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Motawi Tileworks: CNC Mold-Making for Custom Tiles

By Motawi Tileworks and Team ShopBot, Monday, December 4, 2023

Located in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Motawi Tileworks makes handcrafted tile as art pieces, as well as for residential and commercial installations. Founder Nawal Motawi began creating historically inspired tile in her garage and selling it at the local farmer’s market. Demand for her work grew, and in 1992 she formed Motawi Tileworks, which came to specialize in Art Nouveau, Arts and Crafts, and Midcentury Modern aesthetics. The introduction of a ShopBot Desktop CNC machine allowed for expansion to its production capabilities without compromising on the handcrafted quality which gives the tile its reputation.

Many Motawi designs take their inspiration from historical references and artworks. A 1912 lithograph by the Viennese artist Gustav Marisch serves as the basis for the 6”x8” Blooming Bell tile, one of several in a series of Wiener Werkstätte floral designs.


The custom tile making process starts with line art created in Adobe Illustrator. It is then transferred into Rhino3D. MadCAM CNC is used to generate and modify toolpaths directly in Rhino. 

Rhino’s advanced 3D modeling capabilities and the ShopBot’s high level of precision are especially valuable in making relief tiles which draw from the work of architects like Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright

The ShopBot CNC machine carves each tile mold with ball nose endmill bits and inscribes the line work with a 60-degree engraving bit. Different bits are used to achieve different line styles and complex relief shapes. The Tileworks uses a machinable wax from Freeman Supply, allowing wax molds to be melted down and recycled after use.

These wax molds are used to produce a high-quality copy of the desired tile shape with Endurosoft polyurethane casting rubber. These rubber master copies are then used to make molds for pressing clay into the desired shape. Each plaster mold has an internal air network, allowing compressed air to release clay from the mold.

Once pressed, tiles are glazed and fired, creating a colorful and durable surface available for purchase as individual art tiles or for larger installation projects.

For more information and to view the full tile lineup, please visit 

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