Timeless Subway Tiles - Part 3: Finish

White marble countertop with a light blue herringbone ceramic tile backsplash, sliced lemons and potted plants.

Glossy vs. matte, textured vs. smooth, metallic, crackle, or beyond... what finish you choose can change how your tile looks and how easy it is to clean.


Whether you choose the classic white 3x6" subway tile or opt for a large multi-color arrangement, subway tiles are a timeless choice for your kitchen, bathroom, or fireplace surround. 


The Classic: 3x6 White Glossy Offset Subway Tile

Bathroom with white pedestal sink, white octagon-and-dot mosaic tile floor, 3x6" white subway tile wainscoting topped with a white ceramic chair rail. The walls are painted with a yellow faux finish.

These mass-produced little ceramic tiles are what started lining the New York subway in the early 1900s, hence the name "subway tile".


The most traditional version of subway tile is:

  • 3x6"
  • White
  • Glossy
  • Set in a 50% offset brick pattern
  • No variation/texture

This is usually the least expensive version of ceramic subway tile, running appx. $3/sqft.


Low-maintenance, bright and clean-looking, these have been a standard of kitchen and bath design for the past century.


However, numerous variations on stylecolorfinishsize, and layout are now available to give you a multitude of ceramic tile options. Peruse our 5-part look book to find your perfect subway style!

Consider Finish


Reflective and bright, a high-gloss finish is the most popular option for ceramic subway tile. Whether on a smooth, flat tile or a wavy or handcrafted tile, that shine feels expensive and clean.


A darker color feels less dark when it's glossy and bouncing light back into a room.


The shine of a glossy tile is more likely to show water spots, fingerprints, dust, and dirt... but these tiles are easy to clean.


A matte finish softens a tile. It can be dressed down and look more casual, or dressed up for a sophisticated look.


Combined with a handcrafted style, a matte tile feels warm and ageless, working equally well in a shabby chic or a cottage design,


Clean, square tiles with a matte finish feel modern and subtle.


A matte finish will hide dust and water spots more than a glossy finish, but it will also hold onto finder smudges more and might require a little extra scrubbing to remove oil or grease spots.


Crackle finishes speak to old world elegance, and add an antique flavor to your subway tile.


Some crackled finishes should be sealed with a penetrating sealer before grouting to prevent discoloration from the grout. Check the manufacturer's specifications to see if you need to seal your tiles.


Watery waves look great in a bathroom.


A canvas-like texture creates a cozy effect.


A hammered finish adds an antique appeal.


Textured ceramic tiles are available with a number of designs and colors and add depth to your walls while maintaining their easy-to-clean status.


Remember to wipe with the grain if removing surface residue.


There are only a few ceramic tiles available with a metallic glaze, but they certainly make a statement!


A metallic sheen looks elegant and expensive, and can be combined with texture to make a more dramatic look.


Metallic tiles are usually more expensive than their solid color counterparts.


Check out our gold tile look book for more ideas and tile pictures.

Mix it up!

Blend glossy, matte, and textured tiles together for a unique feature wall, or frame them into different sections to create a focal point on your backsplash.


There are some tile lines that offer the same color in multiple finishes so you're guaranteed they'll line up and match.

Other Considerations...

Check out the rest of the Subway Tile Series:

Part 1 : Style

Part 2: Color

Part 3: Finish

Part 4: Size

Part 5: Layout 

Bonus: Edge Trim, Grout, & Beyond


Set up a complimentary in-store design consultation and we'll help you pick the perfect tile.

253-872-0449 or info@tilelines.com

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