Using Glass Tile as an Accent

by Roger

Glass wall tile

NOT just an accent

Glass! Awesome! (I like glass tile…)

It is, however, fairly spendy. It is also a highly specialized installation when used for the whole installation. You need to understand the type of glass (there are three different manufacturing processes), acceptable processes, proper installation procedures and what type of glass can be used where.

It’s a lot.

So when you’ve found that perfect glass tile that would look great in your shower three things will happen:

 

  1. You will look at the price and multiply that by the square footage of your shower
  2. You will immediately go into shock
  3. You will decide that maybe a porcelain shower will look okay after all…

 

However (!), you don’t need to give up on that glass tile just yet. You can simply buy a few square feet and use it as an accent in your (now much less expensive) shower. I regularly use glass mosaic tile as an accent row or inserts in tile installations.

travertine with glassThere are several reasons this is a better idea.

  • You don’t really need to know every technicality of your particular glass tile (unless you want to use it on a floor!). With small strips or inserts the dimensional stability of the glass (which is a huge issue in large applications) is negligible. You still need to take it into account to an extent, but you don’t need a tile contractor’s education on glass tile to successfully install it.
  • Most glass mosaics can be cut apart to the size you need. If your wall tile is only an inch short you can simply add another row of the mosaic rather than shifting your entire installation up or down. This saves you time and effort in making the layout fit properly.
  • You won’t spend nearly as much for the installation materials. This leaves you more money for beer new rubber duckies!
  • It will turn a plain installation into a very nice, classy project. And who doesn’t want everyone to believe know they’re classy? I mean besides me…

Just like that little (?) bathroom up there on the right. That entire bathroom is just beige travertine. That’s it. However, when I added the glass ‘waterfall’ and the diagonal inserts it turned it into a very, very nice master bathroom.

porcelain shower with glass and metal mosaicsAnd here’s another.  This one has even more expensive mosaics – it’s glass and metal. As well as having the mosaics I took the 12 x 24 inch porcelain tile and cut every other row in half. So rather than a plain white porcelain shower it is now a very unique installation which stands out from all others (you can click on it for a full-size example of my horrible photography skills).

There are two basic shapes of glass mosaics (although you can find them in nearly any shape). You have the small square ones, which you can use for the diagonal inserts, or the long, rectangular bar mosaics, which are normally only used for liners like the waterfall stripe and a liner insert. The latter can not normally be cut into squares.

Porcelain and glass tubThe biggest problem with using glass mosaics for an accent is the thickness difference between the regular wall tile and the glass. The wall tile is normally thicker. If you know how to resolve this it isn’t an issue. You can also get an accent tile like a pencil rail, which is a half-circle, to frame out the glass. If you do that the thickness difference will not be an issue, it won’t even be noticed (unless you invite a tile guy to dinner). Like this one here.

You can also have a focal point in your installation like tiling the back of a niche, like behind that tub there, with the mosaics.

Ceramic and glass shower tileYou will also want to use white thinset to install them. If you use the regular gray thinset it may show through the glass and make them look splotchy or dingy – even with darker mosaics!

Yes, both splotchy and dingy are technical terms.

You can even get creative with your design. Nearly anything you do with a glass tile mosaic in your installation will make it stand apart from a regular, boring installation.

The possibilities for glass tile mosaic use in your installation are only limited by your imagination. You can still let your imagination run wild without cutting into the beer vacation money. If you find that perfect mosaic and find a wall tile that matches it well you can have a very nice installation for considerably less money.

Need help with design questions or basic layout of your tile project? Check out FloorElf’s Design Manual. It includes basic layout, correct installation and balance as well as a LOT of photos and design ideas.

You can click on any of the photos below for a larger version.

 

 

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Greg

Roger,
In reading the above posts, it looks like you suggest using modified thin set under glass mosaic accents. And I can’t find Laticrete products around here. The installation is porcelain over kerdi, using unmodified as per Schluter’s instructions. So, use the unmodified under the porcelain, and modified under the glass (which is also over kerdi membrane).
Greg

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Roger

Hi Greg,

Yes, you need to have modified beneath the glass.

