Concrete can make for smooth, low-maintenance flooring material, but not everyone likes the look of dull, gray concrete. With a bit of paint and some homemade painting stamps, you can create the decorative illusion of a stylish tiling job at a fraction of the cost of installing actual tile. At the same time, you retain the functional benefits of a durable concrete surface. The drawback is that this process is laborious, taking time, patience, and a lot of precision to get it looking right.
Wash the concrete floor thoroughly with a soap-and-water solution to remove all dirt and oils, or you can use trisodium phosphate (TSP) to clean the floor, following the manufacturer's directions. Rinse the floor thoroughly with clean water. Let the floor dry overnight, then tape off baseboards or other trim, as needed, with painter's tape.
Whenever you use paint, enamel, and spray adhesives, fumes, and fine aerosolized particles can irritate your respiratory system. Protect yourself with a dust mask or respirator (N95). To prevent paint splatter from entering your eyes or getting on your skin, wear goggles and gloves.
Equipment / Tools
- Paint roller (extension pole, optional)
- Tape Measure
- Chalk line reel
- Utility knife
- Rubber gloves
- Dust mask or respirator
- Painter's tape
- Gray enamel porch and floor paint
- 2 to 4 Enamel porch and floor paint
- 2 Paint roller covers
- 1/2-inch-thick foam rubber
- Heavy cardboard sheet
- Contact spray adhesive
- 2 to 4 Squirt bottles
- Clean rags
- Polyurethane floor finish
Gather Your Materials and Plan Your Approach
After the floor has been cleaned and dried thoroughly, gather all your materials. Map out how you will begin to paint the enamel base coat over the entire floor space. Avoid painting yourself into a corner.
Paint the Base Coat
Apply gray enamel paint to the entire floor using a roller. This will be the canvas on which you will make your tiles. Apply a second coat, if necessary, to ensure consistent coverage and color. Allow the paint to dry overnight or as directed by the manufacturer.
Choose a Tile and Grout Line Size
Determine how big you would like your tiles to be. Standard sizes are 12 x 12 inches or 16 x 16 inches, but you can choose any size you like since you will be making them yourself. You can make all of the tiles the same size or use or combination of tile sizes. Also, decide how wide your grout joints between the tiles will be. Grout joints for real terra cotta floor tiles often are 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch wide, but yours can be any size you like.
It's best to keep the tile stamps smaller than 18 by 18 inches. Any larger, and they can become difficult to stamp.
Create Layout Lines
Measure and mark the center of each wall of the room. Using a chalk line reel, snap two perpendicular chalk lines that intersect at the center of the floor. Using your tile and grout dimensions, chalk the entire tile layout, starting at the floor's center. Make sure the tiles will fit the space with a pleasing pattern. If you don't like the layout or want to change the final design, you can snap new chalk lines to change it.
What Is a Chalk Line?
A chalk line (also called a “chalk reel” or “chalk box”) is a hand tool that has a reel of chalked string inside it. The chalk-coated string is reeled out across the surface and pulled taut. Once the string is in the correct position, it is plucked or "snapped," making a chalk line on the surface.
Make the Tile Stamps
Draw the shape of the tile you want onto a piece of foam rubber, using a ruler and pencil. Cut out the shape from the foam with a utility knife and a T-square.
Place the foam pieces onto a flat cardboard sheet, and trace them with a pencil. Cut along the traced lines. Glue each cardboard piece to the back of each matching foam piece using contact spray adhesive. The cardboard serves as a backing for the foam stamps.
Mix the Tile Paint
Select two to four tile paint colors to create custom coloring for your tiles. The most common options for terra cotta are burnt orange and earthy browns, contrasted by bright blues or reds. Pour each paint color into a separate squeeze bottle so that you can create veined swirls that will mimic natural features.
Squirt the different colors onto a piece of cardboard, covering an area slightly larger than a single tile. Wearing rubber gloves, gently swirl the paint with your fingers, so the colors mix but do not completely blend into one color.
Stamp the Tiles
You will start at the center of your chalk-line layout. Dab one of the foam stamps lightly into the paint, so the foam surface is completely covered with color. Wipe off excess paint from the sides of the stamp using a cloth or newspaper. Press the tile down onto the floor firmly, then remove it by pulling it straight up, creating a clean tile shape bordered by the chalk lines.
Repeat the stamping process, placing the tiles in straight lines and spacing each tile according to your desired grout joint width. The void between each tile stamp will look like a grout joint. A single dip in the paint should allow you to stamp several tiles before you have to reload the stamp with paint.
If any of the tiles look blotchy, you can stamp them a second or third time as needed. Use a clean rag to wipe up any excess paint that drips or smears outside the tile edges. Let the paint cure fully, as directed by the manufacturer.
Seal the Floor
Apply a quality polyurethane (make sure it is compatible with your paint) to create a protective finish over the entire floor. You can apply polyurethane with a roller (or a standard 5-inch paintbrush, foam brush, or a painting pad). Apply two or three coats, following the manufacturer's directions for application, preparation between coats (as applicable), and drying times.
How to Keep Paint Looking Fresh
Polyurethane should be reapplied every three to five years, depending on the amount of use your floor gets. Ideally, you want to recoat it before the flooring starts to look worn or dingy from lots of foot traffic. A new coat of polyurethane adds another layer of protection to your floors, extending the life of the floors for another three to five years. Recoating prevents you from ever having to refinish your floors again fully. Don't wait until it is too late and "wear" begins to show. At that point, you might need to redo the floors with the tile stamps (and might need to redo most or all of the floor) so that the age of the paint matches the rest of the flooring.
When to Call a Professional
This project is a big job. It is not recommended for beginners or most people with intermediate experience because it requires precision, trial and error, and patience. If these qualities do not match your approach to tasks at home, then call a professional for an estimate. You might find that laying tiles might be a little pricier but well worth it to you in time saved and frustration averted. For others, this project can be a fun challenge, and the results are gratifying.