Saturday, November 3, 2012

TLS vs. RUBY: Installing large format Porcelain Tile

Large format Rectified Porcelain or Marble/Stone Installation with TLS and RUBI

As trends towards larger format tiles become more popular - professional tile installers are constantly looking for ways to achieve clean looking installations that feature very tight grout spacing with little to no lippage.  What is lippage you ask?  Although it's not necessarily a technical term - it can be defined as the vertical difference between two adjacent tiles.

Here's a diagram I created to illustrate lippage.

The two things you don't want are in red.  Grout creates spacing between tiles, which is required (more on that in a bit), and lippage is a result of the method of installation used combined with the skill of the installer.


Rectified tile means that the tile has been laser cut to exact dimensions (within a very tight tolerance) .  Ceramic or Porcelain tile is a kiln fired product, and the result is that you have tiles that vary in width and height slightly.  Grout is what is required to smooth over these differences in dimension.  Since Marble and other natural stones are naturally occurring materials.  As such, they need to be cut to some dimension anyway, and as a result are always "rectified".

The Review

In order to keep all other variables constant, both TLS and RUBI systems were used with the same material, professional tile installer, installation materials.

Here is what was used:

  • 32x32 Rectified Porcelain Tile from Porcelanosa
  • Mapei SM Primer
  • Mapei MapeGuard2 Crack Isolation Membrane
  • MAPEI UltraFlex2 setting material
  • 1/16" Spacers
  • TLS System (Straps, Caps and Guns) supplied by Pearl Abrasive
  • TLS Ceritfied Installer RX Tile and Stone in South Florida


The Tuscan Leveling System or TLS as it's more commonly known, is an innovative way to perform a tile installation with little to no lippage.  The sytem was co-invented and patented by Christopher Kufner and has been around now for several years.  The system offers high quality nylon straps and two choices of guns.

Strap Price:  $0.30 per strap
Cap Price:  $1.39 per cap
Standard Gun:  $109
Ergonomic Gun:  $279


RUBI is a more cost effective alternative to TLS.  The question I'll be addressing in this review is weather it performs as well as TLS and if it is ultimately worth the cost savings.

Strap Price:  $0.20 per strap
Cap Price:  $1.00 per cap
Standard Gun:  $99
Ergonomic Gun:  Not available


The Straps

The design of the strap is key to the system's overall success.  If the strap is too tough, it won't break properly with the gun - if made to fragile, then the strap itself may break prematurely thereby rendering the system useless.

The TLS straps are high strength nylon straps that feel durable and don't crack or break when bent.  It's obvious why these straps cost more.  We soaked the straps overnight as recommended by TLS and installation under the tile was a simple process.

The RUBI straps feel lighter and are overall thinner by design.  The installation of the straps was more or less the same, but when it came time to break the straps after the tile has been cured - the RUBI straps would break prematurely.  This happened often enough that it became a problem during installation.


The Caps

The design of the caps is equally important as the straps.  The caps from both systems are designed to be used multiple times.

The trademark red TLS caps are sturdy and can be re-used multiple times.  They are strong to not bend or deform when tightened down.  This is especially important when installing thick tile that requires sufficient compression force to level two pieces together without deforming of cracking.  During our installation, none of the caps broke or deformed during use.

The RUBI caps were round instead of square and are considerably lighter.  During installation, some of the the caps would deform when compressed to the proper tension with the gun.  This requires the installer to pay close attention to the amount of compression force being used.  It also leaves a question as to weather the caps are strong enough to pull large pieces of tile adequately.



At first glance, the guns appear to be identical.  After using the guns for a few hours, there was an immediate fault that we noticed in the RUBI gun's design.

The TLS Ergonmic gun is far superior than the standard one they sell.  If you're going to be doing a big job, the ergo gun will allow you to consistently tighten the straps to the pre-set tension you desire.  This is extremely handy and saves a lot of time.  The standard gun was good enough to get the job done, and is more than adequate to small/medium size jobs.

The RUBI gun has one serious flaw:  the spring mechanism would pop off from time to time during breakage.  This wasted time and can be cost you time and money if you loose pieces of the gun that are integral to it's operation.

The Finished Product

Here are the final installation photos.  This is why it pays to have an experienced installer who is familiar with the leveling system in question to do the job right.  The installation was completed by RX Tile and Stone.


Although the TLS system is significantly more expensive than RUBI, the difference in price is more than made up with the time saved and the overall quality of the product.  If you're really after getting things done right, or are you are a professional installer that relies on a system that will not only save you time, but create a resulting product that makes your customers happy - then the choice is obvious:  Invest in the TLS system and you'll never look back.


Friday, January 20, 2012

The Professional Photographer's LCD Monitor: NEC's PA301W-BK-SV - 30"

Note: Actual product images will be added to this review very soon!
When it comes to monitors, the market is flooded with a myriad of LCD of panels with prices plummeting (save for the Japanese tragedy causing semiconductor and display panel prices to spike a bit). The choices are plentiful, but the real question is how does one tell them apart if you're a discerning professional seeking only the best.

To simplify your choices a bit, you've got two categories of displays. Twisted nematic (TN) and In-Plane Switching (IPS). To put it simply -- if you care about color quality, saturation, high contrast ratios, then IPS is the only way to go. TN Panels have their place in mid to low end laptops and displays that don't demand the utmost in display quality. Response times used to be a trade-off for IPS panels, but with the latest displays - this simply isn't the case any more.

