The process for creating cement tile is both elaborate and simple. Simple because there are few ingredients and little equipment needed. The tiles are not fired or glazed and they air cure. The complex part involves the training necessary to make the tile, and the level of intricacy of the design.
First a mold is created, which, depending on the pattern, could be simple or very intricate.Preexisting molds are antique or modern. The customer can also create a custom design.
To make a tile mold, an artist draws the individual design that will be created, keeping in mind the overall pattern. From that drawing, an artisan metalworker produces a single tin or copper mold. It depends on how elaborate the design, but according to tile manufacturer Jorge Aguayo, vice president of Aguayo Tiles in the Dominican Republic, says, "A design with a medium degree of difficulty usually takes about three weeks to make.”
Once the mold is ready, natural mineral pigments are poured into the compartments. Dry cement is sprinkled onto the color surface, then a mixture of damp sand and cement is dumped on top. Intense pressure compacts the layers and makes the tile strong. The drying and curing process takes 2 to 4 weeks, depending on the humidity and other factors.
According to Original Mission Tile's Wilhem Stevens, "To make good quality tiles, you must have well trained workers who love what they do. It takes one to two minutes of hand labor to produce each tile."
Usually, the workers who manufacture cement tile learn the skills as apprentices and pass the craft to subsequent generations. According to Aguayo, “Our tile factory has been making cement floor tile for three generations. The artisans are very proud of their work and this shows in the finished product.”
Handmade cement tiles are each unique and are expected to have slight imperfections, which give them character and depth. "It is interesting how everyone's tiles are different," says Granada Tile's Stephens. "Each manufacturer makes choices. Everyone's color palette is different. They use different formulas and pigments. The aggregates and other variables result in differences in the finished tile."