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Three Main Types of Surfaces

Defining all the products available in the stone industry can be somewhat challenging. It could be tempting to think that various materials and surfaces are categorized the same when in fact they are very different. In this article we will look at three main types of stone. As we consider these three stone categories, we will briefly consider some properties of each one and how it relates to the industry.

Natural Stone

The first stone type that we will consider in our discussion is the natural stone category of surfaces. These materials are older than the other categories we'll discuss and have actually been formed over a tremendous period of time. Many specific stone types fall under this classification. Some of the most popular for use in architectural and design projects include:

Natural stone materials like those listed above have specific individual characteristics about them that distinguish each one from the next. Let's briefly look at some natural stone materials. As we do, will mention some specific properties that make them desirable to many.


Marble is an elegant material that is characterized by the natural "veining" of colors. The stone is "softer" than other materials and is composed of calcite. it has a crystalline appearance and is a highly sought after stone for very specific reasons. Marble is in fat, such an appealing material, it is often mimicked by makers of synthetic materials. Another example of a natural stone


Natural granite is the material that everyone seems to compare other materials too. Why? Because granite is so well known and is a "staple" in structural and interior design. Granite is used for landscape features, interior surfaces, floors, and even monument and statues. Its durability and natural beauty make it a choice for many.


Travertine is a natural stone that is related to marble in the sense that it is composed of vary similar minerals. Travertine's beauty is seen in it's unique appearance. The identifying mark of travertine is the presence of the pits in the surface. These pits (a.k.a. holes, voids, pores, etc.) characterize the material. These pits may get filled or might be left natural. Various kinds of products are used for travertine filler. Very often travertine is a brown color or beige. Often times it is various shades of brown hues.


Slate is an interesting natural stone material that also is very distinguishable from other natural stone. Slate has a broad color palette that includes shades of:

  • Blue
  • Red
  • Green
  • Yellow
  • Black
  • Brown

It is a material that is harder than marble but not quite as hard of a stone as granite. It is used in a variety of ways. In fact Slate is used for flooring, tiles, and even cladding & shingles.


This natural stone is usually found in white, green or gray colors and is comprised of the mineral talc. Because of its properties, soapstone is heat & stain resistant. Soapstone is soft stone and can scratch easily. However, it is also easy to work and can be revitalized often times by simply sanding it gently and treating with mineral oil to restore the finish.

These are just a sampling of the variety of stone materials that fall into the category of natural stone. There are many others that we have not considered here. As you can see, natural stones offer a range of characteristics that contribute to the unique appearance of each specific stone type.

In addition to visual differences, there are care and maintenance requirements. Since each stone has a different composition, it must be cared for in a specific manner. This means you will need to research yourself in order to work with and care for natural stone.

Engineered Stone

Unlike natural stone, engineered stone is not quarried and cut. Rather, it is produced. Synthetic (or engineered) surfaces are a combination of minerals and resins that are combined and formed into slabs. These stone materials are very popular and continue to grow in popularity. Many of the manufacturers of Artificial stone surfaces continue to strive toward producing surfaces that resemble and even mimic their natural counterparts.

Engineered quartz surfaces are produced by a variety of brands in the stone industry and many of these brands are ones that you have probably heard about already. Companies like Cosentino, Caesarstone, and Cambria are among the name of companies that produce engineered surfaces. But why do people seem to be drawn to engineered stone surfaces?

The Appeal of Engineered Stone

The second category of stone that we will discuss is Engineered Quartz. Sure, engineered stone does not have the unique characteristics that natural stone offers. It also contains man made material. For example, engineered quartz consists of the mineral quartz and polymer resins that serve as a "binder" for the mineral. In addition to the binder, there are pigments that help to create the color of the slab. While the mineral is completely natural, the other components are definitely man made. You might be wondering what though is the appeal?

Because of the properties of both the mineral quartz and the resins that bind the mineral, quartz surfaces are non-porous. This means that stain-causing liquids cannot penetrate the pores of engineered quartz. Hence, all discoloring substances stay on the surface of the material where they can be removed. The non-porous nature of quartz also means that it does not need to be sealed. These two characteristics of engineered quartz; 1) the stain resistance, and 2) the fact that it never needs sealing, make it appealing to many for countertop surfaces.

