What Materials Can Be Used To Make Mosaics? [15 Great Options]

The art of Mosaic was believed to be first used in the Mesopotamian area around the 3rd-century BC.  It made its way across ancient civilizations and over thousands of years.  But what exactly is Mosaic?  Is it a type of art that a beginner can do? Can any material be made into a Mosaic? We've done the research for you so let's shed some light on the art of Mosaic and the materials that you can use to create your own work of art.

Tessera or Tesserae are the pieces that make up a Mosaic. As a general rule, they average 22 millimeters in size. They can be irregular or uniform shaped and either glazed or unglazed. There are 15 most common types of Tessera:

  1. Ceramic
  2. Smalti
  3. Mirror
  4. Marble
  5. Stone
  6. Pebbles
  7. Sea-Shells
  8. Cork
  9. Porcelain
  10. Beads
  11. Coins
  12. Vitreous Glass
  13. Clear Glass
  14. Pottery
  15. Wood

As you can see from the list above, materials that makeup Tessera can vary greatly.  Some types of Tessera are easier to work with than others. Some of them you might have never thought about using in a Mosaic. Let's look at some finished projects that have used types of Tessera from our list.

A gorgeous circular mosaic art using different mosaic materials, What Materials Can Be Used To Make Mosaics? [15 Great Options]

Mosaic Basics

Regardless of the type of Mosaic that you craft, the basics are pretty much the same. The components are:

  1. A supporting frame such as a wall, ceiling, floor, or rough form as in a sculpture form.
  2. The chosen Tessera pieces that you will use.
  3. The glue, grout, mortar, or plaster are used to adhere and set the Tessera.
  4. Fiberglass mesh that forms a foundation to hold the glue/grout and Tessera in place. This adds stability.

A Closer look at the 15 common types of Tessera

A Mosaic is a group of regular or irregular shaped tessera grouped into a pattern or picture and adhered to a supporting form. What was once only found in ancient Greece and ancient Rome cathedrals, bathhouses and palaces is now commonplace and can be crafted successfully with a little practice.

Virtually any type of material can be assembled into a Mosaic. Modern artisans are even utilizing tessera such as bottle caps to create eye-appealing art pieces. Here are 15 of the most common types of Tessera used by modern crafters.

1. Ceramic

Ceramic tiles are typically used in structures to cover floors, walls, or backsplash in kitchens.  They are available in different shapes with a glazed or unglazed finish. Expect to use fiberglass mesh backing and grout your finished product.

A photorealistic depiction of a mosaic crafted with ceramic tiles, showcasing varied shapes and a glazed finish in flower

2. Smalti

Smalti is a very vibrant metal oxide infused glass.  It is commonly used in intricate freestanding art pieces and wall pieces. You will need glass nippers and safety gloves to work with Smalti, but the final finished piece can be worth all of the effort.

a hyperrealistic image of a mosaic art piece made with vibrant Smalti glass in flower

3. Mirror

Just as the name states, these are precision cut pieces of mirror common in free-standing art pieces and wall pieces. They are a more delicate tessera, so it is not recommended to put them in a floor design. A mirrored surface is known for reflecting light and making an interior space appear much bigger than it actually is.  This type of mosaic will add visual interest regardless of the size of the area.

a hyperrealistic photo of a mirror mosaic, intricately reflecting precision-cut mirrored pieces forming a beautiful flower

4. Marble

Marble (and stone) are the longest standing tessera. We are still discovering marble mosaic designs from ancient civilizations. They are precisely cut pieces of varied naturally occurring colors. Their durability makes them an easy choice in outdoor gardens or indoor floors and bathrooms. Keep in mind the weight of your finished project as marble can become quite heavy.

a lifelike representation of a mosaic with precisely cut marble pieces, forming an intricate flower pattern

5.  Stone

Like marble, their strength aids in their longevity. They are available in various sizes and varied muted earthy tones. Stone mosaics are generally found in outdoor settings but can be easily applied to indoor designs. Working with stone generally requires you to mortar your work. It is also a good idea to use fiberglass mesh to help with stability.

a hyperrealistic image of a stone mosaic, intricately depicting flowers with varied earthy tones

6. Pebbles

Pebbles are a great alternative to add beauty to your outdoor gardens or in place of standard home sidewalks or patios.  They come in various shapes, sizes and are smooth to the touch. They also add visual interest.  When creating a mosaic with pebbles, you will need to mortar your work to ensure that the stones stay in place.

a realistic depiction of a pebble mosaic forming a beautiful flower

7. Sea Shells

Sea Shells are a great addition to a bathroom, kitchen backsplash, or individual freestanding art piece. Like mirror tessera, they are not durable, so it is best not to walk on them.  Despite a lack of durability, they make very creative and interesting mosaics.

a hyperrealistic image of a mosaic incorporating sea shells, forming creative and intricate floral patterns

8. Cork

Cork is an interesting modern tessera.  It is softer than the other choices on our list that adds to the convenience of working with it. It does absorb pigment and is appropriate for use on floors, walls, and ceilings.  Be aware, though. It will absorb moisture, so choose its placement carefully. Artisans have been able to craft some very creative wall hangings.

a lifelike representation of a cork mosaic, showcasing its softer texture suitable for walls

