looking too DIY- especially with your style otherwise :). I will be interested to see what you plan on doing next… 🙂

  • angela says:

    I totally commend you for doing research as I would have probably just gone for it and gotten disastrous results. There is always a very fine line between good DIY and a little too homemade. YKWIM?

    Angela @ Number Fifty-Three

  • anne says:

    Could you grout first and then draw the pattern on?

  • It’s awesome that you tried out all these different methods.
    I was thinking back to a post I did a while back and I bought stickers that are made specifically for plain white tiles:
    It’s similar to etsy but the German version. They have very cool designs and they are like wall decals. I used the Pierro Fornasetti ones.

  • stef says:

    I was going to suggest this in the first thread, then I read that you wanted the real look and feel of tile, so I didn’t bother… but I’ll say it now. Have you thought about stenciling the wall and then installing plexiglass sheets over top so the surface is easy to clean? It definitely doesn’t give you the tile look, but you could probably do a way more intricate stencil that way.

  • Hi — another Midwest girl here (Ohio). I applaud your approach! I like the look of the second one, but you shouldn’t wipe away your work. Can’t wait to see how it unfolds!

  • Would a different pattern help? Or somehow [not even sure this is possible] trying to make it matte? Or maybe paint instead of a sharpie? I still love it though- I feel like its such a bang for your buck kind of project.

  • A woman after my own heart !
    Did you know there is a paint from France , used to be sold at Michaels, may still be, that is made for painting on glass and can be home-oven fired to form a pretty durable finish. A glazed tile is essentially glass on the glazed side.
    Another option, stop by one of those ceramic shops or paint ceramics w/ a glass of wine places and ask how much they’d chg to fire your tiles if you painted your pattern on in overglaze. Google Duncan products “overglaze” or “China Paints”. This would be a permanent finish.
    Have a look at Tabarkan hand painted tiles for inspiration for your rustic, hand drawn look.
    Best wishes, Lundy at Villa Lagoon Tile

  • Jen says:

    I still think that if you got the right paint, in a gloss finish, you may get the effect you are looking for.


    This is available in an array of colors, it works on glass and other non-porous surfaces. The gloss is VERY shiny.

    Or you could look into a ceramic studio, and think about that route. However, since my business is ceramics, I can tell you this. You would need to get the tile. Depending on your comfort level handling raw clay, you may choose to get them fired to bisque state. Then depending on the shop, you may have to purchase the underglazes, which need their own brushes, then you would need to get them fired, then you would need to have a glaze applied to the tile to give it the glossy shine you are looking for, and consistent surface finish. So 3 firings are involved, and hours of work. Also, some underglazes need 3 coats prior to firing and need drying time between.

    I have been doing ceramics for over 20 years (since I was teenager). I am STILL working on learning the tricks with underglazes/glazing things. I can never get the colors to be true to what I see in my head. *Sigh*

    • Your comment has me convinced that I am WAY in over my head here. There’s an art to this that I obviously haven’t even begin to master (not even scratched the surface). Thanks for the information.. I just think this is too advanced for me!

    • Omg Joanna! The second one might be a winner! I like that it’s still a Moroccan pattern but more subtle. We are going to order a sample and go from there. THANK YOU!!!!

      • Kim says:

        Since the tile itself forms the pattern, you can make it subtle or bold, depending on the color of grout you use. Still want black and white? Use black grout!

  • I actually love this. You did an amazing job hand drawing that pattern too! I can see how it would be daunting and exhausting to attempt especially for something you aren’t sure you love. I have total faith you can pull it off.

  • This looks like a fun science project. Your data analysis came back very clear! I hope you decide to more forward with the tiles. I like Kim’s idea, of painting and baking the tile first. I think it would look so amazing! You could definitely pull it off.

  • On the one hand, many people pay extra for hand-painted tiles! On the other hand, like any DIY, if it feels/looks too “DIY” for you, then it’s a loser. One of the things that bugs me most about blogs (and as a result, Pinterest) is that in an effort to create buzz, people often share projects or products that aren’t all that high quality. There is a difference between “value” and “cheap.” An inexpensive project or product that truly looks expensive and is well-made, well that’ a winner. An inexpensive or quick project or product that won’t hold up over time or actually looks pretty bad up close is a stinker. (Cue all the home decorating shows on TV where they complete rooms in little time AND little budget. Or clothes that look so cute online or in a print ad but when you see them in person, the fabric is so thin and the seams aren’t good. I’m talking about you, JCPenney!) Okay, thank you for allowing me to get that off my chest. End rant.

    • Haha rant away! I know what you mean! I think there’s definitely a balance. I’m willing to take on a bit of imperfection if it means saving money. In the case of the kitchen, I think the current solution is too far into the land of imperfection. There’s been lots of other great suggestions here that I’m working through to help fix that, but for now, the current idea is a dud!

  • What a great way to figure out what will work and what won’t work on a smaller scale before attempting the whole thing!! I’m super curious how/if you are going to move forward…good luck making a decision! 🙂

  • It’s looking really good!!! Great idea to test it out.

  • […] we go any further, let’s talk tile for a minute. We’re going to move away from the Moroccan tile backsplash idea. We’re so bummed about this but we can’t figure out a way to make it work. […]

  • Jen says:

    Have you thought about adding a couple coats of polyurethane after? This should seal and protect the tile before you grout.

    • I had thought of that but was worried about tile discoloration. I’ve had bad luck with yellowing tile because of the poly. I ended up not coating the tile at all and it wasn’t harmed by the grout at all! I did buy a specialty grout that uses glass particles vs. sand and that seemed to help with any possible scratching.

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