There are a lot of metallic-looking tiles on the market. While they may look the same at first glance, the differences are like night and day.
Solid Bronze - Saint-Gaudens Metal Arts Bronze tiles are cast in a foundry from molten bronze. They are bronze through and through. Like 3,000 year-old sculptures, they are eternal. You can tell solid bronze by how heavy it feels in your hand. They are hand painted and polished (see below for info on colors and metal alloys.) Bronze has no installation limitations - tiles can be walked-on, buffed, or endure a hurricane (this happened to a customer in Florida - they were pulled out of the rubble and re-used); and they will always look good.
Solid Metal - other metals - Other metals and alloys are used to cast solid metal tiles. Among them are aluminum, pewter, and brass. Aluminum is very corrosive when exposed to moisture, and will develop a powdery white coating. Pewter is a soft metal, easy to cast and finish cheaply, but is not advisable for use in floors because it is too soft. Brass is less expensive than bronze, and has a bright gold color. It is slightly less hard than bronze and can be used in floors.
Solid Metal - plated - A tile can be marketed as solid metal when it is actually a base metal with plating on top. This is the most common solid metal tile on the market. Base metal, commonly known as “Pot Metal,” is soft, like lead, and cheaper to cast and finish. They are plated with very thin layers of nickel, copper, brass, etc, and are usually coated with a shiny sealer. The problem with these tiles is that they bend and break very easily, especially the thinner liners. When bent, the plating cracks and peels off. If cleaned with an abrasive cleaner, the thin plating wears off. For this reason, they can’t be used in the floor. You can tell plated metal tile by its lighter weight, and shiny, costume-jewelry looking finish.
A note about copper: Copper isn’t castable, so you will never see cast solid copper tiles. A copper color can only be obtained by: plating over pot metal; mixing it with resin (see below); or wrapping thin sheets of copper over a rigid base form.
Metal Coated Tiles - A tile design is molded and cast in plastic. They are then spray-painted with a mixture of resin and powdered metals. Several metal colors are obtainable using this method. Because the sprayed-on coating is very thick compared to plating, detail in these tiles is often lost. Coatings can peel off, and tiles can warp near heat.
Metalized Resin - This is a proprietary method of pouring resin mixed with powdered metal into a mold. The resulting tile is resin-based throughout. They are lightweight, and can warp around high BTU cook tops.
Ceramic Metal Glazes - Regular ceramic tiles are fired with glazes that look like metal. Chipping is the most common problem, along with abrasion if walked on, and loss of finish.