There is no denying that tile murals have taken the sublimation industry by storm. The unique ability to take a customer’s artwork or high-resolution photograph, tile the image using your existing graphic-design software and sublimate individual tiles to make a complete mural allows for an extremely high-end product. The availability of tiles in a variety of different sizes and styles, from glossy ceramic to glass to tumbled stone, means the sublimation decorator can design a dynamic tile mural for any location, decor or occasion. Whether mounted to a frame or installed as the focal piece of a room on the floor or wall, the full-color, photo-quality nature of sublimation makes for a one-of-a-kind tile mural that customers—and onlookers—are sure to talk about for years to come.
This project idea will walk you through one way to creatively frame and mount your tile mural for hanging on a wall or displaying on a stand. Instead of mounting the completed mural to a traditional frame, we’ll show you how to use smaller, non-sublimated tiles to frame the decorated mural and mount everything to a plywood back. Because you are not limited to standard frame dimensions, this is a very flexible solution for giving any size tile mural a more finished look.
Most of the supplies and accessories you’ll need can be purchased directly from your local hardware store. If you’re doing this for the first time, keep in mind that non-consumable items like sawhorses, putty knives and rubber mallets can be used each time you make a tile mural. You should only have to purchase most of these tools once.
- decorated sublimation tile mural
- 1” x 1” tile squares for frame
(often come glued to a plastic sheet)
- piece of 1/2” plywood to fit full tile mural dimensions plus grout space plus one inch border all around mural
- table saw or circular saw with sawhorses and clamps
- sandpaper—coarse (40-60 grit) and medium
- square trowel or 3” putty knife
- tile mastic adhesive
- utility blade
- rubber mallet
- 3-foot length of 1/2” x 4” wood plank
- measuring tools (tape, angle, t-square, ruler)
- dark wood stain & sponge brush (optional)
- frame mounting hardware or picture stand (optional)
Let’s get started . . .
If you purchase a sheet of mosaic 1” x 1” tiles, you will need to determine what lengths you’ll need to cut thembased on theoverall dimensions of your tile mural. Home superstores often carry 12” x 12” sheets with the individual tiles slightly under 1” square. These are perfect for framing your tile mural.
If, as in Figure 01, you have 6” x 6” tiles for a 3 x 2 tile mural in landscape mode, your total dimensions are going to be roughly 18” wide by 12” tall plus space for grout line (if applicable). That means that for every tile, you’ll need to cut six mosaic tiles from the plastic web backing to frame each side of the tile. However, we also need to account for the corners of the frame as shown in the diagram. Taking this into account, you would cut six 6-tile strips and two 7-tile strips from your 12x12 mosaic tile sheet for framing.
Lay your sheet of plywood across two sawhorses or flat surface. Pre-assemble your tile mural over the sheet ofplywood taking into account grout lines (if you’ve designed the mural with this in mind). As you can see in Figure 02, there are two 7-tile strips on the right and left and three 6-tile strips on the top and bottom of the mural. Measure the tile mural, adding about 1/8” to the final measurements to take into account the saw’s cutting-blade dimensions.
It is extremely important to remember to use all safety precautions before using a table saw or circular saw. It is recommended only those with prior experience use power tools. As with any power tool, wear safety goggles to protect your eyes from any flying debris and be cautious as to the placement of your hands, fingers and any power cords that might get caught in the cutting blade. If you have any concerns about this step, many hardware stores have the ability to cut down plywood to your required dimensions (there may be a nominal fee associated with this service).
After you’ve drawn your cut lines, cut the plywood down to fit the dimensions of your tile mural and frame (see Figure 03). It is recommended that you first examine both sides to find the smoothest surface. Based on the grade of plywood you purchased, you can often get a premium side (e.g. “A”) and a lower-grade side (e.g. “C”). These lower-grade sides often have knots and other inconsistencies that can affect the adhesion of the tiles, so try to avoid these where possible. However, you do not need a premium grade for the side you’ll be using to adhere the mural—after all, it will be covered with mastic and tiles. Instead, save the better side of the plywood for the back of the tile mural. If you’re displaying the mural in a tile stand, the better plywood side will be visible on the back.
After you’ve cut out the plywood base, use the medium-grade sandpaper to sand down the sides of the plywood to remove any splinters. Then, with the coarse-grade sandpaper, roughen up the mounting surface of the plywood (the side on which you will be mounting the tiles). Roughening up the surface will help the masticform a bond to the wood. Do not sand too much; all you want is a slightly rough surface.
