The durability, practicality, and value of vinyl flooring have made it a popular choice in a variety of residential and commercial installations. Many of the advantages are shared by both the common forms of vinyl flooring—sheet vinyl and vinyl tiles/planks. But there are also key differences between the two types, making each particularly well suited for certain applications. Your decision ultimately will be made on the type of environment, the level of traffic it will have to endure, and the kinds of hazards and staining agents that it will be exposed to.
Each type of flooring can be judged according to several criteria, and your choice may boil down to which characteristics are most important for your situation.
Appearance and Realism
One of the main reasons why people purchase vinyl flooring of any type is that it can be printed to look like a vast number of different materials, including hardwood, natural stone, and ceramic tile. While sheet vinyl can be printed with lines to mimic the look of seams between individual planks or ceramic tiles, the advantage in terms of realism goes to vinyl tiles. With newer types of vinyl tiles, often known as "luxury" vinyl, the individual tiles or planks can actually be grouted between the seams, making them look very realistic indeed. Doing so not only gives a more authentic, three-dimensional look of hard tile, but it also makes the application feel more real underfoot.
The nod here goes to sheet vinyl, as it almost always costs less than tile or plank vinyl with similar colors and patterns. It is easy to see why, since sheet vinyl can be mass-produced in huge rolls without having to worry about precision cuts and waste. Provided your installer properly measures the space and properly cuts the sheets to fit, sheet vinyl is usually more affordable than tiles or planks.
Probably the biggest advantage of sheet vinyl over tile or planks is the fact that it can usually be installed in just one or two solid, unbroken pieces. That means that you do not have seams running between many individual pieces, as you do with vinyl tile. Seams are vulnerable chinks in the defensive surface of your floor, through which moisture can penetrate to damage the subfloor. For this reason, sheet vinyl is a much better barrier against moisture and is especially useful for bathrooms and other moist areas.
With sheet vinyl you just have to make sure that the material is secure at the edges of the room, and that any overlapping pieces are sealed and bonded, using adhesive and heat.
Given that there are many hundreds, if not thousands, of design and color options available with both vinyl tile and sheet vinyl, you might think that there's no particular advantage to either form. In reality, though, vinyl tile floors generally force you into some form of repeating pattern or mosaic appearance. That is not so with sheet vinyl flooring. In sheet form, printed vinyl can be inscribed with almost any pattern, color, or image that you can imagine. Rather than forcing you into a floor that repeats smaller patterns, a sheet vinyl floor can create very large designs or images—though it can also be printed with a grid pattern to resemble individual tiles. With solid and composite vinyl tiles you will have fewer specific print options.
However, one advantage of tile is the option of cutting individual pieces down into other shapes and sizes. With a square piece, you can easily measure out consistent rectangles, or even triangles, to get really creative with the flooring installation process. Remember, though to carefully plan your project on paper to ensure good results when improvising this way.
Here is one area where tile has a distinct advantage. If a sheet vinyl floor is severely damaged with a scratch, gouge, or a stain, your only option is to either replace the entire floor or remove the affected area and replace it with a patch. At best, this patch will have seams that will make the floor water-permeable, and the patch is likely to disrupt the unbroken pattern of the colors in the vinyl. Cutting the patch along existing pattern lines can help hide this fact, but it is a difficult skill to master.
With tile vinyl floors, on the other hand, when an area on the surface gets damaged, you can simply remove and replace a specific tile. Removing vinyl tile is usually a matter of heating the adhesive beneath it, then pulling the tile up and scraping away the bonding agent below. From there, you can replace the tile with a matching tile. Done carefully, the repair is completely and invisibly integrated into the rest of the floor.
Tile has the unquestioned advantage over sheet vinyl in the eyes of DIY installers.
Sheet vinyl is sometimes installed by DIYers—many of whom then wish they had not attempted it. Most do-it-yourself amateurs are not skilled enough to successfully and properly install sheet vinyl. It requires the ability to take an exquisitely accurate measurement and then make precise cuts to perfectly fit the sheet into the space. During this process, even small mistakes can add up to major material waste. Considering that professional installation of sheet vinyl is usually quite affordable, most homeowners find going the pro route makes much more sense.
On the other hand, vinyl tiles are relatively easy to install once careful layout lines are drawn on the underlayment. The project can usually be done by a moderately skilled amateur in about a day or two. The individual tiles do have to be laid in straight rows, but because they are separate pieces, each mistake is less wasteful. You can also custom-cut individual pieces to match the size and contours of the room.
Both sheet vinyl and vinyl tiles or planks have their advantages. Your choice will boil down to what is most important to you and how the floor is expected to perform. DIYers will almost certainly prefer tiles or planks, but for areas where moisture is an issue, sheet vinyl is the logical choice.