Choosing The Best Subway Tile For Your Kitchen Backsplash

Rustic kitchen featuring gray subway tile backsplash, sage green cabinetry, and a marble island with black stools, accented by brass fixtures and a bowl of artichokes

Subway tiles are a timeless and versatile choice for kitchen backsplashes. Their clean lines and simple design can complement a variety of kitchen styles, from classic to contemporary. But with so many options available in terms of size, color, finish, and material, choosing the right subway tile for your kitchen can feel overwhelming. This guide will walk you through everything you need to consider to find the perfect subway tile for your backsplash.


Bright kitchen with glossy white subway tile backsplash, white cabinetry, and marble countertops, accented by stainless steel appliances and simple decor for a clean, modern look


Understanding Subway Tiles

Subway tiles are rectangular ceramic or porcelain tiles with a characteristic beveled edge. They are typically small to medium in size, with the most popular dimensions being 3”x6”, 4”x8”, and 6”x12”. Their name originates from their widespread use in the New York City subway system beginning in the early 1900s. The easy cleaning and durability of these tiles made them ideal for the busy environment of subway stations. Their simple design also provided a clean and modern aesthetic that fit well with the Art Deco style popular at the time.

The Rise of Subway Tiles in Modern Design

The widespread adoption of glazed ceramic subway tiles in the New York City subway system in the early 1900s brought them to the forefront of American design consciousness. Their clean lines, simple design, and ease of maintenance resonated with the modernist movement that was gaining traction at the time. Architects and designers began incorporating these tiles into a variety of residential and commercial spaces, including kitchens, bathrooms, hallways, and even fireplaces.

Benefits of Using Subway Tiles for Kitchen Backsplashes

There are several reasons why subway tiles remain a popular choice for kitchen backsplashes:

Easy to Clean

The smooth, non-porous surface of ceramic or porcelain subway tiles makes them easy to wipe down and maintain. This is especially important in a kitchen backsplash, which is exposed to grease, splatters, and other foodborne messes.


Ceramic and porcelain subway tiles are incredibly durable and can withstand years of wear and tear. They are resistant to scratches, heat, and moisture, making them ideal for a busy area like a kitchen backsplash.

Timeless Design

The simple and classic design of subway tiles ensures that they will never go out of style. This makes them a safe investment for homeowners who want a backsplash that will look good for years to come.


Subway tiles come in a wide variety of colors, finishes, and materials, making them incredibly versatile. This allows you to find a subway tile that will complement any kitchen style, from classic and traditional to modern and contemporary.

Different Types of Subway Tiles

While ceramic and porcelain are the most common materials used for subway tiles, there are other options available, each with its own unique advantages and disadvantages:


The most popular and affordable option, ceramic subway tiles are available in a wide variety of colors, finishes, and sizes. They are easy to clean and maintain, making them a great choice for most kitchens.


Denser and more water-resistant than ceramic, porcelain subway tiles are a good choice for areas exposed to water, such as behind the sink. They are also slightly more scratch-resistant than ceramic tiles.

Natural Stone

Natural stone subway tiles, such as marble or granite, can add a touch of luxury to your kitchen backsplash. They are incredibly durable and beautiful, but they can also be more expensive and require more maintenance than ceramic or porcelain tiles.

Sophisticated kitchen featuring black subway tile backsplash, dark wood island, and brass fixtures, creating a striking contrast with white cabinetry and modern decor

Selecting the Most Fitting Subway Tile Look

The first crucial step is choosing the ideal subway tile look for your kitchen. Subway tiles offer a surprising level of design flexibility, venturing far beyond the classic brick pattern. Let’s explore a variety of stunning subway tile aesthetics, helping you find the perfect match to elevate your dream kitchen. You can even use our cutting-edge AR technology to visualize how your chosen tiles will look in your own space, making the decision process even seamless.


Traditional Charm

When aiming for a warm and inviting traditional kitchen, subway tiles become your perfect partner. Brick look subway tiles, with their timeless staggered layout, evoke a sense of heritage that sits perfectly within this design style. Alternatively, stone look subway tiles offer a natural and classic beauty that complements farmhouse or country aesthetics. Their earthy tones and subtle variations create a sense of connection to nature, adding a touch of rustic charm to your kitchen.

