Make an Impression

March 1, 2010
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Though the kiln-fired and sublimation processes both have their place in tile mural installations, they are not interchangeable.

Outdoor retreats can be enhanced through the incorporation of kiln-fired decorated tile.


Both indoor and outdoor tile murals create beauty in all environments, but it is important to understand the difference between the sublimation and kiln-fired decoration processes. Though both methods have their place in tile mural installations, they are not interchangeable.

Kiln-Fired Process

Transferring art or photography onto and then into a tile using the kiln-fired method is accomplished through the use of a modified laser printer in which ground minerals and ores are mixed together. The resulting liquid looks and acts like ink, but is actually a permanent material (unlike ink, which will eventually fade in any outdoor environment).

This liquid material is used to accurately translate detailed color and design information onto a decal. When the decal is placed onto the tile and fired, it undergoes a complete transformation. At 1800°F, the intense heat of the kiln allows the materials to bond and then fuse the image permanently into the tile.

High-fired tile can withstand extreme weather conditions, such as intense cold and heat or extended frost and sun exposure, and are suitable for outdoor installations. Since kiln-fired imaged tiles are also impervious to acid, these products can even be installed under a swimming pool to create a unique and lasting piece of art.

Indoor tile murals created via the sublimation process can create a dramatic focal point.

Sublimation Process

Dye sublimation is the transfer of pigmented ink to a hard or soft substance. Dye-sublimated tile are coated to allow the tile to accept the image. The pigmented ink turns into a gas in a heat press at 400°F, and the image goes through the coating and adheres to the tile. Indoor tile murals can create a dramatic focal point in indoor settings, such as wine cellars, backsplashes, bathrooms, ceilings and fireplace surrounds. They are sealed for protection against grease, water, humidity and other indoor conditions.

The process for creating indoor tile murals is very different from the high-fired process of outdoor kiln-fired imaged tile. Indoor marble, ceramic and glass tile murals will fade, peel and crack in outdoor environments. Ultraviolet (UV) rays fade the tile image, and heat allows the gases to escape. This causes the inks to migrate, which results in blurred and faded images. UV coatings do not protect against this reaction.

The Right Environment

Both the kiln-fired and sublimation techniques can be used to create beautiful tile murals. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each process will enable manufacturers, contractors and designers to provide the product that is best-suited for each installation environment.

For additional information, contact Compassionate Arts Tile and Stone at (818) 222-7322, fax (818) 222-7380, e-mail info@compassionatearts.com or visit the website at www.compassionatearts.com.

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