There are 3 key considerations that need to be made when deciding on what tile to use for your project:
1. Complexity of Design
2. Cost and Availabililty
3. Durability & Ease of Maintenance
Complexity of Design
If your design is simple and/or is generally square or diamond shaped in nature, you may find that ceramic tile is the right choice for you. If your design is more complex, perhaps with smaller inset pieces, more fluid shapes or you need a bullnose finish, then travertine is a better option.
This is because of the composition of the tiles in question. Travertine is natural stone, so what you see on the top of the tile is what you will see in the middle and on the bottom of the tile. In other words, you can cut travertine pieces any way you'd like and you'll be able to use most or all of your materials for your project. With ceramic, the finish is only on a thin layer on the top of the tile. This means that when you cut ceramic, you will see the white or the gray of the rest of the tile on the edges. It is much more difficult to create a complex design without throwing out a lot of pieces because they won't match together nicely in the design without revealing the inside of the tile.
Cost and Availability
The cost of ceramic is much lower than travertine and, depending on the style that you select, can be readily available anywhere. This is because it is manmade and can therefore be generally manufactured anywhere at any time.
Travertine, on the other hand comes from a variety of countries around the world. Because it is almost always imported, it has a higher cost and can quickly put a strain on a modest budget. Availability can be affected by the availability of the natural resources and the country of origin. Italy is typically the largest exporter of natural stone. (It also happens to be one of the biggest manufacturers of ceramic tile as well.) Other countries include Turkey and Mexico.
When considering cost, complexity of the design is critical. It is a common mistake for a person to choose ceramic because of its lower price tag, only to find that he spent more than desired because a larger quantity had to be purchased. Since travertine can be custom cut to any size desired without exposing the rough interior, purchasing larger sizes of travertine to be used for the project usually ends up saving money.
Durability & Ease of Maintenance
When it comes to planning ahead, you will find different things to consider for both ceramic and travertine.
Ceramic tile is very hardy, and is general very difficult to to crack. On the other hand, it is very easy to chip because of the nature of its composition (and the thin layer of finish on top). The finish will also wear over time. Replacing ceramic tile over time is usually very low cost, but you can run into an issue of availability over the long term. If consumer demand is not very strong for the design that you fell in love with, you may find that you are unable to buy any replacement pieces in future years due to the design being discontinued. For this reason, it is always a good idea to buy some extras when making your initial purchase for the project. Lastly, since it is not natural stone, ceramic does not need to have a sealer applied.
Travertine is easier to crack than ceramic, but there is a high likelihood that any cracks would simply blend into the rest of the finish. For pieces that must be replaced, it is much easier to find matching travertine pieces later on down the road simply because it is natural stone. You may also find you have more pieces to spare from the original project, since the tile can be cut and used more efficiently than its manmade counterpart.
Because travertine is natural stone, a sealer should be regularly applied (usually around every 6 months). The purpose of this is to keep moisture and chemicals from absorbing into the stone.
Only you can make the decision that is right for you, but we are always happy to help when needed!