Modern Minimalist

For a sleek and streamlined modern minimalist kitchen, try stacked subway tiles with their perfectly aligned horizontal and vertical grout lines. The seamless appearance complements the minimalist approach, ensuring no element competes for attention. Concrete look subway tiles can also add another layer of modern flair. Their cool, urban vibe reinforces the sleek and streamlined feel, creating a kitchen that's both functional and stylish.

Rustic Farmhouse

Brick look subway tiles offer a solid foundation, echoing the enduring qualities often associated with farmhouse style. Wood look subway tiles can also introduce a touch of warmth and natural texture, creating a sense of connection to the outdoors. These tiles can mimic the look of reclaimed wood, adding a touch of rustic authenticity. Stone look subway tiles are another great option, offering a variety of colors and textures to play with. Depending on your choice, you can create a classic farmhouse look with light-colored stones, or embrace a more rugged and natural feel with darker, textured options.

Industrial Chic

Concrete look subway tiles perfectly capture the industrial aesthetic. Their cool and textured surface reflects the raw materials often used in industrial design, offering a vibe that's both modern and slightly rebellious. Terrazzo look subway tiles can also add another layer of industrial flair. With their speckled pattern reminiscent of polished concrete floors, they introduce a touch of boldness and contemporary charm that complements the industrial theme.

Luxury and Drama

When aiming for a luxurious and dramatic kitchen, marble look subway tiles can elevate your design to new heights. Their smooth surface and subtle veining create a timeless look that feels undeniably luxurious, perfect for creating a backsplash that becomes a focal point in your kitchen. For an even more dramatic statement, consider onyx look subway tiles. Their deep and rich tones add a touch of drama and sophistication. The dark, almost translucent quality creates a sense of intrigue and luxury that will leave a lasting impression.

Eclectic or Playful

Subway tiles can also be a great choice for an eclectic or playful kitchen. Unlike other design themes that rely on a cohesive look, the eclectic style embraces a more individualistic approach. Decorative subway tiles allow you to truly embrace this playful and unique aesthetic. Abstract designs, for instance, can add a touch of modern whimsy, creating a backsplash that reflects your personality. Metallic accents can also be a fun way to introduce a hint of glamour, adding an unexpected touch to your playful kitchen design.


Modern kitchen with light gray subway tile backsplash, open wooden shelving, and a sleek marble countertop, accented by minimalist decor and greenery


Choosing the Right Subway Tile Size

The size of your subway tile plays a significant role in the overall aesthetic of your kitchen backsplash. It can influence the perceived size of the space, create a specific visual rhythm, and impact the cleaning and maintenance requirements. 

Standard Subway Tile Sizes and Their Impact

While subway tiles come in a variety of sizes, three standard options dominate the market: 3”x6”, 4”x8”, and 6”x12”. Each size offers unique advantages and considerations for your backsplash design.


This is the classic and most popular size for subway tiles. These smaller tiles create a busy and traditional look, reminiscent of the original subway station applications. They are a good choice for kitchens of all sizes, but they can work particularly well in larger kitchens where they won't overwhelm the space. The smaller size also means there will be more grout lines, which can add a touch of detail and visual interest to the backsplash. However, more grout lines also translate to potentially more cleaning and maintenance effort.


This size offers a slightly more modern twist on the classic subway tile. The larger format creates a cleaner and more streamlined look, with fewer grout lines compared to the 3”x6” option. This can be beneficial in smaller kitchens as it can help to make the space feel more open and airy. However, it's important to consider the scale of your cabinets when choosing 4”x8” tiles. If your cabinets are on the smaller side, these tiles might overwhelm them visually.


The largest of the standard subway tile sizes, 6”x12” tiles create a sleek and contemporary look. They are ideal for larger kitchens where they can add a touch of sophistication without making the space feel too busy. The larger format also translates to even fewer grout lines, which can be easier to clean and maintain. However, it's important to note that using very large tiles on a small backsplash can make the space feel even smaller. Additionally, larger tiles can be more prone to showing imperfections or unevenness in the wall surface.