After you’ve sanded your plywood mounting surface, it is time to spread the mastic layer. Lay the cut piece of plywood across your sawhorses or a flat work surface. You may want to place newspaper or plastic sheeting below the plywood to collect any spilled mastic. Using your trowel or putty knife, spread an even layer of mastic across the surface of the plywood (see Figure 04). Just like decorating a cake, it is easier to lay down a globular portion (about the size of a racquetball) and spread out the mass toward the edges using even strokes.
When completed, you should have a layer of mastic approximately 1/8” thick as seen in Figure 05. Reseal your can of mastic to keep it from drying out. If you’re in an air-conditioned shop, the mastic should remain workable for a good hour. It is not recommended you leave the treated surface exposed to air. Instead, it’s time to start laying out your tile mural.
Starting from the left side of the plywood, mimic your original, preassembled mural and begin to lay out your tiles by row (see Figure 06). At this stage, you can re-open your can of mastic and spread a small amount on the back of each tile if you wish. However, this is not necessary. If you lay down a tile crookedly, you can easily lift it up and reposition it where you want. With each row, start with the top strip of mosaic tiles, then the bottom to ensure your mural reaches edge to edge. Then, center the decorated tile within the length of the strips, both from the top and bottom and from the left (see Figure 07).
Once you’ve laid out the entire mural, and while the mastic is still wet and pliable, make sure that the rows and columns are evenly spaced. You want the finished piece to reach the edge of the wood all around so that there is no wood showing when viewing the mural from the front. A nice benefit about making a tumbled-stone tile mural with a weathered look is that uneven rows and columns are not as noticeable. On the contrary, a slightly uneven mural adds to the antiqued look. However, when installing a tile mural in a bathroom or as a backsplash, you may need to invest in a set of standard tile spacers and a chalk line for uniformity.
Once the mural is laid out, it is time to tamp the tiles down to ensure they have a good, even bond with the mastic beneath them. You run the risk of cracking tiles if you attempt hitting each with a rubber mallet, so we’re going to diffuse the shock using our 3-foot plank of wood. Lay the piece of wood flat across a row of tiles. Using the rubber mallet, gently tap the piece of wood across the length as shown in Figure 08. Repeat this process on the next row, then do the same thing across each column, taking care not to ignore the mosaic tile framing. In addition to better securing the tiles to the mastic, this process will level out your tiles with one another for a more even, finished look. If you’re using glossy tiles, place a towel or clean rag under the wood to protect the surface from scratches.
After completing Step Five, turn the plank of wood on its edge to check the level of your rows and columns of tiles. If a tile sits higher than the others around it, lay the wood flat and concentrate a few extra taps with the mallet on that particular tile and its surrounding area.
You now have the option of grouting your tile mural to fill in the spaces between the tiles. If using grout, make sure you purchase grout without sand. Additionally, you can use colored grout to better fit the graphic you’ve chosen. Grouting is relatively simple: it involves spreading even layers into the tile grooves, smoothing out the fill with a grout tool or finger, then wiping the excess off the tile surface with a damp sponge. Many tile mural decorators use flat bathroom caulk instead of grout when making a freestanding tile mural (when not being professionally installed). It is easy to cut the caulk tip to fit the groove between each tile, and there is less mess to clean up off the surface of the tiles afterward.
In this particular example, with the desire for a weathered, antique look to the finished mural, a grout line was omitted. Instead, you can take the sawdust you made cutting the plywood and spread it evenly into the grooves. The sawdust will adhere to the wet mastic and diffuse its white color (see Figure 09). You can achieve the same results with colored craft sand.
Once you’ve given the mural at least 24 hours to cure and dry, you can either sweep the excess sawdust away using a small whisk broom or use a can of compressed air to blow the sawdust out of the grooves. Finally, you have the option to add hanging hardware to the back, staining the wood, adding molding around the entire mural or simply placing the completed tile mural into a heavy-duty plate and tile stand.
By using just a few simple tools and some readily available materials, you can easily give your tile mural a finished look by creating your own frame. There are a variety of accent and mosaic tiles available at hardware stores and tile shops which you can use to make a frame. Be creative and be original. In the end, the more unique your finished mural, the higher the fetching price.