How to Install Bullnose Tile on a Backsplash

Installing bullnose tile on a backsplash can add a beautiful, finished look to your kitchen or bathroom. Bullnose tiles have edges that are rounded off rather than square, which gives them a smooth, polished appearance. While the process of installing bullnose tile requires careful planning and attention to detail, it can create a stunning focal point in your home with the right techniques.

Getting Started with Bullnose Tile Backsplash Installation

Before you start installing bullnose tiles for your backsplash, there are a few key steps to take to ensure success:

Choose the Right Bullnose Tiles

Bullnose tiles come in a variety of materials like ceramic, porcelain, natural stone, and glass. Consider the look you want as well as factors like:

  • Cost – Porcelain and ceramic tend to be the most budget friendly options. Natural stone and glass cost more but provide high-end style.
  • Durability – Porcelain is highly durable and resistant to scratches, moisture and heat. Ceramic is less durable but cheaper. Stone and glass can chip or crack if not handled with care.
  • Ease of cutting – Ceramic and porcelain tiles are fairly easy for DIY cutting. Stone and glass require special tools.
  • Style – Ceramic and porcelain come in endless colors, prints and finishes like glossy, matte, textured etc. Glass and stone provide natural elegance.

Be sure to get enough tiles to complete your entire backsplash design, allowing for extra in case some break or need to be cut.

Choose the Right Bullnose Tile Edges

Bullnose tiles can have rounded finished edges on 1, 2 or 3 sides. Choose tiles with the rounded edges that best fit your design needs:

  • Single bullnose – One rounded finished edge, usually on the front side. Used for open ends of runs.
  • Double bullnose – Rounded finished edges on 2 adjacent sides. Useful for finishing outside corners.
  • Triple bullnose – Rounded edges on 3 sides for a fully finished look. Perfect for inside corners or standalone accent tiles.

Plan the Layout

Having a well-thought out layout plan is crucial for a seamless finished backsplash design. Take measurements of the space and sketch out a grid pattern showing how the tiles should be installed, including these considerations:

  • Mark the center point and draw vertical and horizontal lines as guides.
  • Indicate the best starting point (often the center).
  • Show where tiles may need to be cut to fit edges and around obstacles.
  • Indicate any accent tiles or design features.
  • Make sure tiles line up evenly across the installation area.

Gather the Right Supplies

Installing bullnose tile requires having proper materials on hand including:

  • Bullnose tiles
  • Tile adhesive (thinset mortar)
  • Grout
  • Tile spacers
  • Notched trowel
  • Mixing bucket
  • Tile wet saw with diamond blade
  • Grout float
  • Grout sealer
  • Sponge and rags

Use polymer-modified thinset for a stronger bond. Match the grout color to the tile.

Prepare the Surface

The backsplash area must be prepped properly before tiling. Ensure the surface is:

  • Clean and free of old adhesive or grout
  • Structurally sound
  • Smooth and flat
  • Moisture-resistant in kitchens or bathrooms

Sand or scrape away bumps, paint or debris. Fill any holes or gaps with floor leveling compound if needed.

Proper prep prevents tiles from cracking or coming loose later on.

How to Install the Bullnose Tiles

Once you have all the materials and planning in place, you’re ready to start installing the bullnose tiles. Follow these key steps:

Step 1: Apply the Tile Adhesive

  • Use a notched trowel to spread a layer of thinset adhesive on the installation area. Spread only enough that tiles can be set before it dries.
  • Use the trowel notches to create ridges in the adhesive for better contact between tiles and the surface.
  • Add more adhesive as you go to keep wet edges for optimal bonding.

Step 2: Set the First Row

  • If needed, use tile spacers on the countertop or edges to establish the first row at the proper height and keep tiles evenly spaced.
  • Set the first row of field tiles above your planned bullnose row, using your layout as a guide. This helps hide any uneven cuts behind the bullnose.
  • Check tiles for level and press into the adhesive firmly. Move any that are out of alignment before the adhesive dries.

Step 3: Add the Bullnose Tiles

  • Apply adhesive to begin the bullnose row, making sure edges are aligned with the tiles above.
  • Set the bullnose tiles into the adhesive, using spacers to maintain even grout lines.
  • Pay attention to keeping rounded edges facing the room and flat backs against the wall.
  • Make any necessary bullnose cuts using a wet saw before installation. Cuts should face the wall whenever possible.

Step 4: Continue Setting Tiles

  • Work row by row from the bottom up for kitchen backsplashes.
  • Use spacers to keep tile spacing consistent and check alignment frequently.
  • Cut field tiles as needed to fit around corners, outlets, etc. using a wet saw.
  • Set aside any broken or damaged tiles; do not install them. Fill in gaps later with cuts.
  • Allow tiles to set overnight before grouting. Back-butter tiles for maximum adhesion if needed.

Step 5: Apply Grout and Seal

  • After tiles are firmly set, mix grout and apply it over the tiles using a grout float, forcing it into seams.
  • Wipe away excess grout with a sponge and rags before it dries for smooth finished grout lines.
  • Clean any remaining grout haze off the tiles with a soft cloth once dry.
  • Seal grout lines with grout sealer to protect from moisture and staining.
  • Allow 24-48 hours for grout and sealant to fully cure before use.