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Riveter

I may cry. Roger, we cut some pieces to use as filling in spaces on our mosaic, minisubway, cheap ass tile we got from our big box store. It looks nice, HOWEVER in reading the specs on it online (there is nothing, nada, zip info on the boxes) I now find it is ceramic, nonvitreous with a moisture absorption rate of greater than 7 percent. We have redguarded and are planning on using versabond modified mortar. Should I just call my on fire dog and get it to jump on my head or spend another 3 months showering outdoors (it’s about to get really cold here and I’ve got to have a scarey, big time operation within a month). Since it is for shower wallswith a solid basebasethatthat is simply cast iron, I’m hoping you’ll tell me

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Roger

You are overthinking this. :D With small pieces like that it’s a non-issue, it’ll be just fine.

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Ace

Tile guy was jerry? Maybe Billie joules house / bath?

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Ace

Was like waves or space. But no lines diffined! Sorry bout spelling or text arangement !! Drank too much milk’

Y

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Ace

I seen stile job that you were impressed buy, I thought his name was jerry and it was a famous singer / music guy bath ? It was white blue green/ turquoise tile? Mosaic’ not slowes stuff butt individuals tile’ told my friend about it now I caint find pict. Or link on your site ?

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Roger

Hi Ace,

One of the few I am impressed by is Jimmy Reed, he did Elton John’s house in California. I don’t have the link offhand, but I know I posted it on my facebook page somewhere.

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Jason

I have appreciated all the information on your site. A welcome resource with an internet full of bad advice. I am installing some glass mosaic tile in a shower as a mid-wall border. It calls for me to use a flexible acrylic additive in the thin set mortar mix. My question is: Can I use this same batch of mortar (with the additive) for all my other ceramic tiles too or do I need to make up a separate batch without the additive? Am using white as suggested in your other posts. Thanks.

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Roger

Hi Jason,

You can use the same stuff.

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Erinn

I want to install 12 x 12 sheets of 1 inch glass mosaic tiles as a floor to ceiling accent wall in my powder room. There is no plumbing nor electrical to work around, so it is as straight forward as a job can get, I believe. The ceilings are only 7 ft high and have newly installed base boards along the bottom. Do I have to remove those, tile all the way to the floor (minus 1/8″ expansion) and caulk along the bottom? Or do I tolerance you the baseboard and caulk where they meet? That doesn’t seem like it would be right because of the thickness of the tile. Additionally, the wall is 58 and 1/2 inches wide. I was thinking I should have 1/8″ expansion space on either edge of the wall, plus 4 full sheets of tile, including 1/16″ spacers between those, then filling out the space with 10 out of 12 rows to finish the width of the wall. Does that sound right? Sorry for all the questions and math, but this is my only tiling job. I’ve already retro fit a cabinet and custom made counter tops for the space and don’t want too ruin it all with poor finishing technique on the wall tile. Am I crazy for tackling this on my own? Thanks in advance for your feedback!

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Roger

Hi Erinn,

Yes, the baseboard should be removed and the glass to within 1/8″ of the floor, then silicone. Your lateral layout sounds just fine.

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David

Hi Roger,

I am building a shower with a glass tile mosaic insert on the back wall surrounded by a porcelain tile. I am concerned about your warnings on the use of glass tile. The glass insert is 3 feet wide by 6 feet high and is to be centered “high” on a wall which is roughly 4 1/2 feet wide by 7 feet high. Do I need to include expansion joints on my project? Are there other issues when using glass in a tile project I need to be aware of?

Dave.

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Roger

Hi David,

No, you don’t need any more than the regular silicone joints in the corner. There are potentially a LOT of issues working with glass, but for your small area there aren’t many that apply.

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Lauri

Roger,

What do you know about “ghosting” with glass tile? What are the causes of it?

Thanks!

Lauri

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Roger

Hi Lauri,

Unfortunately I know a hell of a lot about it. :D It is normally caused by excess moisture trapped behind the glass due to either an epoxy or other waterproof grout being used, or by improper installation technique in which there is uneven or incomplete bond of the thinset to each individual tile.

