In a wood matrix, inlays commonly use wood veneers, but other materials like shells, mother-of-pearl, horn or ivory may also be used. Pietre dure, or colored stones inlaid in white or black marbles, and inlays of precious metals in a base metal matrix are other forms of inlay. Master craftsmen who make custom knives continue a tradition of ancient techniques of inlaying precious metals; additionally, many new techniques which use contemporary tools have also been developed and utilized as well by artisans.
Intarsia inlay in wood furniture differs from marquetry, a similar technique that largely replaced it in high-style European furniture during the 17th century, in that marquetry is an assembly of veneers applied over the entire surface of an object, whereas inlay consists of small pieces inserted on the bed of cut spaces in the base material, of which most remains visible.
An inlay is commonly used in the production of decorative furniture, where pieces of colored wood or metal are inserted into the surface of the carcass. Lutherie inlays are frequently used as decoration and marking on musical instruments, particularly the smaller strings.