Following these key installation steps will help ensure your bullnose tile backsplash transforms your space with clean, polished style. Take your time, use proper materials and techniques, and you can achieve beautiful results.

Tips for Cutting Bullnose Tiles

One of the trickiest parts of installing bullnose tile is making precise cuts, especially around edges and obstacles. Here are some top tips for expert tile cutting:

Mark Lines Clearly

Use painters tape and a square to mark your cut line so the tile can be lined up properly.

Cut Slowly and Carefully

Don’t rush tile cutting. Go slow with steady even pressure for clean edges.

Use Water Cooling

Keep the tile saw blade wet while cutting to minimize chipping and overheating.

Face Curved Edges Down

When cutting bullnose tiles, face the rounded polished edge downwards against the saw table.

Dry Fit First

Do a dry run with scrap tiles first to ensure measurements and cuts are perfect before cutting good tiles.

Use Edge Guards

For porcelain or stone, use edge guards on the saw to minimize chipping on cut edges.

Finish Edges

Use a stone polisher or diamond pad to finish any sharp cut edges on bullnose tiles.

Save Cuts

Carefully save any bullnose tile cuts to use for filler pieces or replacements as needed.

With extra care taken during cutting, your bullnose tile edges will maintain their beautiful rounded polish and finish.

How to Finish Inside Corners with Bullnose Tiles

One key technique in bullnose tile backsplash installation is properly finishing the inside corners where two walls meet. Here is the best method:

Select Triple Bullnose Tiles

Use bullnose tiles with all 3 sides rounded for a continuous smooth finish around the corner.

Miter Inside Corner Cuts

Precisely cut the bullnose tiles at a 45 degree angle (miter) so they fit together seamlessly at the corner.

Alternate Long and Short Sides

Bullnose tiles should be installed alternating so the short and long rounded edges face outwards in opposite directions.

Use L-Shaped Tiles

Some manufacturers make L-shaped bullnose tiles specifically designed to finish inside corners. These eliminate the need for angled cuts.

Align Grout Lines

When installing, keep the grout lines perfectly flush across the corner for a clean uniform look.

Pre-plan Alignment

Dry fit the corner tiles first before adhering in place to confirm proper mitered cuts and alignment of grout lines surrounding the corner.

With some careful planning and precision cutting, the inside corners of your bullnose backsplash can have a picturesque finished appearance.

How to Finish Outside Corners with Bullnose Tiles

The outside corners where countertops meet side walls require another set of techniques for smooth bullnose finishing:

Use Double Bullnose Tiles

Bullnose tiles with 2 adjacent rounded sides are ideal for finishing outside corner transitions.

Align Rows Evenly

Plan the layout so that bullnose tile edges meet at the same height all the way across the corner.

Cut End Pieces to Fit

For a flush fit, measure and cut end bullnose tiles to exact size as needed.

Consider Decorative Accent Tiles

Use a coordinating patterned, metal or glass mosaic tile at outside corners for added style.

Use L-Trim Molding

Metal L-trim pieces can provide a professional finish when installed where the perpendicular bullnose edges meet.

Caulk Corner Seam

Once grouted, seal and waterproof the seam where the bullnose edges meet by applying a thin bead of clear silicone caulk.

With careful alignment, trim accents, and caulking, the bullnose tiles can transition beautifully across outside corners.

FAQs About Installing Bullnose Tiles on Backsplashes

What’s the best way to measure for bullnose tiles?

Make measurements across the center points of the installation area, from edge to edge horizontally and top to bottom vertically. Allow for an extra 1/8 inch gap between tiles.

How are bullnose tiles different than regular wall tiles?

Bullnose tiles have one or more smoothly rounded finished edges instead of sharp square edges. They are designed specifically for finishing edges of backsplashes.

Can I use bullnose tiles on the floor?

Bullnose tiles are not recommended for floors. Their rounded edges can easily chip underfoot over time. Use them only for wall installations.

What thinset mortar is best for bullnose tiles?

Use a polymer-modified thinset for maximum adhesion strength. Avoid multi-purpose products, which dry too quickly for bullnose tile installation.

How soon can I use the backsplash after installing bullnose tile?

Allow the tile thinset adhesive and grout to fully cure for 24-48 hours before regular use of the backsplash area.

What color grout should I choose?

Use grout that is similar in color to your tiles. Contrasting grout can look dirty over time as residue collects in seams. Matching grout has a cleaner, more seamless look.

What are the signs of poorly installed bullnose tiles?

Uneven tile spacing, misaligned rows, cracked tiles, loose tiles, uneven grout lines, and gaps or cracks between tiles are all red flags of subpar installation.


Installing bullnose tile on a backsplash is an intermediate DIY project that can take your kitchen or bath design up a notch when done properly. With the right bullnose tile selection, tools, materials, pattern planning, precision cutting, and installation techniques, you can achieve stunning results. Carefully follow the adhesive, grouting, and sealant product instructions as well for a long-lasting, quality finish. Take your time, maintaining safety precautions when cutting tile or handling adhesives, and your new bullnose tile backsplash will be a durable, eye-catching focal point you can enjoy for years to come.