Tile 101: Zellige Tile

By Clay Imports

Our Most Charming Tile


Designers worldwide have named handmade Zellige tile as one of the trendiest tile right now. We know why: it’s one-of-a-kind. The imperfect charm, unconventional finish and unique installation techniques make this product stand out. Zellige derives from the word for “faience, ornamental tile”:  زايج. 

Where and how is Clay Imports Zellige tile made?

Zellige Tile - How It's Made | YouTube Video

Clay Imports Product Developers visited several Zellige-making workshops around the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Fez in Morocco. We were intrigued with the techniques Moroccan artisans passed down from generation to generation. We encountered countless similarities between tile making in Mexico and Morocco. Surprisingly, it wasn't the glazing techniques that coincided. It was the much more simple and unrefined Saltillo tile-making process. Similar to crafting Saltillo, Zellige tiles are made of clay mixed with water. Then hand-shaped, dried, and lastly kiln-fired. Artisans hand stack the tiles in the simple kilns and then fire. Look at how similar the firing pits look!


We also found a similar sense of pride and admiration of the Mexican ladrilleros and Moroccan maâlems for their historical craft and how it connects them to the earth.

The main difference between Saltillo and Zellige tile is GLAZING. Ceramic glaze is an impervious layer or coating of a vitreous substance that has been fused to a ceramic body through firing (thank you, Wikipedia, for breaking that down so simply).

Glazing has never been done in Saltillo. Why? Because it seemed impossible. That is before Clay Imports developed an understanding of how Zellige tiles are glazed. 

Backsplash design by Samantha Packham of Zebedee DesignsZellige Noir Black—Backsplash design by Samantha Packham of Zebedee Designs

But there's another important reason to start making another type of Zellige tile in Mexico: LEAD. Many Moroccan glaze compositions are lead-based, which can be detrimental to the tile makers. The use of lead-based glazes is prohibited in Mexico, for the well-being of those who create our decorative tile and pottery. The “advantage” of lead-based glazes is the shimmering, high gloss finish it gives the tile. The same effect is just not achievable with non-lead glazes.

What is the visual difference between Zellige tile and conventional clay tile? 

The most prominent difference between Zellige and other clay tiles lies in the beveled edges. The beveled edges of Zellige tiles allow for extremely narrow and tight grout joints, which lets you create the oh-so desirable, artisan handmade look.

More conventional clay tiles, such as our Talavera solid squares, are not beveled. Zellige tiles, are more unpredictable than regular clay tiles because variations in size and thickness are more common.

Both Zellige and regular clay tiles are suitable for the same areas, such as backsplashes, showers, and other wall and floor applications with low to moderate traffic.


Why and where should I use Clay Imports Zellige?

Our zellige tiles are sustainable, free of lead, handcrafted, and support a growing community of tile artisans in Mexico. When you purchase our tile, you're supporting better work conditions and safety for tile makers. Our tile is also made from recycled clay material and made to order. Which means less waste for the planet!  

Our Zellige is also very high quality and durable. You can install Zellige tiles inside and outside, as long as they’re not exposed to heavy freezing. They are also suitable for wet areas, such as shower applications and steam rooms.

High variation is an undeniable characteristic of zellige tileHigh variation is an undeniable characteristic of zellige tile.
Design and photo by Cary Paul Studios.

Do I need to grout Zellige tile?

At Clay Imports, we recommend grouting every tile application for a long-lasting and durable installation. For the best look we recommend minimal grout spacing between 1/16”-1/18”.

It is possible to just “butt joint” Zellige tiles, without grouting in areas that do not experience moisture, but we’d like to be on the safe side and recommend minimal grout joints.

What grout color is recommended for Zellige tile?

Zellige tiles themselves are a showstopper of your space. This is why we’d recommend neutral grout colors, such as light or medium gray, to steer all the attention to the stunning pieces of art. We recommend Mapei Ultracolor Plus FA grout or Mapei Flexcolor CQ for our Zellige tiles.

What are my size and thickness options? 

Our classic Zellige size is 4”x4”. In addition, we offer 2”x6, and 2”x8.” Zellige tile thickness is approximately ⅜”. Since this tile is 100% handcrafted, expect variations in size and thickness from piece to piece. Keep in mind that these variations will require more time and skill in installation.

Can I use Zellige tile in a pool?

Original Moroccan Zellige tiles have been used to decorate water features for centuries. However, due to the fragility and unconventional nature of Zellige tile, you must be ready for quite some maintenance and precautions during installation.

To err on the safe side, we do not recommend installing Zellige tile in a submerged or waterline application. Zellige tiles are not high-fired, and, although the glaze makes them impervious to water, it is the unglazed sides, chipped edges, and back that can get damaged by exposure to water.

How do I install Zellige Tile?

Upon receipt of your tile, open all boxes and inspect the materials. Please note that this is a handmade product. Edge chips, surface fractures, and irregular thickness are all inherent characteristics of Zellige tiles. For best results, blend materials from all boxes prior to installation.

Due to its handmade nature, Zellige tiles require a different level of attention than conventional materials. The fragility and unconventional nature of Zellige tile requires much more time and skill for installation. This can result in significantly higher installation rates. We recommend hiring a professional tile installer, well versed with handmade tile for Zellige tile installation.

How do I order Zellige?

First, we recommend reviewing samples prior to purchase. Here's how. Please know that Zellige tiles are considered one of the most distressed, irregular and unpredictable materials available within the tile industry. Embrace the variation, even from sample to full order!

Once you have samples on hand, position them in your space. Since Zellige tiles are of high variation, the lighting in your space will directly impact the look. 

Ready to order your full amount? You can order directly online. Just input your needed quantity and include at least 15% overage. Questions? Email us at contact@clayimports.com or chat with us.




Disclaimer: since the installation of tile greatly determines the integrity of the project and the tile itself, Clay imports does not warranty this product and is not responsible for dissatisfaction of material following installation. Please inspect all tile upon receipt and notify us immediately if you have any quality concerns. This guide is meant to serve as a general resource. Because each project is unique, consult your tile installer before installing your tile.