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Gary

Hi Roger.
Do you have any experience with using thin set to install mirror glass (actual mirrors cut into tiles)?
If so, what kind of thin set should be used to ensure they stay mounted forever?
What kind of grout?

thanks,
-Gary

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Roger

Hi Gary,

You need to look for a mounting adhesive specifically for mirrors. The alkali in thinset (or any cement-based product) will eat through the mirror coating on the back. I have not done it, but I did talk to an installer who tried it. In this case I learned from someone else’s mistake. :D

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Patrick

Hi Roger,

I am in a newly built home. We selected 3×6 subway sized glass tiles for the kitchen backsplash. Olympia Cristallo Glass – it has a white backing glaze or paint. The problem is that if you do not look straight on, there is a thin black line visible at the inside edges of the installed tiles. I indicated to the builder that I suspected that a non-white adhesive was used and that is why it is visible, however he countered with a test board done with white and he still sees the effect. ( I have not yet seen the test board )

A hint regarding the craftmanship of the contractor: Half of the top row of tiles were cut in a way that the white backing looks “torn”. The grouting wasn’t that great either.

So. My question is. Is the black-line shadow/refraction effect common with white glass tiles? Or does the installer not know how to use thinset properly?

Images: http://ge.tt/5acK6Se1

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Roger

Hi Patrick,

Both. With a white backing the problem is that there is no white backing along the sides of the tile. When you look down into it you see the light refraction from the sides of the tile into the back corner. However, with full coverage and proper grouting (with white grout) this should diminish considerably. It may never go away, however. The fact that the backing was torn when cut tells me he is not experiences with proper methods of glass tile installation.

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Kyle

Hi Roger, The process worked great. The decoupling sheet attached to the glass tile, cured then installed on the wall provided exactly the right depth with thin set.
Thanks,
Kyle
PS The unmodified Bostick Ditra-set thin set (found at Tile Shoppe inc. 8707 Jane St. Concord, Toronto, Ontario Canada) was the best I’ve ever used and Laticrete epoxy grout, however pricy also made the job easy.

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Jay

Hey Roger,

Looking to your infinite wisdom to understand if there would be detrimental issues with using u-channel as tile edging between field tile and horizontal accent glass strip. Basically putting the u-channel over the unfinished edge of the field tile. I know there are some Schluter profiles out there that would accomplish something similar but, not exactly what I want.

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Roger

Hi Jay,

I don’t see any reason it would create a problem as long as the channel was stainless steel, aluminum or something else that will not be affected by water.

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Kyle

Rogers,
I have a problem that I can’t seem to find an answer to regarding the use of tile with glass as an accent along the same wall in my shower project. The tile is 1/8″ thicker than the glass mosaic. How would you suggest spacing the glass tile out an 1/8″ so the surface is flush. I thought of laying down a thick bed of thinset on the wall first however the glass mosaic won’t be flat.
The shower is lined with Kirdi could I put down a Ditra then tile over it? Or should I lay down fiberglass mesh with thinset let it set then install the glass with a “v” notch.
Thanks,

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Roger
Derek

Hi Roger,

I was wondering if you could offer some advice on a glass tile backsplash.

I removed the sheetrock in the backsplash area cause it had more waves than the cellulite on my woman’s ass, trued up the studs then put up some hardi backer. There is one seam in the hardi where the hardi meets hardi and another seam where the hardi meets sheetrock. Do I need to tape/thinset over the seams? Or can I just go ahead with the tile job? Also what about the screws, do they need to be covered with thinset beforehand?

TIA,
Derek

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Roger

Hi Derek,

Both should be taped and mudded with thinset. You don’t need to worry about the screws.

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Janice

Hi Roger. I purchased 12″ x 13.5″ glass mosaic tiles. I want to cut the sheets in half (horizontally) to make my border 6″. The contractor doesn’t think he can join the two pieces together because I am using the random longer pieces. I’m pretty sure we can. Can you solve our argument?

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Roger

Hi Janice,

I don’t understand what you mean by ‘I’m using the random longer pieces’? If you cut all the mosaic sheets in half all the upper pieces will lock together and all the lower pieces will lock together. The only time you’ll have an issue is trying to lock a lower piece into an upper piece. With some mosaics it works because the pattern spacing is repeated, with some it doesn’t.

