'How To' Guide
Why go for bespoke tiles?
This may be the first time you have ever considered commissioning bespoke tiles. You may have failed to find exactly what you want ‘off the shelf’ or perhaps you have not yet decided what you want but would like to explore the options, knowing that you want something special and unique to you, without spending a fortune.
Whatever your motivation, we can help.
What do we do?
We are a small company, in business for around twenty five years, hand-painting and printing ceramic tiles to order. We have a standard tile which we have specially made for us. We can offer this tile with our full range of techniques and finishes we can also offer it as a well priced glazed plain tile to match your decorated ones. If you feel you would prefer us to use a different tile then we can often do this for you too, depending on which techniques are needed to achieve the effect we want for you and also on whether the tile you prefer will successfully refire.
In other words - you can have anything you like.
Is it a permanent finish?
Yes. Whatever methods we choose to complete your commission, the colours are all fired at high temperature in our kiln – often several times. Once they are fired, the colours are completely permanent, and will never rub off or fade. Like any other ceramics, they will remain clear, bright and beautiful indefinitely.
Hand painted versus digital - what are the options?
One decision you will need to make at some point is whether you are choosing a hand painted tile or a digitally printed tile. Hand painted allows the greatest flexibility in terms of size and design because we are simply creating something especially for you. Digital tile printing creates an exceptional finish, extremely hard to differentiate from hand painted (impossible, we would say), is quicker to produce to order and is a brilliant option for those on a budget and/or tight timescales. We are improving our range of digital designs constantly.
STAGE ONE - THE DESIGN
How to decide on a design
We are very practised at realising our clients’ ideas – often from the tiniest clues. However, mind reading is an unpredictable skill and the following questions may help you to give us the information we need:
Do you need to match or tie-in with a fabric or wallpaper? - With nothing more than a reasonable sized sample of fabric or wallpaper, we can extract or reproduce ideas for your hand-painted tiles. Either this can be the main design for a panel or single décor tiles (or both), or perhaps just as inspiration for a tiled border to be used on its own or as a frame for a decorative panel of tiles depicting something else of your choice. Even samples of the wall or wood paints you have chosen can help us with deciding on a range of colours for your commission.
When a client despaired of finding tiles to co-ordinate with the fabric they had chosen for curtains, the solution was simple. We used a sample of the fabric to inspire this classic blue and white design for the basin splash back.
For example, if you have a house with a handsome exterior, you might enjoy looking at it even when you are in it.
Here an owner provided us with a photograph of their house for us to hand paint.
Do you need us to draw up a design for you? Often, a design can be easily agreed in detail without a drawing. In other cases, it is well worth our sketching out a design for approval before we paint the tiles, allowing you to check that our interpretation ties in with your ideas, especially if there are several elements to combine or perhaps a complicated layout. There is a small additional fee for this.
Are there any special features or obstacles that need to be ‘designed in’? - For example, a flue coming up the middle or side of the space above the kitchen range where you would like your hand-painted tiles is far from disastrous. A flue or other unattractive pipework can be very successfully worked around, if re-routing of the pipework is not an option, by drawing the eye to elements of the design on one or both sides.
Here, we have sketched out a design to show a client how their tiles can be painted to work around an awkward flue pipe.
STAGE 2 - THE TILE
Choosing a background tile
The basic, undecorated and unglazed tile is simply a slab of fired clay, varying in colour from pure white through to a range of pinks, browns and reds. The heavier unglazed tiles – such as the universally popular terracotta – can make an excellent floor covering although a layer of sealant or wax is always advisable. However, hand-painted tiles are always glazed, either before, during or after decorating.
It is perfectly possible to hand-paint onto most ready-glazed tiles (see ‘What is on-glaze’ below) which means, if you have already chosen a background tile, we can probably use it. Rarely a glazed tile will not re-fire successfully in which case we can usually recommend a similar looking alternative. We are happy to discuss and advise on a suitable background tile to get exactly the effect you are after.
The glaze is the layer of glassy, shiny material that is fired onto the surface of the tile. It can be clear, allowing the colour of the background clay and any underglaze painting to show through, alternatively, it can be brightly coloured, being tinted with a range of natural and artificial colours. Generally though, tiles destined for hand-painting are best suited to either a clear glaze or a white or cream-coloured glaze.
It is the layer of glaze that sometimes ‘crazes’ to create a fine network of superficial cracks across the entire surface of the tile. It is this crazing that gives many old ceramic pieces their indefinable charm as many ceramics will gradually become more and more crazed over time.
The degree of crazing can be encouraged by the addition of specific ingredients to the glaze recipe allowing clients to choose a deliberately more heavily crazed finish, perhaps teaming it with a chunky hand-made tile. A wipe-over with pigment once the tile is fired for the final time helps to accentuate the crazing for a finish that can be extremely effective, particularly in a more rustic style of kitchen.
NB: We would advise against a heavily crazed finish in tiles destined to be frequently exposed to large amounts of water – for example as the lining of walls in a shower. This is because the deliberate ‘flaws’ in the finish can allow small amounts of water to eventually creep in under the glaze, soaking into the porous clay beneath, although this can be discouraged by additional waterproofing treatments.
