How to Install Subway Tile Backsplash Sheets

Installing a subway tile backsplash is a great way to add visual interest and personality to your kitchen or bathroom. Subway tiles are rectangular ceramic or glass tiles that resemble the tiles used in old subway stations. Their elongated shape and classic colors create a timeless, vintage look.

Subway tiles are available in traditional 3×6 inch size, but also come in longer planks up to 12 inches, as well as in many color options. While traditional installation requires carefully laying each tile by hand, subway tile sheets make installation much easier. Tile sheets consist of tiles that are already attached to a mesh backing for simple application.

Installing subway tile backsplash sheets is a DIY-friendly project that can upgrade your space. With some preparation and simple techniques, you can achieve the look of meticulously laid tile without the tedious work of setting each piece. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to install subway tile backsplash sheets.

Selecting Materials for Subway Tile Sheets

Before starting your project, you need to select the right materials. Some key considerations include:

Choose the Tile

  • Tile material – Subway tiles come in ceramic, glass, porcelain and natural stone. Ceramic is generally the most budget-friendly option. Glass tiles have a shiny, sleek look. Porcelain is durable and moisture-resistant. Natural stone like marble or travertine has an elegant, high-end aesthetic.
  • Tile size – Standard subway tiles are 3×6 inches. But many brands offer longer sizes up to 12 inches, which install faster. There are also small format options like mosaics. Consider the scale and look you want.
  • Tile finish – Subway tiles come in glossy, matte or a satin finish. Glossy has a shiny, wet look when lit. Matte is more classic and subtle. Satin is in between the two.
  • Color – White or light grey have a timeless, vintage subway tile look. But modern colors like bold blues, greens and blacks have a more contemporary feel. Accent colors can be fun too.
  • Tile sheet or strips – Sheets cover more area for faster installation. Strips have a more handmade look.

Select Additional Materials

  • Tile adhesive – Choose a quality thinset mortar designed for walls and your tile material.
  • Grout – Grout color should complement the tile. Consider sanded vs. unsanded grout.
  • Backerboard – Cement backerboard provides a water-resistant base for tile.
  • Trim pieces – Tile edging finishes the job nicely. Options include bullnose, chair rail, and metal strips.
  • Sealer – Protect porous tile with a sealer for easier cleaning.

Tools and Equipment for Installation

Proper tools make tiling projects much easier. Be sure you have these supplies on hand:

  • Safety gear – Gloves, goggles, knee pads, etc.
  • Measuring tape
  • Level
  • Square
  • Mixing bucket
  • Notched trowel
  • Grout float
  • Spacers
  • Tile cutter
  • Wet saw (for cuts not possible with tile cutter)
  • Hole saw (for light switches, outlets, etc)
  • Caulk gun
  • Grout sealer

Having the right tools for each step will streamline your subway tile backsplash installation.

Preparing the Work Surface

Careful preparation of the installation area ensures your tile adheres and lasts beautifully.

  1. Clean surface thoroughly – Remove any oils, soaps, paints, drywall dust, etc. that could impede adhesion. Wash with a degreaser then rinse.
  2. Remove existing backsplash – Take down old tile, drywall or anything currently on the wall. Fix any wall damage.
  3. Install backerboard – Cut cement backerboard to fit your space. Attach to wall studs with screws.
  4. Seal and waterproof – Coat backerboard with thinset mortar skim coat to seal. Use a waterproofing membrane for extra moisture protection in wet areas.
  5. Mark layout – Mark plumb vertical and level horizontal reference lines on the wall based on your design. Use a level!

Proper prep leads to successful tile installation. Take time to correctly set up your workspace.

How to Install Subway Tile Sheets

Once fully prepared, you’re ready for the fun part – installing the tile! Follow these tips for proper sheet installation:

1. Plan Your Layout

  • Determine layout style – Offset brick pattern or repeating straight rows are common. Mixing directions can create interest.
  • Map out pattern and focal points – Mark your layout, focal tiles and trim locations on the wall with a pencil.
  • Calculate sheet placement – Dry fit sheets and strips before installation to confirm fit.

2. Cut Tile Sheets

  • Carefully measure and mark sheets for accurate cuts.
  • Use a utility knife and straightedge. Score the mesh backing and snap tile along score line.
  • Use a wet saw for intricate cuts like L-shapes and curves.

3. Apply Thinset Mortar

  • Use a notched trowel to evenly spread a skim layer of thinset.
  • Apply in small sections so thinset doesn’t dry before tiling.
  • Use the proper trowel notch size – match to tile depth.

4. Set and Align Tile Sheets

  • Place sheets in position following your mapped layout.
  • Press sheets firmly into thinset and slide to align. Use spacers.
  • Ensure proper coverage by periodically lifting a sheet to check thinset transfer.
  • Use a grout float to flatten sheets and adjust alignment.

5. Cut and Place Accent Tiles

  • Cut and install any specialty tiles like listellos, mosaics, trims.
  • Fill any small gaps by buttering edges with thinset prior to placement.

