How to plan wall tiles
Get started with your new wall tiling project
When it comes to tiling a wall, such as in a bathroom or kitchen, it’s tempting to jump straight in. But by giving yourself some time to plan, you can make sure that you have enough tiles and materials to complete the project in one attempt.
Planning gives you the best finish by making sure that the tiles are positioned so that you’re not left with small, awkward gaps at the edges to cut tiles for. It also means that your tiles are fixed straight and level.
In this guide, we’re planning to tile a wall with square tiles in a linear design. We’ll walk you through the planning steps, including how to:
- Choose a tiling pattern
- Calculate tile quantities
- Prepare the wall for tiling
- Make a gauge rod
- Plan square tiles in a linear pattern
- Plan tiles around obstructions
- Plan a part-tiled wall or a splashback.
- Three timber battens - one to create gauge rods, two to attach to the wall as guides. We recommend using a wooden batten that is 25millimetres (mm) thick and 50mm wide. However, a width of 38mm or 75mm would also work. Make it 1.8metres (m) long for tiling a wall, shorter for a small area.
- PVA-based adhesive - to prepare the wall, as needed. We recommend using waterproof PVA in areas that will regularly get wet, such as in bathrooms
- Wall tiles
- Wall tile spacers
- 50mm masonry nails
- Tile backer boards - to prepare the wall for tiling, as needed
We offer a wide range of tiles in a variety of shapes, sizes, textures and colours. Get inspired with your tiling patterns with our suggestions below. Stick with a simple linear pattern or create a wow-factor wall with a creative tiling design, like brick bond or herringbone.
And you’re never restricted to just one tiling pattern – get imaginative and combine multiple patterns together to help zone areas.
Linear tiling design
The most common and simple tiling pattern, the tiles are laid in straight lines so the grout lines end up like a grid. This classic design works with both square or rectangular tiles. Keep it simple with a single colour tile or try two colours to create a checkerboard effect. Alternatively, experiment with multiple colours for a unique design (pictured).
Diamond tiling design
Simple like the linear pattern, but with the tiles rotated diagonally. With this pattern there will be more cutting involved than the linear pattern.
We recommend buying an additional 15% of tiles to allow for the extra cutting involved compared to the linear pattern.
Brick bond tiling design
A brick wall effect pattern using rectangular or square tiles. This is one version of the pattern, where the edge of a tile lines up with the halfway point of the tile below (pictured).
A variation of this tiling pattern is the 1/3 brick bond tiling design. With this option, the tiles are shifted further along than the standard brick bond.
Herringbone tiling design
A more complex pattern that takes careful planning but creates a stunning effect. Great for splashbacks or a whole wall.
We recommend adding 15% to the total number of tiles to allow for the extra cutting involved.
Block herringbone is a variation of this pattern, which rotates the tiles at a different angle. The zig-zag pattern flows vertically rather than horizontally.
Once you’ve chosen your tiling design, the next step is to work out how many tiles you need.
To do this you need to know:
- The size of the area you’re tiling
- The size of the tiles.
There are two ways to calculate tile quantities, either:
1. Check the product details or packaging of your tiles which should state the coverage in square metres. To work out how many boxes of tiles you need, divide the area in square metres by the coverage area stated on the product. We recommend adding an extra 10% for cracks or breakages. To work this out, multiply the number of boxes by 1.1 and round up to the nearest whole number.
2. Use our tile calculator to find out how many tiles you’ll need based on the size of the area and the size of the tiles. Our calculator will include the additional 10% in the total given.
If the area you’re tiling has obstructions such as doors, windows or fixed cupboards, measure the area of these to work out how many tiles to deduct from the total number needed. This will save you from spending money on tiles you won’t use. Measure the height and width of each and use the tile calculator to work out the area. Subtract the number of tiles it specifies from the total number of tiles.
We recommend keeping a few spare tiles to replace any that are damaged at a later date. You can return any unopened whole packs of tiles. Check out our Returns and refunds policy for more details.
Often tiles are given batch numbers. If this is the case you should always try to purchase tiles from the same batch as some very slight variations in colour and finish can happen. This is another reason to make sure you buy enough tiles at the beginning of the project.
Now you have the right quantity of tiles, it’s time to prepare the wall to give you a good foundation for your tiling project.
Remove any existing tiles or wallpaper from the wall. Using a stripping knife for the wallpaper.
Identify the state of the wall.