Matching the Tile Size to Your Kitchen

When choosing the size of your subway tile, it's crucial to consider the overall scale of your kitchen. This includes the size of your cabinets, countertops, and appliances.

For small kitchens

Opt for smaller subway tiles, such as 3”x6” or 4”x8”. These will help to make the space feel more open and airy. Avoid using very large tiles, as they can visually shrink the room.

For medium-sized kitchens

You have more flexibility in terms of tile size. Both 3”x6” and 4”x8” tiles can work well, depending on the desired look. If you want a more traditional feel, go with 3”x6”. For a more modern aesthetic, choose 4”x8”.

For large kitchens

You can explore using larger subway tiles, such as 6”x12”. These will create a sleek and sophisticated look and can help to balance the scale of a large space. However, be sure to consider the size of your cabinets and appliances to ensure the tiles don't overwhelm them.

Creating a Sense of Spaciousness with Tile Size

A common design trick is to use larger tiles in small kitchens to create the illusion of more space. Here's how it works:

Fewer grout lines

Larger tiles have fewer grout lines compared to smaller tiles. Since grout lines create visual breaks, fewer lines make the surface appear more continuous and expansive.

Reflective finishes

Choosing subway tiles with a glossy finish can also help to create a sense of spaciousness. Glossy surfaces reflect light, which helps to open up the space and make it feel brighter.

Modern kitchen with sleek blue subway tile backsplash, open wooden shelving, and a marble island, creating a contemporary and inviting cooking space

Selecting Your Subway Tile Color

The color of your subway tile plays a significant role in setting the tone and mood of your kitchen. Beyond aesthetics, color psychology suggests that certain colors can evoke emotions and influence how we feel in a space. Understanding these psychological associations can be a valuable tool when choosing the perfect color for your subway tile backsplash.

Color Psychology in Kitchen Design

The colors you choose for your kitchen don't just affect the aesthetics; they can also influence the way you feel and interact in the space. Understanding the impact of different color palettes can be a powerful tool when creating your dream kitchen.

Warm Colors (Red, Orange, Yellow)

Warm colors are associated with energy, warmth, and stimulation. They can be a good choice for kitchens that lack natural light or feel a bit cold and sterile. However, too much warm color can be overwhelming, so use them sparingly or in lighter shades.

Cool Colors (Blue, Green)

Cool colors are associated with calmness, peace, and relaxation. They can be a good choice for creating a serene and inviting atmosphere in your kitchen. Darker cool colors can make a small kitchen feel even smaller, so opt for lighter shades or use them as accents.

Neutral Colors (White, Gray, Beige)

Neutral colors are versatile and timeless. They can create a clean and modern look and can work well with a variety of cabinet and countertop colors. While safe choices, neutral colors can also feel bland on their own. Consider pairing them with pops of color or bolder finishes for added interest.

Matching Your Subway Tile to Your Cabinets

There are two main approaches to consider when matching your subway tile color to your cabinets:

Cohesive Look

For a seamless and unified look, choose subway tiles that are the same color or a similar shade to your cabinets. This can be a good choice for smaller kitchens or for creating a clean and modern aesthetic. White subway tiles with white cabinets are a classic example of this approach.

Contrasting Pop

For a more dynamic look, you can choose subway tiles that contrast with your cabinets. This can help to add visual interest and personality to your backsplash. For example, dark grey subway tiles with white cabinets can create a bold and graphic statement. When choosing contrasting colors, ensure they complement each other and don't clash with other elements in your kitchen.

Matching Your Subway Tile to Your Countertops

Here are two ways to consider your countertops when choosing subway tile color:

Playing Off the Veining

If your countertops have a lot of veining or patterning, you can choose subway tiles that pick up on one of the colors in the veining. This can create a cohesive look and tie the different elements of your kitchen together. For example, if your countertops have grey and white veining, you could choose white subway tiles with a light gray grout.

