Back-Painted Glass Tile: Read This Before You Buy!

Ahhh. The beauty and depth of back-painted glass tile. I am the first to admit that there is a significant appeal to this modern tile that beckons to my inner urban-chic self. I am also the first to admit that I have not only sold this tile to clients, knowing full well the risks that are involved, but I have also considered it for my own home, risks be damned. After all, if you’ve read this post you already know that there are risks with a number of different tiles, right?

So what are these risks?

I’m so glad you asked.

*Disclaimer: I don’t want this post to dissuade you from choosing to purchase this type of tile, but I DO want this post to make you knowledgable of some potential binds you may find yourself in. That way, at least you can decide for yourself, with all of the facts, if it’s still worth it.

Master Bath modern bathroom

Potential Problem #1: Sourcing from China

It’s critical that as you begin your research, you know that about 99% of back-painted glass is sourced from China. The only reason I’m not saying 100% is because I’ve yet to find a company that sources elsewhere, but there may be some small company in North America that I just haven’t heard of yet (if you know of one, PLEASE comment below!).

Now, some Chinese products are very nicely made. But when it comes to tile, this simply is not the trend. Consider yourself warned.

The reason I list this first is because if you are shopping for this glass and comparing prices from say, Home Depot, with prices from a boutique tile store, you are probably astonished with the price difference. You may have been fed some (misleading) information about the quality and blah blah blah.

The FACT is that the vast majority (I would almost say all) of this tile is sourced from China. Designer brands included. When you are comparing those prices, you are paying more for the designer labels because of their brand, not the quality of your tile.

***Update 7/16/2011 – I found a company who manufactures glass tile in Canada: Interstyle. They have a variety of different shapes, sizes, colors, and blends to choose from and they have dealers all over the world! Whew what a great find! 🙂


Potential Problem #2: Incomplete Painting

The whole point of back-painted glass is that you take a cheap glass, paint the back of it a certain color, and then when it’s installed the color reflects nicely through the thickness of the glass. However, this concept only works when the back of the glass is completely painted. When it’s not, you see through right through it to the thinset or mortor behind it. Doesn’t exactly give you the look you probably want.

In some cases, particularly with lighter tiles, it’s not very noticable. But when you get to some darker colors, any errors in painting are accentuated by the contrast. This is exaggerated even more with larger format tiles (2″ x 4″ and up).

By the way, this glass retails at $75/SF!


Potential Problem #3: Cracks and Bubbles in Glass

Another thing to be wary of is that when you’re buying cheap material, you’re risking a cheap finished look.

In this instance, using the cheapest available glass combined with using cheap labour means that the manufacturers aren’t pulling out the imperfect glass from the rest of the material.

When you’re working with color-infused glass, these imperfections are what makes it beautiful. But when you’re working with back-painted glass, these imperfections throw off the way that the light bounces off your tile, and the imperfections will stand out like a sore thumb.

With all of that being said, I still love the look. It’s unmatched in the way that it can throw light in a space and bring a modern aesthetic to the foreground without being too “loud”. I still frequently recommend it for clients, and my dream bathroom actually showcases it in a large format on all of the walls. But it’s important that you understand exactly what you may be dealing with, and shop smart. At least now you know all of the facts, and can hopefully make an informed decision!

Bridle Path Ensuite Bathroom contemporary bathroom

*feature image source here

If you would like assistance planning your next tile project, email me at for a free consultation!

5 Responses to “Back-Painted Glass Tile: Read This Before You Buy!”
  1. Jennifer says:

    This is beautiful! It makes me think of a beautiful home on the coast! I think I am going to need your help designing my bathroom when I buy my condo! I want this!

    • Tile Tramp says:

      There is a small puddle of drool on my keyboard from these pictures as well! My aforementioned dream bathroom uses those blue tiles with silver accent liners and dark espresso brown cabinetry. And I will be happy to help you with any and all of your design issues 🙂

  2. alison says:

    So do you just recommend carefully sorting through your order when you receive it and bringing any flaws to the attention of the place you bought it from (for exchange or whatever)? I just bought a bunch from modwalls (won’t receive it until next week) and they seem super friendly and helpful, so I’m assuming that would be the way to go….?

    • Tile Tramp says:

      Absolutely! Sort through it immediately, and if there are any glaring problems, contact their customer service department as soon as you receive it. I’m not familiar with their return policy, but Modwalls is a great company and they are extremely friendly; I’d be shocked if they wouldn’t be willing to help you out.

  3. Bev says:

    Very helpful article. I was going to go a glass shop have them cut and polish glass to match subway tile then I wanted to stencil the back then paint it and use the glass tile randomly in my backsplash! Perhaps it not worth it because I know a bubble would ruin the glass. I goggled what kind of paint was used on the back of glass tile and your article came up. Guess I have some thinking to do!

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