Shower Panels Or Tiles | Pros, Cons And Everything You Need To Know

Are you planning on ripping out your old shower and installing a new one? What type of material do you want to use to complete the enclosure? The two most popular options on the market are shower panels and wall tiles.

Fun fact: A recent study by Mira showers found that “women spend 8 mins on average in the shower, while men spend 7 mins on average. But neither compares to the amount of time the average 18-24 year-old spends in the shower – a staggering 11 mins 26 secs.” – That adds up to almost 3 days a year standing in the shower!

With all that time spent in the shower it’s important you make it a place you love to be.

So, back to the question, shower panels or tiles? Which one is right for your project? Which one are you going to spend 3 days a year looking at?

In this post, I’ll explain the pros, cons and everything you need to know about the two options so you can make your own informed choice whether shower panels or wall tiles are best for you.

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What Are Shower Panels?

Shower panels are designed to create a waterproof and stylish enclosure for your shower without spending a lot of time or money. These panels are manufactured out of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and medium-density fibreboard (MDF). Some are also available in coloured acrylic. They are typically sold in 2400mm x 1000mm sheets and can be easily cut down to your particular dimensions.

You can buy one panel in white or off-white for as little as £60. If you want a finished appearance that looks more like quarried stone, you can spend up to £200 per sheet. You will find an endless selection of colours and patterns, allowing for a personalized finish.

Shower panel examples
Shower panel examples

How To Install Shower Panels

You install shower panels directly onto your wallboard by applying adhesive tape and silicone adhesive to the back. Finish pieces are secured to the edges so that you can add a trim piece for corners or a door. The finish piece can be screwed into the wall or mounted using adhesive. 

More silicone is applied all around the top and bottom of the panel to eliminate any gaps and to complete the waterproof installation.

You can install soap dishes, handrails, and shelves by drilling through the panel and into the studs in the wall structure. The same applies to showerheads and taps.

Most people can install panels themselves over a weekend and achieve a fairly polished result. You will need tools such as a power saw, silicone gun, measuring tape, spirit level, drill, jigsaw, pencil, and screwdriver. A second person will be helpful in positioning the full-size panel.

Thoughts On Shower Panels

You can easily clean shower panels by washing them using your usual bath and tile cleaner and non-abrasive sponge or cloth. And can expect your panel to maintain its good looks for the life of your bathroom.

The panels are intended to add a waterproof space around your tub or shower but are not especially attractive when covering all the bathroom walls. You may end up wanting to add tiles around the panels to blend the installation with the rest of your bathroom design. Adding a shower door or full enclosure can also help to break up the change from panel to painted or tiles walls.

Advantages Of Shower Panels

  • Wide range of finishes
  • Affordable
  • Lightweight
  • Easy to install
  • Can add more shelves and handles after the panels are installed.

Disadvantages Of Shower Panels

  • Not as durable as tile or stone
  • Trim pieces can give the shower enclosure a cheaper appearance
  • Large sheets can be hard to handle in a small flat or bathroom
  • A poor installation can result in water damage to the walls and floor

Wall Tiles

You may be more familiar with the appearance of wall tiles as the finished look for more traditional shower enclosures. Tiles are now available in an endless array of sizes, colours, and more than a few materials. You can find tiles made out of ceramic, porcelain, stone, or even acrylic.

Sizes range from tiny 3cm square up to 300mm x 400mm or larger. When you opt for a tiled shower enclosure, its final look will depend entirely on your sense of style and budget.

Popular styles of wall tiles include mosaics that come in pre-glued squares to create a random but interesting look. Metro tiles reflect the dimensions of tiling found in vintage underground stations. And, you can use square stone effect tiles on the floor and wall for a seamless appearance.

While a rough stone tile is an option for a unique and rustic look, they are not a good choice for showers where a slip and fall could end up giving you a big scrape. The texture is also harder to clean.

