Learn how to make sense of shade variations in porcelain and ceramic tile

Know the differences in shade variation when picking out tile

Did you know that you could expect to find shade variations in porcelain and ceramic tile? It’s not a defect; it’s part of the porcelain and ceramic tile manufacturing process. As ink-jet printing on tile has gotten more sophisticated, you’ll find greater ranges in patterns and shades incorporated into the design so as to better emulate what you find in natural stone or wood. In other words, you should definitely expect to find shade variation.

What Is Shade Variation?

Shade variation has to do with the appearance of the porcelain or ceramic tile you are considering. It happens because the tile production process takes natural clay elements, bakes them at very high heat and, depending on the materials and conditions, may generate slight changes from batch to batch (not too different from the variation you might notice between two cookie batches), as well as from dye (color) lot to dye lot. It also happens on purpose as part of a specific tile design.

To help make sense of shade variation, the Ceramic Tile Distributors Association (CTDA) came up with a shade variation rating system. The shade variation rating of a tile indicates the degree to which its color, tone and texture vary among individual tiles. Virtually every ceramic and porcelain tile, other than pure black or white tiles, has some degree of shade variation even in the same production run.


The CTDA shade variation rating system for porcelain and ceramic tile consists of the following categories:

  • V1 = Uniform Appearance – Differences among pieces from the same production run are minimal.
  • V2 = Slight Variation – Clearly distinguishable differences in texture and/or pattern with similar colors.
  • V3 = Moderate Variation – While the colors present on a single piece of tile will be indicative of the colors to be expected on the other tiles, the number of colors on each piece will vary significantly.
  • V4 = Substantial Variation – Random color differences from tile to tile, so that one tile may have totally different colors from that on other tiles. Thus, the final installation will be unique.

You see each represented visually in the images above.

How Does It Affect The Tile You Select?

Shade variation can present challenges if you aren’t aware of the ranges and the implications for your floor or wall. We want you to be thrilled with your purchase so in order to better ensure your happiness it is important that you understand a few things about tile and stone.


As we mentioned above, ceramic and porcelain tiles are earthen products with a degree of expected variation in size, shade and texture from tile to tile within a single box or dye lot. Furthermore, modern manufacturing techniques are so sophisticated that many tiles have been designed to have up to 40 or more different images within its production in order to better mimic the differences in color, shade, variation and veining inherent to natural stone.

Porcelain and Ceramic Tile Shade Variation Up Close

If you are looking for a uniform look with no variation, then you will want to consider only V1 products. However, if variation appeals to you, then you should explore V2 through V4 products and decide how much variation you prefer.

It’s much easier to explore the look in this manner than to install it, be unhappy and then want to rip the installation out and start all over again.


Extreme shade variation can create highly distinct and personal statements on a floor or a wall – assuming that is what you have in mind. The opposite extreme can help you create a completely uniform look. To help you select the right product, Tiles Unlimited encourages you to look at shade variation ratings and, then, when you are close to your final choice, be sure to take several tiles from one box so you can see them side-by-side and determine how the variation in pattern and shade appeals to you.

Check out the Tiles Unlimited Inspiration Gallery to learn more about the tile collections we offer. We look forward to seeing you in-store and helping you find the right tile so your dream becomes reality. Before you come in to see us, make sure you download your $600 off tile coupon.

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