What is ‘on-glaze’, ‘in-glaze’, and under-glaze and what do I need to know?
It is not necessary for you to take a crash course in ceramics techniques. We are happy to talk you through the options and can even provide samples of the various finishes if you need us to. Nonetheless, here is a quick introduction, although, to make things even more complicated, we will frequently use a combination of the following techniques to get the effect we are after for you.
In-glaze – There are two main types of in-glaze technique. The first is often referred to as Maiolica or Delftware, this is an ancient technique of painting directly onto raw tin-glaze. Quite an exacting skill (any careless brushstrokes are impossible to erase) it generally utilises a range of natural pigments that can be mixed to produce a limited range of colours, the most common being cobalt blue, manganese brown and copper oxide green. Another technique uses stains that give a larger range of colours than the natural pigments. Both techniques (which can be combined) give a softer, more mellow effect than on-glaze, and are particularly appropriate for the recreation of most older tile designs.
Under-glaze – As you may already have guessed, underglaze involves the complete decoration of the tile followed by dipping in a clear glaze before firing. The colour of the background tile is still visible after firing in the undecorated areas. Underglaze is a more unusual technique than the others. We will occasionally recommend it as a starting point for a complex design to give a soft, background to subsequent on-glaze decoration.
STAGE 3 - THE MEASUREMENTS
If your tiles are part of a large-scale refurbishment project, you may have architect’s drawings of the room in question. Often a copy of this is all we need to calculate your needs for you.
Alternatively, you can do it yourself in which case a detailed plan of the entire room is rarely necessary. Instead, a total calculation of the area needed is fine for the background tiles, with more accurate measurements of height and width needed for areas where you intend to have a decorated panel.
Working out how many decorated and background tiles you will need
Once you have the measurements, they need to be translated into the number of tiles where the size of tile and width of grout come into play. Don't worry, we will help.
Another issue is that usually, in the average kitchen or bathroom, the total tiled area will be a mixture of hand-painted and plain tiles. A decorative panel may be the right choice for a focus point, above the sink or the stove for example. This could be teamed with some complementary single decor tiles mixed with plain tiles in other areas of the room, perhaps with a border tile design to surround the panel and edge the rest of the room, to unify all the different areas.
STAGE 4 - Thinking about the budget
The good news is many people are pleasantly surprised at how little it costs to have something created just for you. We are experienced at matching commissions to budgets and are happy to discuss and quote for various options without any obligation.
We have also recently introduced some digitally printed versions of our own hand painted designs which are virtually indistinguishable from the original. These are recreations of our most popular designs and we are gradually expanding the range. To see what we have available so far go to our gallery and choose the 'digitally printed tiles' under 'tile types'.
If you need a particular solution in terms of design and size, you will probably find that a hand painted commission is the answer. To give you some idea, we calculate our fee on the basis of a price per tile decorated. This includes the cost of the tile itself, if it is our standard 5" tile. A simple border or single décor tile may cost £10-17, and a heavily decorated tile as part of a panel may cost as much as £25, although the average cost per tile is nearer £22 which compares well with quality off-the-shelf designs.
If an initial idea exceeds your budget, there are lots of ways to reduce costs without compromising too much on what you want. For example:
Sometimes money spent on an expensive background tile can be wasted when a more economical background tile looks just as good after being painted. Some beautifully rich, complex designs can be painted onto a very economical white background tile.
A panel designed for a large area, perhaps over a stove, can entirely fill the space. Alternatively, a smaller panel can look very effective surrounded with plain tiles (with or without a decorated border).
Confining this design to just eight tiles, plus a decorative border, limits the cost of this project but makes a marvellous focal point when surrounded by plain tiles
If you have a focal point with a decorated panel of tiles, you can choose to tie it in with border tiles and perhaps single décor tiles in other parts of the room or use plain tiles in the rest of the room if budgets are tight or you are after a simpler look.
Getting a quote
If you live within reach, you are extremely welcome to visit our studio to see our work and discuss your ideas. That said, we are used to working for an international range of clients and geography is no barrier to our working with you.
An initial telephone call is a good start and we are happy to share ideas and give estimates in this way. Designs and costs can then be agreed via post, fax and e-mail.
We are happy to consider commissions of all sizes including those for a single tile. However, we do have a minimum commission charge of £100 excluding postage and packing.
We ask for 50 per cent up front on confirmation of the order. The remainder is payable on completion. More details of our terms and conditions will be laid out in our quotation.
Payment can be by cash, cheque or credit/debit card and we can accept card payments over the telephone.
Glossary of tile terms
A few words you probably know the meaning of and possibly one or two that you don’t.
Background tile – an undecorated tile, used as a base for hand-painting but generally, for consistency, also used, plain glazed for tiling the other parts of the room where hand-painted tiles are not required.
Panel – a block of hand-painted tiles that go together to make up a decorative picture or panel, sometimes with a frame of border tiles.
Border tiles – a narrower tile than the main ones, usually used along the edge of the tiled area or, often, around a decorated panel.
Single décor – a decorated tile with a single design that can be used on its own.
Grout – paste used to fill the gaps left between the tiles. Usually white but available in a range of colours. The width of the gaps is a matter for personal preference.