If the wall is mostly flat and only has minor imperfections such as small holes or cracks, jump to Step 3.
If the plaster is damaged and very uneven, jump to Step 4.
Ensure the surface you’re tiling is clean, dry, flat and stripped of any wallpaper or crumbling plaster. If the wall is slightly bumpy then you’ll be able to get around this by adding extra adhesive when fixing the tiles to get an even result.
Prime the surface by applying PVA-based adhesive with a paintbrush. This stops the plaster absorbing the tile adhesive.
For a step-by-step guide to repairing a wall, including how to repair cracks and holes in plaster, check out our 'How to repair a house wall' article.
Use tile backer boards to cover damaged and uneven walls. These fully waterproof the wall and create a level surface for tiling. This is especially important in areas that regularly get wet such as wet rooms and in bathrooms around the shower.
Fix the tile backer boards with tile adhesive, following the product instructions.
We're using a linear tiling design for our tiles and so will be creating horizontal and vertical rows of tiles. Before starting, we need to know how many tiles are fitted per row and to do this, we make a gauge rod. Created from a timber batten, this rod will help you work out the best position of the tiles and ensure that you don’t have to cut very thin strips of tile for the edges.
In our example we’re using square tiles. Adjust the lines to the size and shape of the tiles you're using. You may need to adapt the position of the lines depending on the tiling pattern you've chosen.
Lay out a line of tiles with tile spacers between them. Place the batten alongside, lining up the end with the edge of the first tile.
Mark the positions of the tiles and gaps on the batten with a pencil and square. Do this for the full length of the batten. This batten is now your gauge rod.
Before you start tiling it is important to establish the position of your first row of wall tiles, and the starting point from which you will start tiling. This is called setting out. Walls are rarely completely straight so setting out will help you fix the tiles along a level line. It will also ensure that your tiles fit neatly within the area, without leaving you with a very thin space at the edges to cut a tile for. Planning the tiling in this way means the pattern will be centralised, resulting in a neat and attractive finish.
If you’re only tiling part of a wall, for example an area around a bath reaching partway up the wall, jump to the ‘How to plan a part-tiled wall’ section.
Follow these steps to set out the wall tiles using a gauge rod.
Measure the width of the area to be tiled with a tape measure and make a mark on the wall at the centre point using a pencil.
If the wall contains a single window or door, measure the width of the obstacle and mark a line on the wall at the centre point.
If there are two windows, mark the centre of the space between them.
Or if a window or door is near one end of the wall, mark the centre of the space between its frame and the far corner.
Hold your gauge rod horizontally against the wall so that the end of the rod (or one of the tile lines if the rod is too long to fit the area) aligns with the centre point mark. If the other end of the rod reaches the edge of the area, jump to Step 4.
If the area you’re tiling is wider than the gauge rod, move the rod across until it reaches the edge. Move on to Step 3 to find out how to do this.
Make a mark on the wall at the end of the gauge rod.
Move the gauge rod across to line up the start of the rod with the mark on the wall. Keep moving the rod across, lining up the wall marks with the tile marks, until it reaches the edge of the area you’re tiling.
If the gauge rod reaches the edge of the area and the final tile mark lines up neatly with the edge, you will be able to fix whole tiles across from the centre point line. This means you won’t need to cut any tiles for the edge – jump to Step 6.
However, it is likely that your gauge rod will indicate that you’ll be left with a gap narrower than a whole tile at the edge. Ideally, we want the gap to be the width of half a tile or more, as you’ll need to cut a tile to fit. If this is the case, jump to Step 6.
If the gap is smaller than half a tile wide (pictured) then it could be tricky to cut, particularly with smaller tiles. To avoid wasting tiles move the starting point so that you’re left with a wider space at the edges to cut tiles for. Move onto the next step to find out how to move the starting point.
Reposition the starting point by aligning the gauge rod with the centre point as before. Then make a new pencil mark on the wall so that it falls halfway between the end and the next tile line on the gauge rod. This new line will be the actual starting position for tiling. This makes sure that the cut tiles at each end are more than half a tile wide and that the centre line of the wall passes through the centre of a tile.
Hold the gauge rod vertically against the new wall mark. Use a spirit level to ensure that it’s truly vertical, and draw a line in pencil from top to bottom. This gives you a straight and central starting point for the vertical tiles.
Position the gauge rod against the vertical pencil line, with its end touching the bottom of the area you’re tiling (e.g. the floor, top of the skirting board or a worktop).
