There has been a lot of attention drawn to sintered stone of late, with appearances on HGTV and Property Brothers stoking interest in this new countertop material.
Sintered stone is a new category, not to be confused with large format porcelain tile, which is also trying to elbow its way into the fray, as interest in quartz surfaces begins to wane.
There is confusion about the sintered stone category, and how it differs from porcelain and we will explore the largest of those differences here: is it printed or not?
To sinter, by definition, is to: make (a powdered material) coalesce into a solid or porous mass by heating it (and usually also compressing it) without liquefaction.
So our first learning moment is liquefaction. For years, I could have sworn it was liquification, which, even my spell check knows is wrong. So, no, liquification is not a word.
Back to sintered stone.
Many new materials are sintered and it could be argued that the next generation of man-made surfaces will have heat and compression as part of their process. These products will have various names:
- Sintered Stone
- Large Format Porcelain
They will have different manufacturing processes, and be compressed at different PSI levels, and heated at different temperatures, all resulting in varying levels of performance and aesthetics.
The biggest difference to note is whether the pattern or design is printed on the surface, or is in fact inherent throughout the material.
There are two claims that can be made:
- Through-body color
- Through body veining
What this means, is that the curtains match the drapes, or the inside of the slab matches the outside. So what you see is what you get, even after you cut into the material, and start seaming it together.
Source: Infinity Surfaces
Most porcelain is printed, because the production processes for porcelain are often based on tile, printing a variety of patterns for small tiles that were seamed together with grout lines, the body of the tile was not a concern, because it was rarely exposed. Scaling this process up to countertop size introduces some issues when it comes to edge profiles and seams.
The upside of printing is that you can get virtually ANY pattern and color. The downside is that the edge won’t match the face of the slab, so in a countertop application, seams may appear discolored or edges may look awkward. Also, chips, which can happen, can be hard to fix and it is difficult to replicate the pattern in a repair.
One of the other drawbacks of porcelain is that some versions are thin, and they have to be laid up on a substrate, so you are basically getting a porcelain veneer over a wood substrate. Make sure you confirm the thickness of the material, as your current countertop is probably 1-¼” thick, and porcelain products can be as thin as ¼”.
Porcelain has been around for centuries, with Europe being the leader in manufacturing, but of late, China has taken the mantle as the leading supplier, as they have the labor and scale of manufacturing to jump into the market, arguably quickly making porcelain a commodity sooner than it should have been, much like happened with quartz.
Pictured: Lapitec Sintered Stone in Arabescato Carallo, Lux
This new category of surfacing has emerged over the last five or so years and has quickly become the most durable, coveted surfacing material, due to its high performance and low silica content, which has plagued quartz manufacturers of late, as high silica has caused silicosis in some workers and is resulting in class action lawsuits. More on that here.
Some sintered stone can be through body patterned and veined (Lapitec) while other brands boast through body technology, but it is limited to certain colors, so make sure you check before you decide what to buy.
If you are considering an upgrade from quartz or granite, these are the two new categories you are likely hearing about, but make sure you are asking the right questions.
- Is this porcelain or sintered stone?
- Is it printed or through-body color and veining?
- What will the edge profile look like?
- How thick is it?
- Where did it come from?
Happy home improvement! See a more technical breakdown of sintered stone vs. porcelain here.