The NEC PA301W boasts a very respectable 7ms response time - but that's not where it it really shines. the -SV version of this monitor (PA301w-BK-SV) comes complete with a calibration system designed to zero on on the perfect color reproduction under a 10-bit color system.

This unit comes packaged like a tank. The box is probably double the width that it could have been, but ensures adequate protection even with cross country ground delivery. Cables are plentiful and generously lengthy. You've got every cable you'll ever need, including power cables for international use. NEC didn't cut any corners here.

With a cup on top for size reference:

Nice long cables included along with every power cable you'll never need for any country:

Convenient handles for lifting:

Well protected base

Sitting on your desk, this display is a thing of beauty. Although the thickness of the unit is more than your average LCD, it's nowhere near noticeable even on a smaller sized desk. You won't have to make any furniture purchases to accommodate this beast. The included stand is sturdy and allows for your traditional horizontal and yes, even vertical orientation!

Photography Workflow - Lightroom:
As a professional wedding photographer, I spend a considerable amount of time post-processing RAW images using Adobe's purpose written Lightroom software. If you spend as much time in Lightroom as I do, you know how valuable every pixel your screen becomes. Having 30" (2560 x 1600) of real estate is an absolute delight. You're able to keep the tools you need including usable thumbnails, histogram, adjustment sliders and even collection details while still having more than enough left for actual editing. Some wish there were more pixels packed into this display - but I assure you - 30" with 2560x1600 works out to the pixel size being not too small, nor too coarse. There are 27" displays out there that run the same resolution and although the pixel pitch is finer - that's not necessarily a good thing when it comes to photo editing. Believe it or not, you want to be able to "see" the pixels so that you can determine the absolute sharpness of a particular image.

Photography Workflow - Selecting Picks:
The first step in most work-flows for photographers is selecting images and categorizing them as "keepers" or "discards", etc. A critical part of this is checking to see if your images are tack-sharp. On a 24" or smaller monitor - this necessitates having to zoom in to the image and pan around a bit to ensure it's got the sharpness you desire. With a 30" display, this task becomes as simple as glancing at the image in the center of your screen - without having to hide the critical histogram and detail information mind you - and flagging it with a simple keystroke.

Photography Workflow - Developing:
In the develop module for lightroom, the NEC display size allows you to neatly stack all the tools you need on one side of the screen for quick access while working simultaneously on the actual image the the size you need. Gone are the days of zooming in and out to make slight corrections. I find myself using adjustment brushes and color enhancements without having to zoom and pan. This is a huge time saver and allows seamless editing of different areas of an image without fiddling too much with controls. Simplicity - that's what we're all after.

Color and Calibration:
The color gamut, or the ability of the display to display a particular range of colors within the AdobeRGB space on this display are among the lowest in the industry. Our test display arrived with color accuracy values, referred to as Delta-E below 2.0 - which is near perfect. However, should your display's color reproduction shift over time and to ensure consistent color accuracy - the optional SpectraViewII calibration hardware brought the display to values that are closer than I've ever seen to optimal. If you're debating on weather or not to get the SV model - debate no further: Given that the primary reason for getting a display of this caliber is to ensure optimal color reproduction in your images, this feature is well worth the extra bread. NEC tells me that the display also features a built-in backlight sensor, which means that once the display has been calibrated, the brightness will stay stable for the life of the display.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for Professional Photographers: In conclusion, while there are other displays on the market in the 30" category, few have gone the extra mile to build a display panel that is tailor made for image processing and graphics professionals. Make no mistake - this isn't a consumer grade product, and nor does it perform like one, or for that matter - priced like one.

Technical Specifications
Video Inputs TWO DVI-D (Dual Link) w/HDCP, TWO DisplayPort 1.1a
Panel Type P-IPS 10-bit with CCFL Backlight - 0Z100223UW
Pixel Pitch 0.25 mm
Colors 1.07 billion (30 BPP color w/appropriate GPU)
Brightness 350 nits
Contrast Ratio 1,000:1
Response Time 7 ms (GTG), 12 ms (max)
Viewable Size 29.8" (75.6 cm)
Resolution 2560 x 1600 at 60 Hz
Viewing Angle 178 degrees horizontal and vertical
Power Consumption (operation) 165 watts (typical), 90 watts (eco)
Power Consumption (standby) 1.7 watts (standby), 0.2 watts (off)
Screen Treatment Matte/Anti-Glare
Height-Adjustable Yes: 5.9 inches (landscape), 1.2 inches (portrait)
Tilt Yes: +30 degrees, -10 degrees
Pivot Yes: Landscape and Portrait
Swivel Yes: +/- 30 degrees
VESA Wall Mounting Yes: 100 mm x 100 mm
Dimensions w/ Base (WxHxD) 27.1" (688.0 mm) x 18.4-24.3" (466.4-646.4 mm) x 11.9" (301.6 mm)
Weight 41.5 lbs (18.8 kg) with stand
Additional Features Integrated USB 2.0 Switch (2 upstream, 3 downstream, 500mA), self calibration support with i1D2, 10-bit color, quick warmup
Limited Warranty 4 years
Accessories Power, DVI-D, DisplayPort, and USB cables, 4x VESA screws
Price PA301w: $2299, PA301w-BK-SV: $2549