Complementary Color

You can also choose subway tiles that complement the color of your countertops. For example, if your countertops are a warm brown, you could choose cool blue subway tiles to create a balanced and visually interesting look. However, be sure to choose colors that don't clash and feel harmonious in the overall space.

The Allure of White Subway Tiles

White subway tiles are a timeless and versatile choice for kitchen backsplashes. They offer several advantages:

Clean and Classic Look

White subway tiles create a clean and classic aesthetic that never goes out of style. They can work well with a variety of kitchen styles, from traditional to contemporary.

Brightens the Space

White reflects light, which can help to make your kitchen feel brighter and more spacious. This is especially beneficial in kitchens with limited natural light.

Versatile and Easy to Match

White subway tiles can be easily matched with a variety of cabinet and countertop colors, making them a safe and versatile choice. They also provide a neutral backdrop for pops of color or bolder finishes.

Exploring Colorful Subway Tiles

While white subway tiles offer a timeless look, don't be afraid to explore colorful options as they can also enhance your kitchen in various ways:

Adds Personality

Colorful subway tiles can add a touch of personality and reflect your unique style. They can be a great way to showcase your favorite color or create a specific mood in your kitchen.

Focal Point

Colorful subway tiles can become the focal point of your backsplash, drawing the eye and creating a visual statement. Pair them with neutral-colored cabinets and countertops to prevent the space from feeling overwhelming.

Complementary Colors

Choose a color that complements your existing kitchen elements, such as the paint color on your walls or the hardware on your cabinets. This will help to create a cohesive and visually pleasing look.

Ultimately, the best color for your subway tile backsplash is the one that you love and that reflects your personal style. Consider the factors discussed above, experiment with different options, and don't be afraid to get creative!

Elegant kitchen featuring white marble look subway tiles for the backsplash and countertops, complemented by warm wooden cabinetry and a spacious island with bar seating

Choosing the Perfect Subway Tile Finish

The finish of your subway tile plays a significant role in the overall look and feel of your kitchen backsplash. It can impact the way light interacts with the space, influence the perceived texture of the tile, and even affect the ease of cleaning and maintenance. 

Glossy Finish

Light bounces off glossy subway tiles, creating a bright and airy feel in your kitchen. This is a game-changer for spaces lacking natural light, instantly opening up the room. Glossy finishes also have a way of amplifying color vibrancy. Bold subway tile choices will truly shine, and the overall effect contributes to a modern, sleek aesthetic.

However, there are a few downsides to consider with glossy subway tiles. Their smooth surface, while beautiful, can be a bit high-maintenance. Water spots and fingerprints become more noticeable, requiring frequent cleaning to maintain a pristine look. Additionally, the reflective nature of glossy finishes can highlight any imperfections in the tile or wall surface behind it. Ensuring proper preparation before installation is crucial to avoid these drawbacks.

Matte Finish

Matte subway tiles offer a distinct aesthetic compared to their glossy counterparts. Their non-reflective surface creates a more subtle and textured look, which can be a great way to hide minor imperfections on the tiles or wall. Additionally, matte finishes tend to reflect less light, resulting in a warmer and more inviting atmosphere in your kitchen – perfect for spaces with abundant natural light or those aiming for a cozy feel.

However, matte finishes come with a few drawbacks. Since they don't reflect light as effectively as glossy tiles, they can make a space feel slightly darker. This is an important consideration for kitchens with limited natural light. Another potential downside is cleanability. Some matte finishes may have a rougher surface that can trap dirt and grime, requiring more frequent cleaning to maintain their beauty.

Textured Finishes

Take your backsplash to the next level with textured subway tiles! These tiles go beyond the smooth, flat surface, offering a range of visual interest and dimension. From subtle waves or ripples to more pronounced grooves and even three-dimensional patterns, the texture you choose can drastically impact the overall feel of your space.

Textured finishes aren't just aesthetically pleasing; they can also be practical. The variations in the surface can help to hide minor imperfections in the tile itself or on the wall behind it. However, there's a trade-off to consider. Those beautiful textures can also create crevices where dirt and grime can accumulate. To maintain the beauty of your textured backsplash, regular cleaning is essential.