Engineered quartz is also scratch resistant. Since the materials of which quartz is composed are hard, it results in a material that is scratch resistant. In fact, engineered quartz is harder than some granite. The scratch resistance is another trait that draws people to engineered quartz.

In addition to the easy care and maintenance of engineered quartz, the wide range of colors and the consistent appearance of quartz is another property that make this category of material the choice for some. Since the material is manufactured, the color is very controllable and can be reproduced regularly.

Sintered Materials

Our last category of stone that we will consider is Sintered Materials. These materials are ones that are separate and distinct from the others we have mentioned up to now. The name of the category is derived from the word describing how these materials are produced; sintering. Sintering is the name of a process through which raw materials in powdered form are transformed into a hard mass of material that has specific characteristics. There are variations of the sintering process and these variations yield a couple of groups under which these materials get placed. The two major sub categories of sintered materials as we arrange them are:

  1. Ceramic Porcelain
  2. Ultracompact Surfaces

These two groups of sintered materials have distinctive differences although each is produced by means of the sintering process. Let's look at each of these in a bit more detail now.

Ceramic Porcelain

The first of the two kinds of sintered materials that we will discuss is porcelain ceramic surfaces. Porcelain has been around for years and is a very popular material for a variety of uses. One such use is surface tiles. You often see the two words used together. Even here on this page we use the phrase porcelain ceramic and vice versa. But lets break this down so that it is easier to understand.

Why do we say that ceramics are a sintered material? Because the term sintered is is a word that describes a process whereby a mask of material is formed by using pressure and/or heat. These forces are used on raw materials to produce a material that is very hard. This accurately describes what happens when ceramics and porcelain are made. So, technically ceramic porcelain is a sintered material. But since the term merely describes a process, there are other materials that have grown from these techniques that have different attributes. Even ceramic and porcelain are different. How so?

Both ceramic and porcelain are shaped and put under extreme heat to cause the raw materials to harden. Porcelain is a particular type of ceramic material that meets a specific standard regarding it properties. Porcelain is non-porous and absorbs water slower than a ceramic will. You can find porcelain in both glazed and unglazed. Often times porcelain tiles are machine printed with the pattern so it does not continue all the way through the material. Even so, porcelain tiles are a popular, durable solution for surfaces.

Cutting porcelain ceramic surfaces is different from cutting engineered quartz in that the material is much harder and temperamental than engineered quartz surfaces. To cut these types of materials, you will need to know about the method for cutting these materials as well as using a diamond blade for cutting ceramic materials like porcelain. Following the best practices will also produce better results.

Ultracompact Surfaces

The other sintered material that is relatively new to the arena is Ultracompact Surfaces. These sintered materials are also created using a sintering process. However, these materials have some characteristics that set them apart from ceramic and porcelain surfaces. Let's consider some of the highlights of Ultracompact Surfaces.

When considering the differences between traditional porcelain and Ultracompact surfaces, there are some characteristics that really separate the two. At first glance, you would notice that ultracompact surfaces are much thicker than the large format porcelain tiles now being produced for use as cladding. This is a property that makes these sintered materials durable and scratch resistant.

Another noticeable attribute of the new ultracompact sintered surfaces is that the color is not just a surface color. The slab is the same color all the way through the material. This means that ultracompact slabs coordinate well when used for countertops, worktops, and table tops.

Thicker slabs with color continuity are not the only qualities that differentiate ultracompact sintered surfaces from the others. The durability, ease of maintenance and care requirements are low since these materials are so hard and thick.

Like the other sintered materials that we have considered here. ultracompact surfaces also require specific techniques and tools to work with it. For example, you will want to be sure you have the proper diamond blade to cut DEKTON® if you are working that particular sintered surface. Knowing which adhesives to use is important as well. So be sure you have the color matched glue for DEKTON® in the correct color.

So there are the 3 main categories of surface materials. 1) Natural stone, the stone that is cut out of the ground. 2) Ceramic & Porcelain, the material used for tiles for many years and that is now becoming more popular in the cladding area. 3) Ultracompact surfaces, that relatively new material that is versatile, durable and easy to care for. Which one you choose will depend on many things. Yet, knowing a bit about these materialsis a great place to start.