How to Pick the Perfect Subway Tile

Sizes, style, patterns, grout and layout, OH MY!  There are so many options.  If you’re like many of our customers, you’re excited to update your home but you’re overwhelmed with all the choices.  They make it look so easy on tv.  You’re worried you’ll pick something you don’t love and then what?  Don’t worry, we have you covered.

Subway tile is a timeless classy look.

Uses: Backsplash; Bathroom floor; Bathroom wall; Kitchen floor; Kitchen wall; Accent; Countertop; Outdoor Covered

When picking subway tile, there are a few things to know. The size of your space will play a major role in deciding which tile to go with. In smaller spaces, smaller tile can make the space look busy with all of the grout lines. We’re here to give you the 101 of subway tile.

Here is what matters: Size, Layout, Style, Finish and Grout


2 X 4 Its precise sizing allows for a thinner grout joint. This uniquely sized tile puts a modern twist on traditional subway tile. It’s popular with homeowners, designers and builders because it harmonizes perfectly with diverse designs and it is suitable walls, backsplashes and showers. But be careful of all the grout lines in larger spaces, it may make the area look too busy. Typically this tile comes in a mesh backed sheet for easy installation. This can cost between $5-$20 per square foot.

3 X 6 is the most common subway tile size. This is commonly referred to as “classic” subway tile. People like the 1:2 ratio. But there are many other sizes. With a kitchen backsplash, typically it’s 18″. Using this tile will give you 6 even rows of tile. This will typically cost you between $4-$7 per square foot.

2 X 8 and 2 X 10 This sleek tile can have a handcrafted look and a price to match. These are perfect for backsplashes and adding color to your room, but look great with classic white too. They can cost anywhere from $5-$15 per square foot.

Polished 2″ x 10″ Ceramic Subway Tile

4 X 8 This size is less common and harder to find. This is a great alternative for showers. If you use a darker colored grout you’ll get the same pleasing ratio of 1:2 but less lines.

3 X 12 The long shape of this tile creates a contemporary look. These are being used commonly in kitchen backsplashes and showers.

4 X 12 This size supports texture and patterns very well. We see this on walls and floors all over the house. In the picture below

Amazing shower with Venato marble and brass fixtures! Walls – 8X16 Carrara Venato, shower floor – 1X3 Venato Herringbone, bathroom floor – 4X12 Venato tile.
Horizontal Stack

4 X 16 The 1:4 ratio means fewer grout lines because this tile is longer and leaner. This size has become very popular over the last few years. Many people have started to use this size in showers. Placed both horizontally and vertically. The price will range from $4-$7 per square foot.

8 X 20, 10 X 30 and 12 X 36 With fewer grout lines this tile is typically considered too large for a backsplash, however these tiles make a great choice for a shower or a feature wall.

Layout: The most popular layout is the horizontal offset. This is often referred to as the brick pattern. This pattern works with traditional and contemporary designs. Tile layout can change a design instantly. Mixing colors and layouts can make a space unique and inspiring. Check out the other layout below. We see a lot of areas above the stove or shower floors in the herringbone pattern.

Style: Simple and clean, beveled edges or glazed, tile is never boring but the style will depend on the look you are going for.

Finish: Glossy vs. matte, textured vs. smooth, metallic, crackle. The shine of a glossy tile is likely to show water spots, fingerprints, dust and dirt but they are easy to clean. A darker color tile looks great when it’s glossy because it reflect the light. Gloss finish is the most popular but we see a lot of farmhouse style designers using the matte white finish. The matte finish feels modern and warm. A matte finish will hide dust and water spots better than a glossy finish. However it does hold smudges and may require a little extra scrubbing to remove grease and oil.

Grout, Trim and Edges:

You can dress up your tile with grout and tie the room together. There are many colors to choose from you’ll want sanded grout for the matte look and unsanded for the glossy finish. A color matching grout will make the lines disappear. A contrasting grout will emphasize the pattern, layout and shape of the tile. It can look busy if it’s a smaller tile.

A wider grout looks more old-school and complements hand crafted/irregular tile wells. Think glossy and glazed tile or the larger tiles. Smaller grout lines look clean but will highlight crooked imperfect lines. So be sure to hire a professional if you’re going to use dark grout because it’s harder to hide mistakes.

Some ceramic lines offer pencil liners, quarter rounds, chair rail and bullnose pencils for edges and trim. The thin pieces can hide the unfinished edges and turn corners, while matching the color and finish of the ceramic tile.

A stone or metallic pencil or chair rail can be a more expensive option. If you can’t find the exact color, you could opt for a complimentary color to match your fixtures, hardware or grout. Schluter profiles are usually the best priced product per linear foot. Schluter is sold in 8′ lengths they have few seams and look clean.

If you’re in the Cincinnati area, we’d love to help you with your tile selection and give you a free estimate.

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