What Do You Need for Kitchen Backsplash? A Definitive Guide to Planning and Installing Your Perfect Backsplash

Choosing and installing a new kitchen backsplash can completely transform the look and feel of your cooking space. With so many backsplash design options to consider – from materials and colors to patterns and installation methods – planning your new backsplash may feel overwhelming. This definitive guide covers everything you need to confidently tackle a kitchen backsplash project.

Selecting Your Backsplash Materials

There are a wide variety of kitchen backsplash materials to choose from, each with their own aesthetic appeal, durability, maintenance needs, and cost. Consider which backsplash materials best align with your design goals, lifestyle, and budget.

Ceramic Tile

Ceramic tile is one of the most commonly used backsplash materials due to its durability, easy maintenance, affordability, and variety of colors, shapes, and textures. Glazed ceramic tiles have a shiny, smooth finish that resists moisture and stains. Unglazed tiles have a matte texture that can hide imperfections well. Ceramic tile comes in different grades – budget, mid-range, or high-end. Higher quality tiles are less prone to cracking or water damage.

Pros: Durable, moisture-resistant, affordable, easy installation, wide range of styles

Cons: Grout lines can get dirty, tiles can crack or chip

Glass Tile

Glass tile backsplashes have a luminous, sleek contemporary look. The tiles are made from recycled glass and have high shine and deep, translucent colors. Small mosaic tiles are most common. Glass tile is more expensive than ceramic or stone but provides big visual impact.

Pros: Beautiful shine and colors, sleek modern look, environmentally friendly material

Cons: Expensive, tiles can crack or chip, challenging installation

Natural Stone Tile

Backsplashes made of natural stone like marble, travertine, granite, or slate have an elegant, timeless beauty. Natural stone tiles come in a diverse range of colors, veins, finishes, and cuts. Stone is more porous than ceramic or glass tile and requires sealing to prevent staining.

Pros: Natural beauty, timeless and classic, variety of colors and finishes

Cons: Expensive, heavy, prone to staining, challenging installation

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel backsplashes have an ultra-modern, industrial chic look with high durability. Brushed or textured finishes help hide fingerprints and water spots. Stainless steel backsplashes are waterproof and easy to clean. Professional installation is recommended.

Pros: Sleek modern look, highly durable and waterproof, easy to clean

Cons: Expensive, prone to showing fingerprints, professional installation required

Subway Tile

Classic rectangular white subway tiles never go out of style and give a clean, vintage look. Standard tiles are 3 by 6 inches, but many sizes exist. Subway tiles are affordable, easy to install, and match any design aesthetic. Use contrasting grout to add interest.

Pros: Classic, versatile, and affordable option, easy DIY installation, clean look

Cons: Can look boring without added contrast, grout may need frequent cleaning

Peel-and-Stick Backsplash

Peel-and-stick backsplash tiles have become popular due to their easy, mess-free installation. The self-adhesive backing sticks directly to cleaned and primed walls. Peel-and-stick backsplash options include ceramic, glass, marble, and even stainless steel looks.

Pros: Affordable, easy do-it-yourself installation, removable

Cons: Less durable than traditional tile, limited styles, prone to water damage

Beaded Board

Beadboard backsplashes have a charming cottage look with vertical grooved planks. Beadboard is often painted or stained. It can be installed with adhesive or nails. Use water-resistant beadboard in kitchens. Install a matching backsplash valence for a finished look.

Pros: Relaxed, country style, affordable material, easy DIY installation

Cons: Not as durable as tile, prone to water damage if unsealed

Choosing a Style and Colors for Your Backsplash

Your kitchen backsplash materials, colors, and designs should coordinate with your overall kitchen style. Backsplashes can beautifully tie the entire room together when thoughtfully planned.

Matching Countertop Materials

Selecting backsplash tile or materials that match or complement your countertop can create a streamlined, integrated look. For example, use marble tile backsplash with marble countertops or stainless steel backsplash with stainless steel countertops.

