Ceramic tile quality
We've done quite a bit of tiling (just household--nothing professional) and yes, there are differences in quality.
It's probably standard practice, but the tile store we like rates its tiles from 1 to 5 based on durability and use. There are also factors such as whether it's vitreous or not. Most tile, for example, is porous and unsuitable for outdoor applications where it would freeze.
We've used inexpensive wall tile on shower walls; this tends to be very thin stuff and is rated a 1. Floors and countertops probably need a 5.
Our recent countertop uses a "5" porcelain tile. Very resistant to water penetration. It listed for $22/ft but we found in the "outlet" for about 1/2 price the first time we bought. We later went back and they still had some left, for $2 a sq ft! And it's great stuff. Definitely requires a top-end diamond blade to cut--you don't just "score and snap" this stuff!
We've also seen that the more expensive tile tends to "look" better. Pay enough, and it can get downright beautiful!
So bottom line, there are definite quality differences...and the appearance differences go without saying. Next time you're at the tile store, see if they have recommendations like the 1-to-5 rating I'm talking about. You may even be able to find some info on this online.
The cheap tile I've seen (say at big box stores--although tile stores often have $0.99/ft tile also) tends to look, well, cheap. Kind of BLAH-looking. We've used some in the past, and it's OK, especially if you put in some "feature" tile strips to introduce color or pizazz.
In my time, I've bought tile both from "big boxes" and tile stores. I can honestly say I generally prefer the tile AND the service from a tile store. At HD it's all kind of "out there"--sometimes in different dye lots--and they don't help you with what types of mastic, grout color selections, "sanded" or "unsanded", etc. And the price at the tile stores is often better!, don't ask me how!
Tile stores also tend to have beautiful tiling samples that will give you ideas. They do "patterns", mix and match types for variation, etc. You get ideas--but be forewarned--these just might cause you to UPGRADE your selections at some $$$$! But you'll be happier in the long run.
I did a "fair to middling" tile job a couple years ago in the guest bathroom (not used all that often). I've always regretted not spending a bit more and doing it better. I try and tell myself, "it's OK"--as I DID replace the disgusting, cracking, 20-year-old, "baby-poo-poo" colored tile that had been in there...but alas, no pizazz!
[This message has been edited by k2 (edited December 13, 2003).]