I have expensive tile taste. It’s a curse. And since my budget for our guest bathroom leaves no room for any more splurges (I’m looking at you, husband who wanted a panel shower system), I’m getting creative. So, when I saw tile I loved but couldn’t afford, I started to think of ways I could make my own.
Full disclosure, this one takes TIME. If I’d had to pay myself for labor, it might’ve been less expensive to just buy the original tile. 😜 But since I wanted my colors slightly different too, it was worth the hassle. Plus I can say I made my own tile! I already had most of the supplies – thin set mortar and grout from the shower remodel, paint from craft supplies, and epoxy from previous projects – so all I had to buy was the sculping clay for $28. If you have to buy all new supplies for this, it’s obviously more upfront (around $150 total), but you’ll have these supplies for future projects too, keep in mind.
I should also add that I’d only use this tile for decorative niches, etc. They’re certainly not up for use in a shower. But, it’s a great way to add some fancy color somewhere that won’t get a lot of wear or water.
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Step 1: Create shape templates. My tiles needed to be a waterspout pattern, so I grabbed some scrap cardboard and drew my shapes until I was happy, then cut them out so I’d be able to place them on my clay and trace/cut my shapes that way.
I wish I’d been able to find a cookie-cutter for my shapes, and that’s certainly something I’d recommend if you can find one for your shapes! Another trick (which I applied to my faux-tiles for the bathroom walls) is to get tile samples of exactly what you want and use those as templates to trace when making your own tiles. (You can get tile samples at TileBar for cheap, for example.)
Anyway, once I had my shape templates, I was ready to go.
Step 2: Cut the clay pieces. Amazon sent me the wrong kind of clay, so I ended up using the air-dry kind of Sculpey clay. I hear that the oven-bake kind is hardier, so let me know if you try that kind! But for now, keep in mind that this method used the air-dry kind.
With my clay and a few tools/supplies ready, I rolled out the clay so that it was about 1/4 inch thick. You don’t want the clay too thin, or else it curls and breaks easily. Too thick, and it takes much longer to dry. (I tested this with my clay, and that 1/4 inch was the sweet spot.)
Taking my shape templates, I numbered them 1-9 to make sure I kept them straight as I went (I have many distractions, but you might be able to focus better and not need to do this). Placing one template on the clay at a time, I used a kitchen knife to cut the clay around my shapes. Once the shape was cut, I used the knife like a spatula and lifted it loose from my countertop. I had a strip of wax paper ready off to the side, and I placed my shapes on this to dry.
If my edges were rough at all, I used my fingers to smooth them out before setting them to dry. The clay is pretty forgiving and easy to smooth out.
Once I’d cut shapes all over my rolled out clay, I was able to form the scraps back into a ball and then roll it out again to make more shapes.
I ended up using 3 packs of clay (about 6 lbs) to make all the tiles I thought I’d need to cover the back of my niche. It was a LOT of little shapes. Time-consuming, yes, but also pretty easy. I gave the tiles about 24 hours to fully dry.
Step 3: Color the tiles. I colored my tiles a few different ways, partly to get different looks and partly to experiment with what worked best. Some I spray painted with the same metallic rose gold that I’ll use elsewhere in our bathroom. Some I painted with acrylic paints. Some I used stained glass paint for a shiny effect. Some I epoxied with mica powders mixed into the epoxy.
The spray paint was by far the easiest. But the colored epoxy tiles ended up being the best quality and strongest, so that’s worth noting. Really, each way ended up making pretty tiles, so you could probably color them just about any way.
Step 4: Seal the tiles. I love Stone Coat Countertops epoxy and trust it to do the jobs I need it to do. For my tiles, I wanted to be sure they’d be as strong as possible, kind of shiny, and have at least a little waterproofing considering they were clay. By coating my colored tiles in epoxy, I was fairly sure I’d get the results I wanted.
So why not just color them all with epoxy in the first place? I wanted the look of the other paint jobs too. Plus, epoxy will flow, and I wasn’t sure some of my edges were good enough to keep enough epoxy on to make the colors as vibrant as I wanted. 🤷♀️
I spread my tiles on a few black garbage bags because I knew the epoxy wouldn’t make them stick to garbage bags. I ended up mixing about 12 oz of clear epoxy to cover my tiles. I simply mixed parts B and A in equal parts in a cup, used a plastic spoon to drizzle epoxy over my tiles until they were covered, and then let them sit overnight to cure. Just make sure the tiles don’t touch each other, or they’ll be stuck together!
Side note: If you follow the instructions, epoxy isn’t as intimidating as it may seem! If you want to see my full process when working with epoxy on bigger projects, see here. You could try sealing the painted clay tiles with polyurethane or something, but I know epoxy works.
Step 5: Install the tile. It should be noted that I eyeball measurements way more than I should. If you need, you could measure your space and then lay out your tile to make sure you have enough to cover your area. Fortunately, the picture in my head ended up working. 😜
First, I mixed up some thin set mortar and spread it over the back of my niche. I needed it a little on the thick side because some of my tiles had curved a bit while drying (the thinner ones did this, as I mentioned). Basically, you just want to be sure the thin set is as even as possible and doesn’t run down the wall at all.
Collecting my tiles in one bunch of waterspout shapes at a time, I started gently pushing my tiles into the thin set. A few times I needed to wiggle and reposition one or two, and it’s a good idea to wipe away any thin set that bulges up between/around the tiles as you get them in place. This is so that it doesn’t dry and stick out too much when you go to grout.
I filled in my space with as many full waterspout configurations as I could. Next, around the edges, I took some remaining tiles and broke them with scissors so they’d fit against the edges to fill in empty spaces that wouldn’t fit a whole tile.
Once my whole area was tiled, I made sure I didn’t have too many globs of thin set sticking up. Then, I let it sit overnight to dry.
The next day, I finished my tile installation by mixing a bucket of grout and spreading it on. At first I used a plastic spreader, but I quickly saw that this was too harsh and rubbing off some of edges of the tiles. Yikes! So, I changed to using a sponge to apply the grout, and this also gave me a cool, aged texture that goes well with the look of my bathroom.
Since I had big gaps between some waterspout shapes, it took quite a bit of grout. But, by following my grout’s instructions and letting it sit for about 20 minutes, it set up nicely and then I was able to wipe off the excess grout without removing too much.
Grout takes a bit of patience to wipe off tiles, but eventually I could see how everything turned out, and I was quite pleased. A big tip – baby wipes do an amazing job of removing the final layer of grout film/residue from tiles!
All done! I could definitely tell that my tiles coated best in epoxy held up best through this process, but they all look good! All things considered, I’m happy with how this relatively cheap alternative to store-bought tile worked out. (I saved myself about $160! I told you I have expensive tile taste. lol) Now I just have to figure out how I want shelves in my niche and what décor to add! 😜