Contrasting Countertops

Contrasting your backsplash and countertop materials can make each one stand out. Glass or ceramic tile backsplashes paired with granite counters offer an eye-catching combo. Dark quartz counters pop against white subway tile.

Coordinating Cabinetry

Coordinate backsplash colors with your cabinetry finishes to unify the whole kitchen design. For shaker-style cabinets in a natural wood stain, earth-toned ceramic tile backsplashes complement beautifully. With bold painted cabinets, choose a vibrant mosaic tile.

Personalize with Meaningful Colors

Incorporate colors in your backsplash that have personal meaning or match your home’s style. Use calming blues for a coastal cottage, deep reds for an arts and crafts kitchen, or your favorite vibrant hues in a mosaic pattern.

Consistent All-White Palette

An all-white kitchen with white cabinetry, countertops, and subway tile backsplash has a clean, bright, timeless look. Add interest with contrasting grout. Carrara marble backsplashes also keep the white scheme.

Metallic Finishes

Metallic backsplashes in copper, gold, silver, or bronze can provide a glamorous, reflects light beautifully, and pairs well with cool grey and white kitchens. Glass or ceramic tile mixed with metallic accents is also eye-catching.

Backsplash Patterns and Designs

Creatively using shape, color, and pattern in your backsplash design takes it to the next level. Backsplash patterns range from basic brick layouts to artistic mosaics.

Basic Grid Pattern

The most common backsplash pattern is a basic grid of tiles aligned in straight vertical and horizontal rows. Standard square or rectangular tiles lend themselves to grid layouts. Shift tiles slightly off-center for interest.

Stacked Pattern

Stacking elongated subway tiles vertically creates clean lines and visual movement. Offset the tiles in some rows for a less linear look. Stacked stone veneer backsplashes also create long vertical lines.


The basketweave pattern has tiles laid perpendicularly in an over-under pattern resembling woven strips. Color variations in the tile add more dimension. Basketweave layouts work well on herringbone and chevron patterns.


Rows of thin rectangular tiles lay in a zigzag pattern resembling fish bones. Contrasting grout lines accent the zigzags. Herringbone patterns work best on small backsplash areas and require precision.


A classic chessboard pattern has alternating dark and light tiles in a grid pattern. Use two sizes of square tiles or rectangular tiles laid perpendicular. Add tiles with texture for more interest.

Mosaic Tile

Thousands of tiny mosaic tiles in multiple colors, shapes, and patterns can create beautiful backsplash artwork. Keep mosaic backsplashes simple or go bold. Mix different tile materials like glass and ceramic.

Geometric Patterns

Use geometric shapes like circles, diamonds, triangles, or hexagons in solid colors or multiple colors to create a modern statement backsplash. Combine with glass or metallic tiles.

Marble Slab

For a luxe yet unfussy backsplash, install large marble slabs. Veining and color variations in natural marble provide visual texture. Small accents tiles can add contrast.

Picture Frames or Medallions

Frame your range hood or other focal points with picture frame tiles or a round medallion backsplash design. Contrast these custom details with simple field tile.

Preparing Your Backsplash Installation

Proper planning and preparation ensures your backsplash installation goes smoothly. Don’t cut corners on these important first steps.

Gather Supplies

Having all the required materials and tools on hand means your project stays on track. For tile backsplashes, you’ll need tile, grout, backerboard, thinset, trowels, spacers, grout sealer, utility knife, and sponges. Use a tile cutter for intricate cuts.

Measure Precisely

Taking careful measurements of your backsplash area ensures you purchase enough materials without excess. Consider uneven wall dimensions, window and doorway placement, and outlets. Leave room to account for grout and tile cuts.

Clean and Prime the Surface

Remove old backsplash materials completely and clean the surface per manufacturer instructions. Check for damage in need of repair. Prime surfaces with the recommended primer type to help tiles adhere properly.

Install Backerboard

Cement backerboard provides a water-resistant, stable base for tile installation. Cut boards to fit your space and fasten securely to studs with backerboard screws. Seal seams with mesh tape and thinset.

