If you want to change the entire character of a room fast, hang wallpaper. You can change a dull room into a dramatic personal statement in less than a weekend, and you don’t need a bunch of expensive tools to do the job.
This kind of transformation does require patience, careful planning and familiarity with key techniques. We asked a professional hanger to demonstrate every technique you'll need, start to finish, and to show you how to save time and avoid a heap of frustration.
The techniques we show apply to 90 percent of papers you'll find at wallpaper stores. We won't cover the specialty papers (such as grass cloth, foil, fabric and ones that require pretrimming). We recommend you master the basics before taking on these papers. Nor will we address removing old paper.
With our instructions, you can successfully wallpaper a room even if you haven't done it before. Start with a simple bedroom or dining room, a space that doesn’t require a lot of fitting and trimming. With experience, you can tackle tougher rooms like kitchens and baths.
For your first time papering, we recommend that you buy from a paint and wallcovering store. The staff can advise you on the best primers, paste and tools for the particular paper you select. They'll answer any questions unique to your situation. Tell the salesperson where you'll be using the paper, and ask what features you'll need to meet the demands of the room.
Our paper took three weeks to arrive. We used 11 rolls for our 12 x 12-ft. room.
- If your room has crooked walls (check them with a level and a long, straight board), consider a paper with a random pattern so the crooked corners aren't so noticeable.
- Big prints and dark colors will make a room feel cozy, but make sure the room is large enough to view the pattern from a comfortable distance.
- Small prints and light colors make a room feel larger.
- Once you get your paper, unroll it and inspect it for flaws. Save the run and dye lot numbers for ordering matching paper in the future.
- Read and follow the hanging instructions of the paper you've selected. Pros always do. Fail to follow instructions and you could void the paper's warranty. Or worse yet, it could fall off the wall.
Pros use a special table made of basswood because it's a good surface to cut on and easy on razor blades. Rent one from a wallpaper store, or substitute a 36-in. hollow-core door or a 3 x 6-ft. piece of 3/4-in. plywood resting on a pair of sawhorses. Soften the plywood edges with sandpaper so you don't accidentally tear your paper.
You can buy all the specialty tools you need at a wallcovering store or home center. Purchase a vinyl smoother (Photo 8), a snap-off razor with an extra pack of blades (Photo 9), a seam roller (Photo 11) and two 6-in. broad knives (Photo 9). You may already have the other items you need: a 6-ft. stepladder, a 5-gallon bucket, a paint roller and 3/8-in. nap roller cover, a sharp scissors, a 4-ft. level, a 10-ft. or longer tape measure and a sponge.
Repair any dings or cracks in the walls with joint compound and drywall tape. Sand the repairs smooth. Mask off the trim and apply an acrylic undercoat (sizing) over all the surfaces to be wallpapered. Cut in the edges and corners with a brush. Allow it to dry overnight or the time specified on the label before applying the wallcovering.
It's far easier to paper a room if it's empty. If it isn't possible to remove all the furniture in the room, move it to the center and cover it with plastic. Turn off the electrical power to the switches and outlets at the service panel and remove the cover plates. Place a canvas dropcloth over the floor to catch any dripping primer or paste (plastic dropcloths are too slippery). If the ceiling or woodwork needs painting, do it before you hang the wallpaper.
Scan the wall with a utility light to highlight any imperfections, and fill or sand them down. Don't cheat on this step; some papers can actually accentuate cracks and bumps in a wall. If a wall is in really rough shape, ask the salesperson about “liner paper.” Hang it like wallpaper over the wall to smooth it out. Then apply your wallpaper over it. Consider a heavyweight vinyl- or fabric-backed commercial paper with a dull background if your walls are lightly textured. Otherwise, skim-coat or sand them smooth.
Wash the walls down with TSP (trisodium phosphate), or a TSP substitute, to dissolve grease, oils and other dirt, then rinse with clean water. Next apply a 100 percent acrylic prewallcovering primer/sizer, which is available at wallpaper stores (Photo 1). This gives you more working time to slide the paper into position.
The primer also helps control shrinking, which could result in seams opening up, and allows you to remove the paper more easily when it's time for a change. Prewall primer dries fast and is difficult to remove, so wash your brushes quickly and don't get it on your hands.
If you're hanging a dark paper, have the wallcovering store tint the primer the dominant color of the paper to disguise gaps at the edges or seams.
Mark the position of each sheet with a pencil, using the roll of wallpaper as a guide. Start your first sheet in the most visible corner and work around the room in both directions to the least noticeable corner. Adjust your starting point to avoid narrow strips (less than 2 in.) along windows, doors or corners.
Planning the sheet layout will let you visualize all your cuts and allow you to make adjustments to the beginning and end points. Ideally, you would hang your first sheet, come full circle and the pattern would match perfectly. That's not going to happen. Put that final joint where it's least visible. Your goals are to have the patterns match at corners where they're most noticeable and avoid hanging strips less than a few inches wide. Narrow strips can be tricky (and frustrating) to hang.
