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About Our Smalti

The History

In 1949, Elpidio Perdomo founded MOSAICOS VENECIANOS DE MÉXICO, the first glass mosaic factory in the Americas.   With the help of Italian glass artisans, still on staff, the fusion of the Murano Masters' millenary formulas, with the substitution of local raw materials and techniques, a new style was created, the production of what is known today as “Mexican Smalti”.   The factory like is owned and operated by a dedicated close-knit family whose focus in on their quality of their product, the art of mosaics and the satisfaction of their customers.

The Mexican/Italian Difference

I use both! I love both! And I know you will too!

The first and largest difference is cut.  Both production techniques pour a puddle of molten glass.  In Italy it is called a pizza, in Mexico a tortilla. The Italian pizza is poured to a thickness of approx. 3/8", the tortilla 1/4”. The Italian smalti poured thicker and cut into thinner pieces (resembling a small brick) to expose the inside of the pizza.  This inside (riven side) becomes the working surface of the material, by exposing the inside of the glass, you will receive more vibrant, consistent, and reflective color. The pieces are more consistent in size (3/8” x 5/8”) on the visible working side but less consistent in thickness.  Due to the varying thickness of Italian smalti to have a finished project with a smooth surface it needs to be set in reverse. (The reverse method is only required if you are looking for a smooth finished project.)

Mexican smalti is cut larger into irregular squares (approx. 5/8”) on the visible working side with a fairly consistent 3/16" thickness.  It more resembles a piece of tile. The working surface of the Mexican smalti is the top or bottom of the tortilla and has a smooth surface without bubbles. It can be set direct with or without grout, because of its smooth surface, consistent thickness and lack of bubbles.   Many artists will set the Mexican smalti on edge if they are looking to add texture to their project.

The color differences.  In Italy, they have been making smalti for centuries. Their focus is on the purity, brilliance, quality and consistency of the colors. To maintain these qualities the smalti pots are changed regularly and great care is taken in not contaminating the colors. The recipes are handed down and the making of the smalti is as much an art as it final use.

Mexican smalti is young by comparison.  It has only come into existence in the 1950's. The production of Mexican smalti came through collaboration between an Italian glass master and a Mexican business man. There was a huge demand to fabricate murals and other mosaic decoration in Mexico during this time.  By combining Italian recipes and new cutting techniques Mexican smalti was born. The direction of the "new" smalti material was to create a smooth surface with a hand cut feel, so that they could fabricate murals and other public installations with a smooth surface. They blended the Italian recipes but poured them thinner, not to waste the material because they were using the surface not the riven side.  In doing this they realized they discovered the rich mottled beauty of the surfaces of the glass. Less focus was on the recipes and pure color and more was put on the mottled painterly look of the tortilla. Often each side of each piece will be a different color and many different tones of the same color will come from each batch. Because they are looking for the mottled color smalti "pots" are not changed regularly, and when one color is finished, a new color is mixed and the two begin to blend creating the mottled color.  As an artist and retailer of Mexican smalti this is a blessing and a curse. It makes for such beautiful color variations in a single batch but makes it more difficult to reproduce colors from one batch to the next. When ordering smalti, the best practice is always to order more than enough to finish your project. Colors vary from batch to batch, particularly in the case of the Mexican smalti.

When deciding which to use for you project, it can be as simple as this. If you are doing an installation or require a smooth surface it is easier to do this with Mexican smalti.  If you are looking for texture and reflectiveness, Italian smalti can't be beat. Or you can do as I do and use both!

Planning your Project

Since no two pieces are exactly alike, amounts are estimates.   Because variations in color and availability between orders are not unusual, it is critical to order what you need in advance to complete your project.  Should you over-estimate, full unused bags may be exchanged.

  • Pieces are approximately 5/8" square and 3/16” thick, however, because they are hand-cut there are variations in size.
  • 1 lb. = approx. 240 - 245 pieces.
  • 1 sq. ft = approx. 600 pieces side-by-side (no grout joint allowance)
  • 1 sq. ft. = approx. 2.5 - 3 lbs. lbs.  (side-by-side with no grout joint) includes 10-15% waste allowance.

Fusing Compatibility

Smalti melts at 1300°C (2372°F) - Smalti is 100% vitreous waterproof & freeze-proof and may be used in both indoor and outdoor applications.  There is no specific COE assigned to our product, because fusing is not the intended use.

Recommended Tools

  • Wheeled Glass Mosaic Cutters (standard tile nippers will shatter glass)
  • Hammer & Hardie - essential for cutting 'tortillas'
  • Tweezers (to pick up even the teeniest of pieces)
  • Toothpick or dental pic (handy for adjusting pieces and removing excess adhesive)
  • Fine marker or grease pencil (for marking your cuts)
  • Safety goggles

Recommended Adhesives

Your choice of adhesive is dependent on your project.  

  • Thin-set Mortar Adhesive - Available at any home improvement stores in the tile and flooring section.  It’s waterproof, can be used inside and out in most weather condition, is easily mixed with concrete colorants and may be used over most substrates.
  • Pre-mixed Thinset – Also available at any home improvement stores in the tile and flooring section.  This is a great product for indoor projects. It is ready to use out of the container, has a nice body, stores well and takes colorants easily.  It cannot be used in wet areas, showers or for exterior projects..
  • WeldBond -  Will adhere to most any surface. Is water resistant, not water-proof.   This adhesive is thin (think of school glue) and does not take colorants.
  • There are so many adhesives on the market - experiment.  Whatever you choose, test it first!

With all adhesives my advice is to read the label!  There is a wealth of information included, instructions for use etc. and products vary.

Recommended Grout

Many artists prefer no grout with smalti and place pieces touching each other. Un-sanded grout can be used only if spaces are no larger than 1/8", with larger joints use sanded grout. Un-sanded grout is then used only to fill any gaps, often matching the color of the tile. Sanded grout can be used in all applications and is my preferred choice.  

Most traditional smalti work is not grouted because the uneven surface makes this impractical.  However, Mexican smalti is more consistent in thickness making grouting much easier. Even so, you may like the look of un-grouted smalti better and it is wise to test it before grouting.  Personally, I like to place the pieces as close together as possible and grout the areas that have space with grout tinted to match the color of smalti in that area. This maintains a look of a smalti 'painting'.  If you want to accentuate the grout lines as part of your design, then use a contrasting color.

Fusing Compatibility

Smalti melts at 1300°C (2372°F) - Smalti is 100% vitreous waterproof & freeze-proof and may be used in both indoor and outdoor applications.  There is no specific COE assigned to our product, because fusing is not the intended use.