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Dan

Hi Roger,

Rounding third almost home on my bathroom remodel. It’s time to set the backsplach on the vanity and install base molding. The vanity countertop is marble and I want to set a glass and stone mosiac with a marble pencil boarder on the drywall behind it. I want to “bump out” the mosiac using Ditra, is it ok to thinset the Ditra to the painted drywall surface? or should I use mastic? I’m using the Ditra for asthetic reasons but I’m sure it will probably help with moisture penetration too. The drywall is new and sound and the backsplash is only going to be about 5″ in height.
The base molding will be 3.5″ x 12″ marble set to new, painted drywall, same question but without the Ditra. I have enough Kedri and/or Kerdiband that I could set to the drywall first. But my concern with both the backsplash and base molding is how well thin set will adhere to the drywall. I have adequate quantities of both 317 and 253Gold.
Thanks, this has been a long and tedious project, but your help and website has been a tremendous resource.

Dan

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Roger

Hey Dan,

You can use thinset on all of that, it bond just fine. If you have a glossy finish on the paint you may want to rough it up with sandpaper first, but thinset is what you want to use. Never use mastic for glass tile. Ever.

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Jodi Barrus

I’m wondering how to cut the edge of a glass mosaic tile (the rectangular bar-type). I’m installing it as the entire wall behind the bathroom sink (it’s not THAT big of a wall), but am wondering how to fit the tile to the corner of the wall. I don’t know if you attach the tile sheet to some sort of backer, then run it through the tile saw or what. Also, how should I cut out the space where my lighting fixture and wires are?

Just to butter you up…I love your website (and Facebook). You crack me up! Maybe I just don’t have enough thinset under me (ok, bad joke). ;o)

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Roger

Hi Jodi,

On the short edge (cutting across the bar) you can just run it through the wet saw. If you need to cut the long edge you can silicone it to an extra piece of (regular) tile and run it through the saw, you can also use backer for that if you need to. Just cut the short edges close to the perimeter of your light fixture cutout. It doesn’t need to be a perfect circle, just don’t cover up the screw holes or anything.

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Suzanne

Roger, quick question.

We just re-tiled our shower (above the tub) in ALL glass tile (thanks to many posts here!). I’ve read a couple places that we should wait a month before sealing the grout (because the glass is non-porous). Should we wait this long or seal within the week? Or does it really matter?

Thanks!

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Roger

Hi Suzanne,

HAHHHAAAAAHAAAHAAHAHAHAHAAAA….! :D

Umm…I mean, you can go ahead and seal it whenever you want. No need to wait.

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Bill

Hi Roger, we are thinking of putting glass tile on the tub walls, but are concerned about water spots. If we don’t dry the walls after showering, will this be a problem (based on your experience)? Glass really looks nice, but having dried water spots all over it isn’t too cool.

Also, how easy is it to keep glass tile clean? Will a layer of soap eventually cover it and make it look dull? Thanks for your help!

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Roger

Hi Bill,

Water spots depend a lot on the hardness (amount of minerals) in your water. People with water softeners rarely get water spots. A good sealer will also allow the tile to shed most of the water to begin with, so not much will be left.

It is extremely easy to clean, but it must be done fairly often. If it isn’t cleaned regularly then yes – soap scum will eventually cover it. Regular maintenance is the issue, not the type of tile. Ceramic and glass both will become dull without regular cleaning.

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Nick

I’m doing the entire wall behind the shower head&valve in 12×12 glass mosaic sheets and wanted to ask about thinset. My walls are cement board, but I’ve used Kerdi band for the joints as well as the Kerdi valve covers. Schluter calls for unmodified cement, which I am having a hard time finding in white, so can I just used a white modified? Given that I have limited coverage of the Kerdi membrane (essentially strips) will the modified still dry correctly?

Also, what happens if your glass tile is thicker in ht than the porcelain next to it? Nothing you can do right, unless you want to build out the porcelain area …

Thanks once again!

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Roger

Hi Nick,

Glass tile REQUIRES modified thinset. So yes.

You can either build out the porcelain or depress the glass. Both of which are a pain in the ass.

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Nick

If the entire project wasn’t a pain in the ass, we would be looking to the Elf for help, LOL ….. Thanks!

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Nick

Sorry, meant to say “we wouldn’t” …. and what size trowel would you recommend?

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Roger

Probably a 3/8″ x 3/8″ or 1/2″, depending on the flatness of the substrate.