6. Grout Tile Joints

  • Let thinset cure fully per manufacturer’s recommendations.
  • Mix grout with water to a thick peanut butter consistency.
  • Holding grout float at 45°, force grout firmly into joints. Clean excess.
  • Once grout becomes firm, polish and refine joints with a damp sponge.
  • Allow grout to cure fully before sealing and using.

Take care to work cleanly and methodically. Check your progress and enjoy watching your design come to life!

Grouting Considerations for Subway Tile

Grout fills the joints between tiles, locking everything into place. Follow these tips for best grouting practices:

  • Choose the right grout – Sanded grout for joints wider than 1/8″. Unsanded for thinner joints. Match grout color to your tile.
  • Apply sealer before grouting – Sealing tiles prevents grout from staining the tile surface.
  • Work in small sections – Grout 10-20 sq. ft. sections for best results.
  • Pack joints fully – Use a firm, circular motion to fill joints completely.
  • Clean thoroughly – Wipe diagonally across joints to prevent pulling grout from joints.
  • Cure grout properly – Let grout cure for 72 hours before sealing or heavy use.
  • Seal grout – Protect grout from stains by applying a penetrating grout sealer.

Proper grouting improves the look and durability of your subway tile installation.

Finishing Touches for a Polished Look

The final details complete your new backsplash. Don’t forget these finishing steps:

  • Apply trim – Install any trim, edging, chair rail, or accent tile. Use thinset mortar for proper adhesion.
  • Caulk edges – Neatly caulk perimeter and seams with flexible, waterproof silicone caulk.
  • Seal tiles and grout – For extra protection, apply sealers formulated for tile and grout.
  • Replace fixtures – Reinstall any fixtures like soap dispensers, lights, faucets, etc. removed during project.
  • Grout haze removal – Use a specialized cleaner to remove any grout haze or film from tile surface.
  • Buff and polish – After grout is fully cured, buff tiles with a soft cloth to polish and brighten.

Take pride in the details for a truly professional subway tile sheet backsplash installation.

FAQs About Installing Subway Tile Sheets

Many first-time tilers have questions about working with subway tile sheets. Here are answers to some frequently asked questions:

Should I use mosaic sheets or individual tiles?

For true subway tile style, use full-sized tiles in a bricklaid pattern. Mosaics create a busier look. Individual tiles allow more custom patterns but are trickier to install evenly.

What thinset mortar is best?

Use a polymer-modified thinset for a strong, water-resistant bond. Consult manufacturer’s guidelines. General white thinset works for most applications.

How do I cut subway tiles cleanly?

Mark cuts with a straightedge and score with a utility knife. Place tile face up in a wet saw and cut through mesh. A sharper blade gives cleaner results.

What size trowel notch should I use?

Consult thinset packaging for recommended notch size. Common sizes are 1/4” square or 1/4” x 3/8” for walls. Match notch size to tile depth.

Should spacers always be used?

Yes, spacers create uniform grout joint widths. This prevents tiles from shifting and improves the overall look.

How long does thinset mortar take to cure?

Cure times vary by product, from 16-72 hours typically. Always follow thinset manufacturer’s instructions for time before grouting and using.

What’s the easiest way to apply grout?

Use a rubber grout float. Hold at a 45° angle and force grout firmly into joints with a circular motion. Sponge and polish when partially cured.

Is sealing the tiles necessary?

Sealing is an optional step but helps protect porous tile surfaces from stains. It also allows easier cleaning.

Tips for a Successful Subway Tile Backsplash Project

Installing subway tile sheets may sound straightforward but careful planning helps ensure success. Keep these tips in mind:

  • Gather all materials and tools needed before starting.
  • Carefully measure the space and map out tile layout.
  • Clean and prepare the surface thoroughly before tiling.
  • Follow product instructions for proper thinset mortar usage.
  • Work in small sections apply thinset, set tile, grout, etc.
  • Use spacers for consistent grout line width.
  • Let thinset and grout cure fully before finishing.
  • Seal tiles and grout for ease of maintenance.
  • Work slowly and methodically for best results.
  • Enjoy the satisfaction of DIYing your own beautiful backsplash!

With the right planning and techniques, installing subway tile sheets can be accomplished by any motivated DIYer. Take your time and relish the journey of enhancing your home with this classic and versatile tile project. Your new backsplash will provide many years of function and timeless style.


Installing subway tile sheets allows you to quickly create a stunning backsplash or wall accent. By using pre-assembled tile meshes rather than individual tiles, you can fashion a professional-looking design with much less work. Just follow the techniques for proper planning, sheet layout, thinset application, grouting, and sealer application outlined above, and you can achieve beautiful results.

Subway tiles offer versatility too. Mix up colors, patterns, textures and trim to design a backsplash that reflects your personal taste. Their rectangular shape can be installed vertically, horizontally, or in fun herringbone designs for completely custom looks. With the right prep and patience, subway tile sheets allow DIYers to build their dream backsplash without the headache of installing each tiny tile individually. Let the creativity flow and enjoy making over your space with this classic and adaptable tile style.