How to Install Subway Tile Backsplash Edges

Installing subway tile as a backsplash can add style and visual interest to any kitchen or bathroom. While the field tiles are relatively easy to install, extra care and planning are required for the edges and corners. Properly finishing the edges of a subway tile backsplash ensures a clean, finished look. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to install subway tile backsplash edges.

Select the Right Tile Edging

There are several edging options available for subway tile backsplashes:

Bullnose Tile

Bullnose tiles have one rounded finished edge that creates a smooth transition from the wall to the edge of the tile. This is a great choice for inside corners and areas where tiles meet the countertop. Bullnose tiles come glazed or unglazed.

Pencil Liner Tile

Pencil liner tiles have two finished edges and are used to create a clean border along the perimeter of the backsplash. They provide a straight edge that gives the installation a refined look.

Metal Tile Edging

Metal strips, usually aluminum or stainless steel, can be used along edges and as transitions between subway tile and other surfaces. This edging gives a modern, sleek finish.


Tile molding, such as quarter-round, provides a rounded edge and can be used for inside corners and open edges. Molding comes in different materials like wood, metal, and ceramic.

Consider the look you want to achieve and choose the edging type accordingly. Mix and match different edgings for interest.

Prepare the Surface

Make sure the surface is clean and free of debris. Apply thinset mortar evenly across the area using a notched trowel. Thinset provides adhesion and a uniform depth for the tile.

Pay special attention to corners and edges, making sure you have full coverage in these areas. Remove any thinset that gets into the corners to ensure the edging tiles sit flush against the wall.

Cut the Field Tiles and Edging

Measure and cut the subway field tiles to fit your layout. Make sure tiles align with your reference lines.

Measure and cut the edge and corner pieces to size. Bullnose tiles and metal strips should be cut using a wet saw. Pencil liners can be scored and snapped with tile nippers.

Have all your tiles and edging cut before you begin setting the tiles.

Install the Field Tiles

Starting at the center and working out, press the field tiles into the thinset and align with your reference lines. Use spacers between tiles to get consistent grout lines.

Don’t install tiles all the way to the edges yet. Leave a 1/8 inch gap for your edging pieces.

Allow the field tiles to set according to manufacturer’s instructions before proceeding.

Apply Edge Tiles

Once the field tiles have set, it’s time to install the edges. Apply a thin layer of thinset mortar along the edge of the last row of field tiles.

Carefully press the edge tiles into the mortar, lining up the edges evenly with the field tiles. Use spacers to maintain even grout lines and keep tiles aligned.

For inside corners, miter cut the bullnose tiles at a 45 degree angle. Apply thinset to both sides of the corner and press tiles into place.

Wipe away any excess thinset with a damp sponge. Allow tiles to set completely before grouting.

Grout and Seal the Tiles

Mix the grout according to package directions. Apply grout over all tile joints using a rubber grout float. Push grout into joints and clean excess from tile face with a damp sponge.

Once grout has dried, apply a penetrating sealer to protect the grout and enhance water resistance.

With proper prep and care taken on the edges, it’s easy to get professional looking results from a DIY subway tile backsplash. Paying attention to detail on the edges gives a polished finish.

Frequently Asked Questions About Installing Subway Tile Backsplash Edges

What is the best edge tile to use with subway tile?

Bullnose tiles are generally the best edge tile for subway tile backsplashes. The rounded edge matches the classic subway tile shape and provides a finished look. Pencil liners are also a great option for a clean border edge.

Should I use anything under the edge tiles?

Yes, it’s important to apply thinset mortar under edge tiles just as you would with field tiles. This provides needed adhesion and prevents the edges from popping off over time.

How do I get clean sharp corners with subway tile?

Miter cutting bullnose tiles at a 45 degree angle allows you to get clean looking inside corners. Alternately, you can use corner bullnose tiles which have finished edges on two adjacent sides.

Should I seal my subway tile backsplash?

Sealing is highly recommended to prevent staining and damage from moisture. Use a penetrating sealer designed for porous tile and grout. Reapply sealer periodically for continued protection.

How do I finish an exposed subway tile edge?

If the subway tile edge is exposed, such as against a countertop backsplash, use a metal trim strip, tile molding, or small bullnose tiles to finish the edge neatly.

Can I use wood trim with subway tile?

Yes, wood trim can create a great accent with subway tile. Stain grade wood matches well with traditional white subway tiles. Use quarter-round or baseboard trim to finish open edges.


Installing subway tile edges properly completes the backsplash and gives it a polished, professional look. Take careful measurements, cut edge tiles accordingly, and apply with thinset mortar just like field tiles. Bullnose, pencil liners, metal strips, and moldings all make great edging options depending on the desired finish. With some careful prep and attention to detail, you can achieve beautiful results installing your own subway tile backsplash edges.