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Sam

Elfman,

I am in need to your tile wisdom…so I just grouted (unsanded) a glass/tile/mosaic kitchen backsplash a few days ago. I have a granite countertop. My problem (I think) is I grouted instead of caulk (silicone) where the tile meets the granite (change of plane). Frankly in many areas there probably isn’t more than 1/32 of space between the backsplash and countertop. I know caulking should have been used to minimize movement cracking. Right? So my options are this:

1. Leave it alone and hope for the best.
2. Place a thin layer of matching silicone caulking over the unsanded grouted joint simply to prevent water and staining particularly around the sink and cooktop areas.

I’m leaning toward option 2 as it seems sensible, but I wait for your advice and wisdom….

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Roger

Hey Sam,

I’d just leave it. Unless you want to scrape it out and caulk it. Do not place silicone over the grout, it’ll just crack and come loose when the grout cracks and make a bigger mess. It may crack, it may not. If it does you need to scrape it out and caulk anyway, and it’ll be easier to remove. :D If you want to do that around the sink and stove remove the grout first.

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Kent

Roger,
I am using 12 x 12 tile for my tub wall. After measuring my wall, with my grout lines, my 5 tiles will be 1/4 inch too long. Would you just cut the last tile in the row the 1/4 inch or would you cut 1/8 of each end?

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Roger

Hi Kent,

Just cut 1/4″ off one side or the other.

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Jeremy

Roger,

Thanks for the site and making these topics easier to understand.

If I was going to use glass tile on a floor, other than whether the manufacturer rates the tile for floor use, what things do I need to consider?

I’d like to use a 2″x2″ mesh tile on a 3’x3′ shower floor, using a kerdi shower system as well. I’ve read conflicting posts around the web on this. Some say it can be done right, some say don’t bother.

This is similar to what I’m trying to accomplish for the shower..
http://www.houzz.com/photos/1571152/Beach-Ct-modern-bathroom-new-york

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Roger

Hey Mike,

Well, you should consider that once that glass gets wet it’ll be like a block of ice. I don’t honestly know if that link you sent is a glass floor, it may be a glazed ceramic.

I also don’t know that I would use glass over kerdi on a shower floor, should you decide to go that route. Schluter doesn’t recommend it, and won’t warranty it, the glass company definitely won’t, and it may cause more problems than the look will give you.

This is another of those instances where I believe a certain design looks great in a photo or a magazine, but in a real-world application is so unrealistic as to not be even close to practical.

If you want the glass use it as an accent, or even an entire accent wall, and find a suitable tile for the floor of the shower. You can find an aqua tile like that which has decent coefficient of friction and is not glass, and you won’t slip and fall on your ass on a regular basis. :D

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Jeremy

Thanks Roger.

I’m not sure it’s glass either. I showed the photo to the tile rep at the store and she insisted it’s glass. I’m not stuck on the glass one way or another, I just liked the clean look.

I didn’t want to purchase anything before I was sure it could be done safely/reliably, and having read more bad than good on the idea I think I’ll find something more suitable.

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Jeremy

Hi Roger,

What thinset would you recommend for doing both glass and porcelain on the same wall over Kerdi?

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Roger

Laticrete 253 or 254. Yes, it’s modified. I know. :D

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Mike

Hey Roger,
Thanks for a timely and informative article on using glass mosaics to enhance (“spiff up” for you tile guys :) ) an otherwise boring tile job. This is exactly what I am planning to do so this really helps. It does raise a question for me though… in our shower, we’re planning to use a variated (is that a real word?!?) beige porcelain tile. What I mean is the coloring of the tile is very random so it looks good once installed. We were planning to use grout that’s very close in color to the tile but I don’t want to make the mosaic look “splotchy and dingy”. Would you mix grout colors within an installation or rethink the colored grout and go with something closer to white?

I can mix up a small amount of grout and paste up a sample board I guess but I am just curious.

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Roger

Hey Mike,

It depends on how dark your main grout color is and how much it would dim the glass mosaics. The only way to know that is to create a sample board and only grout half of the glass. You’ll then be able to see exactly how much the glass is changed by the grout. Normally the main grout looks just fine in the glass mosaic as well unless you have a black or very dark colored grout. If your glass is multi-colored or shaded and you don’t have a really dark grout it usually looks just fine.

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Mike

Thanks Roger… the sample board is exactly what I’ll do before finalizing the grout.

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