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.


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