It's a widely held belief that Europe sets the trends in fashion, design, and perhaps even food. This assumption extends to ceramic tile, as anyone in the industry will confirm. Spanish tile makers at last week's Cevisama tile expo showed what they've been cooking up over the past year and what U.S. buyers can expect in the coming months.

"Spanish manufacturers are all about three things," says Patti Fasan, a ceramic tile expert and a consultant to the Association of Ceramic Tile Manufacturers of Spain. "They're about research, development, and innovation." Given a more liberal aesthetic in Europe, Spanish tile manufacturers also aren't afraid to try new ideas or design concepts. Some of the innovations they're working on include ceramic tile with embedded photovoltaics: Smart Tile that (when coupled with other technology) can talk or serve as a home security device; and tiles that appear to have fiberglass set in the glaze.

A variety of trends emerged at last week's show. Metal looks have been around for a while, but over the years manufacturers have perfected the process for applying the glazing. As a result, today's metal tiles more realistically mimic Cor-Ten steel, stainless steel, and copper. Apavisa introduced Patina, a line of tiles that come in four colors, two finishes, and four sizes. And Metalia by Saloni features iron oxide and specialized ceramic ink that creates a "living finish." Over time, the tiles will develop a patina.

The development of specialized inks and new digital printing technologies are responsible for huge strides in ceramic manufacturing. Last week Rocersa Cerámica introduced a line that uses high-resolution digital technology, allowing the manufacturer to produce tiles from any image a buyer submits. Tiles measure 18.5 inches by nearly 28 inches. Glazing and printing technology also give tile makers the ability to produce products that look like wallpaper, tapestry, leather, and other tufted high-end fabrics. Rue Chambon by Pamesa has the striking look of upholstery and raised surfaces that create a tactile feel.

Textures are still making a strong showing, with manufacturers producing wainscoting, slatelike looks, and other types of stonework. Grespania's Montana collection, for instance, simulates the look of staggered, dry-fit, hand-laid stone. One manufacturer took inspiration from Antoni Gaudi's trencadis mosaics and is marketing a line of tiles made of broken glass shards. Designed by Agatha Ruiz de la Prada for Pamesa's Agatha Series, the mosaics are available in mesh-mounted 12-inch-by-12-inch tiles.

In recent years, ceramic tiles that look like wood have proven popular at the show, and this year was no different. Appearing at many booths, the tiles are offered in typical wood-plank sizes such as 4 inches by 16 inches and in species that mimic oak, pine, and maple. Some manufacturers are even doing "rustic woods" that resemble floors with dents, dings, and insect scars. Manufacturers position the products as an alternative to wood, stressing durability and resistance to moisture, but whether the U.S. market will embrace this trend remains to be seen.

One trend that has certainly gained traction here in the states is large-format sizes. Introduced by European manufacturers about 10 years ago, large-format tiles come in sizes once unfamiliar to American buyers, including 12 inches by 36 inches, 24 inches by 36 inches, and even 6 inches by 24 inches. As a testament to the influence of the European market, American tile makers are now stepping up their size offerings too.

Not to be outdone, the Europeans are going even bigger. Inalco, for example, unveiled the XXL 80.0 Collection, which showcases tiles measuring a whopping 32 inches by 48 inches. The line, its manufacturer says, is ideal for both high-end residential and commercial projects where drama and scale are paramount.