Minimalist kitchen with matte beige subway tile backsplash and concrete countertops, accented by a rustic vase of dried wheat and a plate of fresh fruit

Grout Considerations

While grout lines may seem like a minor detail, they play a significant role in the overall look and functionality of your subway tile backsplash. The color, type, and even the width of the grout lines can significantly impact the final aesthetic of your design.

The Power of Grout Lines

Grout lines create a visual grid that can influence the perceived size and scale of your backsplash. Wider grout lines can make the individual tiles stand out more, while thinner grout lines can create a more seamless and unified look. The color of your grout can also influence the overall style of your backsplash. Matching the grout color to the tile creates a cohesive and timeless look, while using a contrasting grout color can add a touch of personality and make the individual tiles pop.

Choosing the Right Grout Color

For a seamless and unified look, choose a grout color that closely matches the color of your subway tiles. This is a good choice for smaller kitchens or for creating a clean and modern aesthetic.

For a more dynamic look, you can choose a grout color that contrasts with your subway tiles. For example, using a dark grout with white subway tiles can create a bold and graphic statement. When choosing contrasting colors, ensure they complement each other and don't clash with other elements in your kitchen.

Grout Type for Durability and Maintenance

Beyond color, the type of grout you choose is also important. Here are two main considerations:

Sanded vs. Unsanded Grout

Sanded grout contains fine sand particles that help to fill wider grout lines (typically 1/8 inch or more). Unsanded grout is a smoother option for thinner grout lines (typically 1/16 inch or less). It is also easier to clean, but it may not be suitable for large gaps between tiles.

Epoxy Grout

For areas exposed to high moisture, such as behind the sink, consider using epoxy grout. Epoxy grout is more stain-resistant and easier to clean than traditional cement-based grout.


Choosing the right subway tile for your kitchen backsplash is a decision that combines both style and functionality. The vast array of available options in terms of look, size, color, and texture allows for customization to suit any kitchen's decor and practical needs. Whether aiming for a minimalist modern look with sleek, dark tiles or a vibrant, thematic display using colorful patterns, subway tiles provide a versatile solution to enhance your kitchen's aesthetics while meeting everyday demands. Remember, the key to a successful backsplash lies not only in the choice of tile but also in considering how it will integrate with the rest of your kitchen's design and usage.


Contemporary kitchen featuring a light gray subway tile backsplash, wooden cabinetry, and a large marble island with bar stools, enhanced by minimalist shelving and greenery


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Explore our curated list of common questions to guide you in making the best choices for your kitchen backsplash using subway tiles.

What size of subway tile is best for a kitchen backsplash?

The ideal size for subway tiles can vary depending on the size of your kitchen and the height of your countertops. Generally, standard sizes range from small (3x6 inches) for compact spaces, to larger (6x12 inches) which can make a dramatic statement in bigger kitchens.

Are subway tiles durable enough for kitchen backsplashes?

Yes, subway tiles made from ceramic or porcelain are known for their durability and ease of maintenance, making them an excellent choice for kitchen backsplashes. They are resistant to stains, easy to clean, and can withstand the humidity and spills typical in kitchen environments.

Can subway tiles be used for both modern and traditional kitchen designs?

Absolutely! Subway tiles are incredibly versatile and can complement both modern and traditional kitchen designs. Their simple yet classic look can be adapted to any style by choosing appropriate colors and finishes.

How do I choose the right color subway tile for my kitchen?

Consider the overall color scheme and the amount of natural light in your kitchen. Lighter colors can make a small kitchen feel bigger and brighter, while darker tiles can add depth and warmth. Also, think about the colors of your kitchen appliances and cabinets to ensure a cohesive look.

Can different subway tile sizes be mixed in a single backsplash?

Mixing different tile sizes can add interest and texture to your backsplash. This approach is particularly effective in larger kitchens where a varied pattern can break up the space and add visual appeal.

By understanding these factors and frequently asked questions, you can confidently navigate the selection process and choose the subway tile that best fits your kitchen's aesthetic and functional needs. If you have any questions or inquiries, please don't hesitate to contact us. We're here to help!

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