You can source tiles for as low as £10/m2, but remember that you will also need to budget for labour. High-end tiles run for as much as £75/m2. If you are considering tackling the job yourself, you will need wall adhesive, bucket, trowels, mortar mixer, tile spacers, tile cutter, spirit level, measuring tape, marker, grout, and grouting tool. There are some specialised tool kits designed to make the job easier, but they may not be worth your money for a one-time job.

Wall tiles in shower room
Shower room wall tiles

How To Install Wall Tiles

Tiling does take more time than other enclosure options as the wall surface must be clean and level. Temporary strips are nailed to the wall to serve as a square guide for the tile installer. Adhesive is applied to the wall and each tile is placed on the adhesive. The installer must check each tile for square and leave an even space to allow for the grout. Once the tiles are in position, they must be cleaned and then left to dry.

Each corner tile must be measured and cut. Special edging tiles are needed to give the work a professional appearance. You will need to order soap dishes, shelves, and handrails that complement or match the tiling. You may need to drill through the tile to install the accessories. Tiles must be cut to allow for the shower taps and showerhead.

Thoughts On Wall Tiles

Wall tiles have remained so popular for so long due to their durability. In fact, tiles installed in a bath in the 1950s can still look like new if they have always been properly maintained. The same can apply to your bathroom renovation project. They can be scrubbed and will resist scratching and discolouration.

If you have thoughts of creating an entire bathroom covered in a singular look, you can use tiles across the floor and on all the walls–even outside of the bath or shower corner. This creates a roomier appearance and allows you to use colourful towels, rugs, and knick-knacks to introduce colour. You can change up the decor with the seasons or as fashions fade without investing in a major renovation again.

Advantages Of Wall Tiles

  • Huge selection of size and colour
  • Introduce patterns into your decor
  • Extremely durable
  • Easy maintenance
  • You can use them on all walls and floors for a seamless look

Disadvantages Of Wall Tiles

  • Pricier than a shower enclosure or panels
  • Requires professional installation or serious dedication to detail
  • Takes longer to install
  • Requires specialized tools
  • Must order accessories at the same time for a proper match

Are Shower Panels Cheaper Than Wall Tiles?

Yes. You could potentially create a corner shower using just two shower panels, costing you a total of about £150 for all the needed materials. You can do the job in a few hours if you have all the proper trim pieces at hand. If you pay a pro, you may spend another £150 for their time.

If you tile the same corner shower, you may be able to find a supply of tiles to do the job for about £60. But then you need to purchase the adhesive, tile spacers, grout and decide whether you are paying a professional to tackle the job or spend a couple of weekends yourself. The average cost for tiling in a bathroom is about £65/m2 when you include labour. That small shower will need about six square metres of tiling.

Now, what does the finished shower look like? There is no doubt that the shower panels will look and feel like PVC and MDF glued to the wall. On the other hand, tiling can deliver an upscale appearance that also has an air of permanence.

Which Is Better, Shower Wall Panels Or Tiles?

Ultimately, the choice will be up to you. If you are dressing up a flat for a new tenant or you just moved into your first house and the budget is tight, shower wall panels will breathe new life into a tired bathroom without exploding the budget or stretching your timeline.

Maybe you enjoy keeping up with changing trends in home design. Shower panels deliver on the latest fashions without wreaking havoc with your bank account or kicking you out of the bathroom for an extended amount of time.

If you are preparing to create a dream master ensuite, wall tiles will offer the premium options and appearance that you desire. Tiles also let you create a pattern or picture that is not available on shower panels.

Final Thoughts…

There you have it! The pros, cons and everything you need to know when comparing shower panels and wall tiles.

Whether you’re creating a beautiful mosaic tile pattern to stand the test of time or freshening up an en-suite on a budget, I hope this guide has helped you understand the differences and benefits of shower panels and wall tiles.

All that’s left to do now is choose!


Michael R

Michael is a KBB designer from the UK. He's been designing and project managing new Kitchen, Bedroom and Bathroom installations for over eight years now, and before that, he was an electrician and part of a KBB fitting team. He created The Bathroom Blueprint in early 2020.