Layout Tile Pattern

Map out your tile layout before installation, marking the center and working outward. Mix tile boxes for color consistency. Adjust layout to avoid narrowly cut perimeter tiles. Keep grout lines aligned.

Step-by-Step Backsplash Installation Guide

Follow these key steps to properly install a beautiful, durable tile backsplash yourself or with the help of an experienced friend.

Step 1: Spread Thinset on Backerboard

Use a notched trowel to spread a thin layer of thinset tile adhesive on the backerboard where you’ll place the first tiles. Spread just enough thinset that remains tacky to the touch.

Step 2: Set the First Tiles

Beginning near the center of your layout, press tiles into the thinset and wiggle slightly to adhere. Use plastic spacers to maintain even grout line width. Check tiles periodically for level placement.

Step 3: Cut Perimeter Tiles

Measure and mark any perimeter tiles that need cutting to fit around edges and obstacles. Use a wet tile saw or manual tile cutter to make calculated cuts through tiles.

Step 4: Apply Thinset and Set More Tiles

Cover the back of each tile with a thin layer of fresh thinset using the notched trowel. Press tiles firmly into place, maintaining layout lines and spacer gaps between tiles.

Step 5: Check Level and Make Adjustments

Use a level tool to periodically check for level tile rows, starting from the bottom and working up. Lift and adjust tiles that are slightly off level while thinset is still pliable.

Step 6: Mix and Apply Grout

Prepare grout per package directions and apply over the tiles to fill joints and gaps. Use a rubber grout float or squeegee to spread grout smoothly and work it into joints. Remove excess grout from tile surfaces with a damp sponge.

Step 7: Clean Tile and Finish Grouting

Once grout becomes firm, use a damp sponge to wipe a final light haze from tile surfaces. Rinse sponges frequently. Allow grout to fully cure per manufacturer instructions before sealing.

Step 8: Seal Grout

Once grout has cured, apply grout sealer following label directions to protect from moisture and staining. Allow sealer to fully dry. Your backsplash is now complete and ready to enjoy!

9 Frequently Asked Questions About Kitchen Backsplashes

1. How is backsplash different than wall tile?

Wall tiles are installed from floor to ceiling, while backsplashes only cover the space between countertops and upper cabinets. Backsplashes protect the wall from cooking splatters and stains.

2. What height should a backsplash be?

Standard backsplash height is 4 inches above the counter, but can range from 4 to 6 inches based on your preference and cabinet height. For a full backsplash look, tiles can extend to the underside of upper cabinets.

3. Can you install backsplash over existing tile?

It’s possible but not recommended. Existing tile must be in excellent condition and free of damage. The layers underneath must be able to support additional weight.

4. What’s the best backsplash for a white kitchen?

White subway tile is a classic choice that matches any style. Boldly veined marble and intricate white mosaics also pop nicely against white cabinetry.

5. Should backsplash match or complement countertop?

It depends on your desired look – matching provides a cohesive appearance while contrasting can make each stand out stylishly. Tying colors together is recommended.

6. Is backsplash better than paint?

Backsplash tile is more durable, moisture-resistant, and easier to clean than paint. But paint is an affordable option for simple backsplash design needs.

7. How do you cut backsplash tile?

Use a wet saw with a diamond blade for straight cuts and a tile nipper for rounded cuts. A cutoff wheel can notch out outlets. Use a drill with carbide bits for holes.

8. Can backsplash tile go up to ceiling?

It can for a full wall of tile. Extending tile to the ceiling can make a small kitchen appear larger but requires challenging vertical cuts.

9. Is backsplash tile hard to install?

Installing backsplash tile requires some technique but is very doable as a DIY project, especially with the help of how-to videos. patience and care yields the best results.


Planning and executing your dream kitchen backsplash involves important choices but yields so much creativity and style impact. Keeping your design goals, lifestyle needs, and budget in mind while selecting from the range of materials, colors, and patterns helps create a gorgeous, functional backsplash you’ll love. With proper planning and careful installation, you can DIY a beautiful backsplash that ties your whole kitchen together and protects walls from daily cooking mess. Impress yourself with your newfound backsplash design and installation skills.