How to Draw Straight Reference Lines for Tile Installation

Preparation and Choosing a Starting Point Before Tiling

Close-Up Of Tape Measure And Pencil On Wood
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In This Article
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 tile installation from the center of the room. This is true of both straight, parallel-line tile designs and more complex patterns. The key is to keep your tiling straight. 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 to begin setting the tiles working in all four directions and will help you with tiling in a straight line. 


Using a laser can be helpful for an accurate layout for your tile project.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

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


  • Small nail


How To Draw Straight Reference Lines for Tile Installation

  1. Mark the Wall Centers

    Begin to get a straight line for tiling a floor by measuring 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 okay 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 then 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. (This step works better with a square rather than a level.) 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. Start a straight line for tile by placing 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. Be aware of the space around you 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.

While you're tiling, and especially as you do your first rows of floor tiles, consistently check if the tile is level using your T-square, framing square, or level. It is the only way to get perfectly level tiles. Also, use spacers between tiles to ensure they're straight and evenly spaced on the guiding lines.

A hand placing a tile on fresh grout
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  • Should tile run horizontal or vertical?

    Rectangular tile, such as subway tile, commonly runs horizontally. Laying tile vertically can be difficult, but it can also be a more unique look.

  • What is a tile border called?

    A piece of tile border, trim, or edging on a floor or wall is called a listel. A band of tile border, trim, or edging is called a listello. Listello is commonly seen in bathroom floor and wall tile.

  • Do you have to start in the middle when tiling?

    You don't have to start tiling in the middle, but if you do, any flaws and uneven tiling will be a little more hidden and less obvious as you reach the outer edges of a room or space. You can also hide trim flaws better on the outer edges with listello.