Ceramic tile, long recognized as one of the most permanent and maintenance-free of all surfacing materials for use in the home, has become more popular than ever in recent years.

A good deal of this renewed interest is due to the fact that ceramic tile now comes in a wider range of colors, styles and sizes than ever before.

But most people in the industry agree that an even stronger impetus has been provided by a whole family of new and improved adhesives. They make it possibel for the do-it-yourself to install ceramic tile over most solid and reasonably smooth walls, floors, countertops and other surfaces without working with messy mortartype cements.

These new adhesives, plus the various ready-mixed grouts now available eliminate the need for masonry base or backing for the tile. A reasonably handy person can now cement ceramic tile over plywood, plaster or gypsum board walls, as well as on countertops that are already covered with plastic laminate.

New tile can even be installed on top of existing ceramic tile where a permanent change of pattern or color is wanted.

For walls, the most popular type is glazed tile, which usually comes in 41/4-inch squares, although other sizes and shapes are availble. These come as individual tiles that are put up one at a time, or in sheets that go up faster and leave much less grouting to do when the is finished.

Although there are a great many different adhesives available for setting tile, they generally fall into three broad categories: organic, latex-base, and epoxy. Some are recommended for walls only, while others are suitable for the greater wear a floot must take.

Also, some are more waterproof than others, a factor that must be considered when installing tiles in a shower or bathroom where dampness may be more of problem.

Generally speaking, the two-part epoxy adhesives are the strongest and most waterproof, but they are also the most expensive, and in some cases are most difficult to work with. Organic adhesive are usually ready-mixed and generally the most popular for home use because they are easy to work with and most brands are suitable for use on walls and floors. Adhesives containing latex are more flexible, cost more in most cases, and can be used outdoors.

To apply the adhesive you will need a notched trowel, which looks like a plasterer's metal trowel, except that it has notches on two sides. To cut and shape you will need a pair of tile nippers (for making small or curved cuts to fit around pipes), and either a guillotine-type tile cutter, which can be rented from most dealers, or a glass cutter (the latter two are used for cutting tiles in straight lines). It is important that the surface over which tile is applied be absolutely clean as well as structurally sound. Most adhesives will bond over paint, but the tile is then sticking to the paint, not to the plaster or gypsum board behind it.

That is why it is recommended that the paint be searched with coarse sandpaper or an abrasive disk so that about 40 to 50 percent of the paint is removed and the backing is exposed. Loose or peeling paint must be scraped off, and all wallpaper should be removed.

On some surfaces a primer may be required (read the label on the can of adhesive), and in camp areas, such as around tubs and showers, a water-resistant backing, such as waterproof gypsum board, is required.

When new tile is to be applied directly over old ceramic tile, the only precautions required are to remove any loose tiles and to fill in the recesses that are left with a mortar or patching cement recommended for that purpose. Then the surface of the old tile must be throughly cleaned and roughened slightly by going over it with an abrasive disk. Wear goggles to protect your eyes while doing this.

The adhesive is generally spread over a small area at a time - as much as can be covered with tiles in about 15 minutes - using a notched trowel.

The titles are than pressed into position without sliding, but with a slightly twisting motion. (This applies to individual tiles, not to sheets.)

Grouting is usually done after the adhesive has set for about 24 hours. In addition to the traditional white, grout is now available in many colors for blending or contrasting with the tile colors. Dark colors may be preferred for floors or counters where staining might otherwise be a problem, and special mildew-resistant grouts that are also highly stain resistant are available for countertops and similar surfaces.

Grout is generally applied by spreading over the surface of the tile with a rubber squeegee or float, working diagonally across the joints. Use a wet sponge to wipe off the excess, making certain the excess is all removed at this time. Press along each joint with the handle of an old toothbrush after most of the grout has been wiped off.