9. Porcelain

Porcelain is one of the most common tesserae used in modern-day mosaics. Precisely cut pieces are available for purchase, but most artisans who use porcelain prefer to break old dishes, vases, and wares to achieve the exact shape and color of each piece they use. Many artisans love upcycling materials and feel that there is a greater sense of accomplishment in creating something strictly from their imagination. It can also be more cost-effective.

a hyperrealistic photo of a porcelain mosaic, intricately showcasing precisely cut pieces forming a stunning floral pattern

10. Beads

Bead Mosaics are truly in another world all on their own.  Some of the smallest and most intricate mosaics are made of beads. Bring stunning pieces to life with beads, bead glue (or thread), and a beautiful pattern. These mosaics are normally meant for indoors, but with preparation, they can be outdoors. Beads come in various shapes and sizes. Some are made of glass, while others are made from plastic.  The type of bead depends on the type of mosaic you are creating.

a realistic image of a bead mosaic with intricate floral patterns


Coins are another interesting tessera that is used in modern mosaics. Common coin mosaics can be found in a floor pattern or across a countertop or bar.  Once a coin pattern is laid down on your chosen surface, a resin layer usually is applied over the top to help protect your mosaic.

a hyperrealistic mosaic incorporating american coins

12. Vitreous Glass

First made famous by its creation in Italy, Vitreous glass tessera is an extremely popular mosaic art option. They are usually sold in a 3/4 inch square shape and can be easily cut with a tile nipper tool.  They come in a plethora of colors and are ideal for indoor or outdoor projects.

A closeup of blue glass mosaic tiles under the lights

13. Clear Glass

Clear Glass Tessera is a popular choice for indoor projects because of its ability to match virtually any decor style.  Its beauty is not necessarily in color but in the joining lines. It also can be applied easily over other mediums.

a hyperrealistic photo of a clear glass mosaic, emphasizing the joining lines in an intricate floral pattern

14. Pottery

The visually pleasing aesthetic of a pottery mosaic in a garden can be an attractive idea.  It can be used on both a flat surface and a freestanding sculpture.

a realistic representation of a pottery mosaic with an attractive floral theme

15. Wood

Not many would think of using wood in a mosaic project, but it does have appeal.  The color pallet can range from white pine to deep mahogany (or darker for an exotic type of wood).   Wood Tessera is appropriate for both indoor and outdoor projects.

a hyperrealistic mosaic incorporating woods

What kind of glue is used for Mosaics?

The kind of glue to use on a mosaic project depends entirely on the type of tessera you are working with.  For a smaller project, trying looking for an excellent all-purpose mosaic glue.  For larger projects or a mosaic that comes in contact with water, you might try a mortar or grout.

What can you use for Mosaic backing?

Mosaic backing is used for stability.  Each individual piece of tessera may not weigh much, but when combined, your finished product will have some weight to it.  Not all projects will need backing, but as a rule of thumb, most will.  It depends on the project. If your project does call for a backing, the most commonly trusted product is made of fiberglass mesh. Fiberglass mesh comes in various sizes and thickness (weight), so be sure that you understand your project's needs.

Do you have to grout Mosaics?

Not all projects will need grout.  Generally speaking, if your project is made of ceramic, porcelain, stone, pebbles, or most glass, you should expect to grout.  If your project will come into contact with water, such as a pool or a shower, then yes, you will need to grout. Mosaics made out of bead, wood, coin, or clear glass do not require grout.  But again, it all depends on your project.  Ensure that you understand the necessary materials that you will need to finish your project and protect it for longevity.

What tools do you need to make a Mosaic?

There are so many choices out on the market for mosaic project tools.  If you are starting out crafting mosaics, tools such as a tile cutter, glass cutter, and glass nippers will undoubtedly make the job a lot easier. If you are working with tesserae such as beads, wood, coin, or cork, they will not be necessary.  There are kits available on the market that include most (if not all) of the tools you will need.  It depends entirely on the tessera that you are using.

How to Make a Mosaic for beginners?

If you are looking at starting a mosaic project, there are a few things to consider. What type of project are you looking to start?  If you are not sure, look at a few different styles of mosaics to help you decide.  Some of them are pretty interesting and are beginner-friendly.  Also, consider if your finished project will be indoors or outdoors. Your project budget will have a lot to do with your choice. Will you have to buy tools, or are they unnecessary (such as with bead mosaics)?

Once you have decided what your project will be, including picking your pattern, designate an area to store your materials and a work area if it is a smaller project.  The most important thing to remember is to stay organized.  It will help you keep track of your supplies so you can recognize if you are running low on a specific material.

If you are looking for a simple DIY kit to start with, there are many to choose from.

Final Thoughts

There is no denying the beauty of mosaics.  The amazing thing about them is that when crafted with care, they can stand the test of time.  After all, there are still beautiful works from early civilization that are still being discovered.  There are still ceilings in Rome and the greater Mediterranean area that you can still see in person.  When it comes to mosaics, your only limitation will be your imagination.

For additional information on what type of grout to use for mosaics, check out: What Kind Of Grout For Mosaics

For additional information on what type of glue to use on your outdoor project, check out: Best Glue For Outdoor Mosaics

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