How to Draw Reference Lines for Tile Installation

Close-Up Of Tape Measure And Pencil On Wood
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Project Overview
  • Total Time: 5 mins
  • Skill Level: Beginner

While it may seem intuitive to install tile by starting at one wall and working your way out, you will get more attractive results if you start the installation from the center of the room. This is true of both straight, parallel-line tile designs and more complex patterns. Creating two perpendicular chalk lines that intersect at the center of the room will divide the space into four equal quadrants. This gives you a clear starting point setting the tiles working in all four directions. 

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Tape measure
  • Pencil
  • Chalk line
  • Hammer
  • T-square or framing square


  • Small nail


  1. Mark the Wall Centers

    Measure the total length of one of the room's walls. Divide this measurement in half, then use the resulting dimension to measure and mark the center of the wall, making a mark on the floor near the wall. Go to the opposite side of the room and do the same thing on the opposing wall. It's OK if the two walls are slightly different in length. If you measure each wall and divide it in half, the marks will accurately divide the room in half. 

    Senior couple using level tool on wall, preparing for remodel, DIY
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  2. Snap the First Chalk Line

    Drive a small nail at the center mark at one end of the room, then slip the hook of the chalk line onto the nail. Alternatively, have a helper hold the end of the chalk line on the mark. Extend the chalk line to the center mark at the opposite end of the room. Pull the line very taut, and the hold the line down on the mark with one hand. Reach out with your other hand and lift up the chalk line about 10 to 12 inches from the floor—pulling straight up—then release the line so it snaps down onto the floor, creating a crisp, straight line. 

    Using a chalkline
    Wikimedia Commons
  3. Create the Second Reference Line

    Measure the total length of the chalked line, then divide the length in half. Mark this halfway point on the line. Position a T-square or framing square on the line so the corner of the square is on the center mark and the short leg of the square is perfectly aligned with the chalk line. Hold the square firmly so it doesn't move, and trace along the long leg of the square, starting at the center mark. Use the square to extend the pencil line on the other side of the chalk line.

    With a helper, extend the chalk line across the room, pull it taut, and align it perfectly with the pencil line at the room's center. Be careful not to rub or strike the line against the floor, as this will transfer chalk to the floor. Snap the chalk line as before to create a full-length reference line through the pencil line. You now have two perpendicular lines dividing the room into four equal quadrants. 

    Man using level to draw line on wall
    PhotoAlto/Odilon Dimier / Getty Images

Tips for Laying Tile Using Your Reference Lines

As you start laying tile, work outward from the center point. Place the first tile against the intersection of the two lines. Complete the first quadrant before moving on to any of the others. This will allow you to estimate how much material you will need for the entire room. It will also make you aware of any specially sized tiles that you will have to cut, to complete the design and flush it up against the walls.

You need to be careful not to step on the floor until the adhesive is completely dry. That means that you want to be aware of the space around you, in order to ensure that you don't back yourself into a corner as you work. In some cases, you may need to leave rows of tile empty until the end, so that you have a path out. Whenever possible, leave the quadrant that contains the room's entry door for last.

A hand placing a tile on fresh grout
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