Take it from the ancient Greeks who used tile abundantly on floors, walls, and surfaces: This is one multitasking, durable, and timeless material. Tile is available in a multitude of shapes, colors, sizes, finishes -- even stone and metals -- that choosing just one can be daunting. There are almost infinite varieties of border and edging tiles to use in your design, which allows you to create a style all your own.
Tiles can be as small as 1/4-inch squares. Difficult to work with individually, these tiles are glued to a grid backing to maintain a specific pattern for bonding and grouting. Larger tiles can be up to 12 inches, and while certainly as durable and hardworking, these are not often used for countertops. Most countertop tiles are 4-6 inches square or smaller.
One of the coolest features of tile is that no matter the shape, tiles can be cut creatively and combined cohesively by grout (the concrete filler that bonds the tiles together). This means that even tiles accidentally chipped or purposely broken can be joined to form an interesting countertop. The grout itself, available in limitless colors, becomes an element of the design.
When talking tile, the assumption is that countertop tiles are glazed or finished with a protective coating that forms a barrier to bacteria and stains. This glaze can be clear or colored, high-gloss or matte. The glaze also prevents scorching, but cracking and scratching are still possible.
While unglazed tiles have a rustic, ageless appearance, they aren't practical for countertops because they are porous. Save them for backsplashes and other places where look trumps usability. If you must use them on a surface, be sure to seal frequently to ward off stains and bacteria.
Name your price range and you're bound to find a nice selection of tile to suit your style. Stock tiles, generally beige or white 4-inch or 6-inch squares, are cheap -- as low as 25 cents at discount home improvement centers. Countertop dimensions, the size, and the quality of tiles all play into price. Estimate $1-$30 per square foot, not including installation fees.