Put a pencil mark on the wall in line with the top tile mark on the gauge rod.
Move the rod up the wall and line up the lowest tile line with the pencil mark you’ve made. Repeat this until you reach the ceiling or the top of the area you’re tiling.
Check how much of a gap is left at the top of the gauge rod. If the gap is less than half a tile move the starting point. Move on to the next step if this is the case.
If the gap is more than half a tile, move on to Step 11.
Move the gauge rod back to the first position. Find the first mark that you made at the top of the gauge rod.
Find the next tile mark down from the top of the gauge rod.
Measure the distance between this line and the line on the wall and make a mark on the wall halfway between them.
Hold your gauge rod so it is aligned with the vertical line. Move it until one of the tile marks aligns with the starting point mark you made on the wall. Make another mark on the wall, level with the foot of the rod. This will be the starting point for the first horizontal row of whole tiles.
Hold the gauge rod horizontally across the wall, aligning the top edge with the starting point mark. Using a spirit level to ensure it’s straight, draw a level line across the wall at this point.
Check along the lines for pipes and cables. To do this, use a stud detector (also known as a multi-purpose digital detector). If there are pipes or cables in the way, adjust the starting point slightly.
Nail a timber batten horizontally with its top edge aligned with the line on the wall, with one of the tile lines aligned with the vertical line. Space the nails out gradually along the batten. Hammer the nails part way into the wall, leaving some of the nail protruding from the timber. This will make it easier to remove the nails later.
Nail on another batten with its side edge aligned with the vertical line.
As a result you’ll have a batten fixed down the centre of the wall and another fixed horizontally near the bottom of the wall. The corner created by the battens will be the starting point for your tiling. Head to our ‘How to tile a wall’ article for step-by-step instructions to fix, grout and finish the tiles.
When part-tiling a wall, set out the horizontal tile rows so that the top row consists of whole tiles as this will look much better. We’ll show you how to plan for this.
Estimate where on the wall you want to position the top row of tiles and make a mark on the wall with a pencil.
Use the gauge rod to determine the position of the lowest horizontal row. Do this by lining up the top tile line on the gauge rod with the pencil mark on the wall. Follow the tile lines downwards and check what size the last tile would be. If you’re left with a very small section at the bottom, less than half a tile in size, adjust the starting point.
Follow Steps 8 to 13 in the ‘How to set out walls tiles’ section to mark lines on the wall and fix the battens into place.
Head to our ‘How to tile a wall’ article to find out how to fix and finish the tiling.
When it comes to tiling above a focal point like a basin in the bathroom, or behind your hob in the kitchen, the planning of your tiling will differ to that of a standard wall. This is because it’s best to start tiling from the centre of the focal point to create an even, centralised pattern. Follow our steps to learn how to do this.
In our example we're tiling above a bathroom basin, but the same principles apply for other areas.
Use a spirit level to see if the base of the area (e.g. the worktop, basin or bath) is level. If it is level, fix the tiles flush against the base. If it’s not level, fix a timber batten horizontally near the base to give a level starting point, as explained later in the steps.
Measure the width of the basin and mark the centre point on the wall. The width of the tiled splashback is measured in whole tiles plus spacers and edging strip.
Decide how many tiles you want across the area and lay these out with spacers between and edging strip, if you’re using it.
Measure the full width of the row of tiles, spacers and edging together and cut a piece of wooden batten to the same size.
Lay the wooden batten alongside the tiles and mark the position of the tiles and spacers. This creates your gauge rod which will show where to position your tiles. It will also be fixed to the wall to position the bottom row of tiles level and to stop them slipping down as you fix them.
Use a spirit level to draw a line vertically from the centre point of the splashback up the wall to the top of the area to be tiled.
If the base of the area is level, start tiling by lining up the centre of the first tile with the centre line.
If the base of the area is not level, fix the batten horizontally by hammering two 50mm masonry nails into the wall. Centre it on the vertical line. Its upper edge should be about half a tile width from the bottom of the area to be tiled. Check it is level with a spirit level.
Apply the adhesive and start tiling, following the steps in our ‘How to tile a wall’ article. However, instead of starting in a corner, tile from the centre, aligning the tiles with the lines on the gauge rod.
When all the rows are tiled and the adhesive has set, remove the batten (if using). Cut and fix the remaining tiles to fill the gap at the bottom.