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Tarmac Vs Asphalt: Difference Between Tarmac and Asphalt

Tarmac Vs Asphalt

In the world of road construction and driveway surfacing, two names often share the spotlight: Tarmac and Asphalt.

While these terms are often used interchangeably, they represent distinct materials with unique characteristics, properties, and histories.

Whether you’re a homeowner planning a new driveway or a road engineer overseeing a large-scale project, understanding the difference between Tarmac and Asphalt is essential to making informed choices.

This blog will help you understand the differences between Tarmac and Asphalt. We’ll explain what is tarmac, what they’re made of, how they’re produced, how strong and durable they are, how much maintenance they require, their impact on the environment, and how much they cost.

Ultimately, you can decide which material is best for your paving or surfacing needs. So, let’s get started and explore the world of Tarmac and Asphalt together!

Composition and Materials

When discerning the differences between Tarmac and Asphalt, it’s crucial to examine their core components. The materials that make up these two road surfacing options are fundamental in their performance, durability, and overall characteristics.


Tarmac, a term often used colloquially to describe road surfaces, is a specific type of road construction material. Tarmac comprises crushed stone, gravel, or sand aggregates mixed with a binder. Historically, the binder used in Tarmac was coal tar, which gave this material its name.

However, due to environmental concerns and health issues associated with coal tar, bitumen, a petroleum-based binder, is now commonly used in Tarmac production.

The mixture of aggregates and bitumen creates a semi-solid material that can be laid and compacted to form a smooth, hardwearing surface.

The composition of Tarmac can vary based on the specific application, with different aggregate sizes and types of bitumen used to achieve desired characteristics such as strength and durability.

It’s important to note the distinction between asphalt vs tar, as these materials have different properties and uses in construction.

Also Read: Paving vs. Asphalt – Choosing the Right Solution for Your Project


Asphalt, on the other hand, is a material made from a mixture of aggregates, which can include crushed stone, gravel, sand, and recycled materials, and a binder, which is primarily bitumen.

The key distinction between Asphalt and Tarmac lies in the aggregate material. Asphalt generally uses coarser aggregates compared to Tarmac.

This results in a rougher surface texture, which is desirable for roadways as it provides better skid resistance.

The precise composition of Asphalt can be engineered to meet various requirements, including high-traffic roadways, airport runways, and residential tarmac driveways.

The versatility of Asphalt lies in its adaptability to different aggregate combinations and binder grades, making it suitable for a wide range of applications.

Manufacturing Process

The distinctive qualities of Tarmac and Asphalt extend beyond their composition. Understanding the manufacturing processes behind these materials provides insight into their differences and advantages for various applications. Let’s explore the step-by-step production methods for both Tarmac and Asphalt.

Tarmac Manufacturing Process

Aggregate Preparation

The process begins with selecting and preparing the aggregate materials, which typically include crushed stone, sand, and gravel. These materials are sorted, cleaned, and screened to meet specific size and quality requirements.

Bitumen Heating

Bitumen, the binder for Tarmac, is stored in tanks and heated to make it viscous for easy mixing with aggregates. Temperature control is critical to ensure proper blending.


The preheated bitumen is combined with the prepared aggregates in a mixer. The mixing process must be thorough to create a homogenous blend of the materials.

Laying and Compaction

Once the Tarmac mixture is ready, it’s transported to the construction site. A paving machine spreads the material evenly, and a compactor is used to achieve the desired density. This results in a smooth and solid surface.

Cooling and Setting

As Tarmac cools and hardens, it becomes a strong and resilient surface, suitable for roadways, driveways, and various other applications.

Asphalt Manufacturing Process

Aggregate Preparation

Similar to Tarmac, the production of Asphalt begins with aggregate selection, preparation, and cleaning. Coarse aggregates are often used in Asphalt to provide the desired texture.

Bitumen Heating

Bitumen is heated to make it fluid for mixing with the aggregates. Temperature control is crucial to achieve the right viscosity.

Mixing: Aggregates and bitumen are combined in an Asphalt plant. Here, the specific type of bitumen and aggregate mix is carefully determined based on the intended use of the Asphalt.

Paving and Compaction

The hot Asphalt mixture is transported to the construction site. It is spread using a paver and then compacted to the desired density. The use of coarser aggregates results in a textured surface that offers improved traction.

Cooling and Curing

Asphalt cools and hardens as it cures. This process occurs relatively quickly, making it an ideal choice for road construction projects.

Tarmac vs Asphalt: Strength and Durability

When comparing Tarmac and Asphalt, it’s essential to consider these aspects as they have significant implications for various applications, ranging from driveways to highways.

Tarmac Strength and Durability

Tarmac is renowned for its impressive strength and durability. This material is highly resistant to various environmental factors, including heavy traffic loads, extreme weather conditions, and the presence of corrosive substances. The key factors contributing to Tarmac’s strength and durability include:


Tarmac surfaces are compacted to a high density during the manufacturing process. This density makes Tarmac incredibly resilient and able to withstand the stresses of constant vehicle traffic.


Tarmac has a degree of flexibility, allowing it to adapt to slight ground movements without cracking. This flexibility is particularly beneficial in areas prone to minor ground settling.

Water Resistance

Tarmac is excellent at shedding water, which helps prevent water from seeping into the surface and causing damage. Proper drainage is essential for maintaining Tarmac’s durability.

Resistance to Chemicals

Tarmac can withstand exposure to fuels, oils, and chemicals, making it suitable for use in areas where such exposure is common.

Asphalt Strength and Durability

Asphalt is also known for its strength and durability and is the material of choice for many road construction projects. The following factors contribute to Asphalt’s resilience:

Aggregate Composition

Asphalt’s use of coarser aggregates enhances its durability and skid resistance. These larger aggregates provide a rough texture that aids in vehicle traction.

Quick Curing

Asphalt cures rapidly, meaning the road can be opened to traffic relatively soon after construction. This quick curing is advantageous for minimizing disruptions and ensuring the road’s durability.

Resilience to Temperature Extremes

Asphalt can expand and contract with temperature variations, which helps prevent cracks and damage in areas with extreme weather conditions.


Asphalt is relatively easy to repair and maintain, which contributes to its long-term durability.

Let’s Wind Up!

In the world of road construction and driveway surfacing, the Tarmac vs. Asphalt debate underscores the significance of making informed choices. As we conclude this exploration, it’s evident that while Tarmac and Asphalt share a common binder in bitumen, their distinct compositions, manufacturing processes, and characteristics set them apart.

With its smoother finish, Tarmac excels in high-traffic, residential, and commercial applications, offering strength and durability. On the other hand, Asphalt, with its textured surface, provides enhanced skid resistance, making it ideal for roads and runways.

Ultimately, the choice between Tarmac and Asphalt hinges on the specific demands of your project, whether it’s the smooth elegance of Tarmac or the rugged reliability of Asphalt.

When deciding, it’s helpful to consider the expertise of asphalt paving services to ensure that your project is executed with precision. With this knowledge, you’re ready to pave the path that best suits your needs.


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