Start your trial layout at the most visible corner of the room—across from a door in our case—and work around the room in both directions, meeting at the least visible spot. Use a roll of paper to roughly space how the sheets will align on the wall (Photo 2). If your layout leaves strips less than 2 in. wide against a door or into a corner, adjust your starting point by about 6 in. Our first layout left a tiny strip along a door, so we shifted it over to overlap the trim. The sheets now meet in an inconspicuous corner behind the door.
More often than not, the corners of the room and the door and window molding will be a little crooked or out of plumb. Taking the time to set a plumb line with a level to start your first sheet and near each corner will provide consistent reference points to align the wallpaper on each wall. This makes hanging a whole lot easier (Photo 3).
Pros will cut all the full-length strips needed for a room before they start pasting. For your first time, we recommend cutting only two or three sheets ahead. Measure the height of the wall and add a few inches to the top and bottom, enough extra to shift the pattern up and down for the best position.
Place the cut strips face down on the worktable. Paste the bottom half of a sheet evenly with a 3/8-in. nap roller, dipping it in a 5-gallon bucket with paste in it. Cover the edges by laying the upcoming strips under the one you're pasting; excess paste will be rolled onto the upcoming sheets. This will keep your worktable clean.
If your paper requires paste, use the type that's recommended in the instructions or by your supplier. Premixed is easiest. We're using “clear hang” premixed adhesive. It took 2 gallons of paste for our 12 x 12-ft. room with 9-ft. high walls. Many papers come prepasted. Roll these into a tray of water to activate the paste. Your supplier may recommend a special activator for certain prepasted papers to guarantee they'll stick to the wall.
Paste the back evenly (Photo 4). Roll it perpendicular to the long edge to move paste to the edges, then back and forth the long way again till the paste is evenly spread.
The strips of paper need time to “relax,” that is, expand slightly because of the moisture in the paste. Booking the paper (Photos 5 and 6) keeps the paste from drying out while the paper adjusts. This is a critical step: If the paper doesn't sit long enough, it could shrink on the wall, resulting in open seams, blisters or curling. Set a timer to remind you when a sheet is ready.
You can let a sheet sit for a little longer than the booking time but never less. Plan ahead. Paste two or three sheets in a row if you're working on a blank wall that requires full sheets. Paste only one if you're coming up on a tricky window or corner that'll take some time to fit.
After the booking time is up, unroll your sheet and carry it to the wall. Gently unfold the top half. Standing on a stepladder, align the sheet to your plumb line (Photo 7). Leave the bottom half booked to keep the paste from drying out while you're positioning the top. Even though it might seem easier to butt the paper right up to the ceiling, don't try it. You'll get a much better fit and professional look by leaving it long and then trimming it off later (Photo 9).
Once the paper is aligned, work out wrinkles with a vinyl smoother (Photo 8). If you have a wrinkle that's not smoothing out, pull one edge of the paper away from the wall, keeping the plumbed edge in place, and reset. Finish the top half while you're on the ladder, then come down and unfold, align, smooth and trim the bottom half.
For straight, clean cuts, trim off the overlap by guiding the blade against a broad knife (Photo 9). Keep your blade sharp. The most common novice mistake is to try to economize on razor blades. A dull blade will tear the paper. Advance a new blade after every few cuts (after every one if you're using heavyweight paper).
Pick a leaf, branch or other element to help align the second sheet (Photo 10). Gently slide it into position to align the pattern and seam, but don't stretch the paper or it could shrink later. With some papers, the pattern may not perfectly align the full length of the sheet. Align these at eye level where it's most noticeable.
Go over the seam with the smoother, roll it with a seam roller (Photo 11), then smooth out the rest of the sheet. Wipe down the paper at the edges with a sponge dampened with clean water after completing each sheet.
Wrap the paper around the corner, leaving the wrapped side loose and smoothing out the other. Trim off the paper with a sharp razor knife, leaving 1/4 in. wrapped around the corner. Guide the cut with a broad knife built up on one side with 1/4-in. thick cardboard taped to the knife. Book the cut-off piece for later use.
Measure the width of the cut-off piece at its narrowest spot and draw a plumb line with your level at that distance from the corner. (Careful, the corner won't be perfectly plumb or straight.) Hang the cut-off piece along the plumb line, wrapping the excess around the corner. Smooth it out. Trim through the overlapping sheet at the corner so the seam follows the corner.
Corners are never perfectly straight. Always end the paper at an inside corner and start the next strip along a new plumb line (Photos 12 and 13). A perfectly concealed seam at the corner involves a three-step process:
1. Wrap the first sheet around the corner and trim it off, leaving 1/4 in.
2. Set the next strip to a new plumb line so it completely overlaps the 1/4-in. wrap.
3. Trim off the paper that wrapped over at the corner. (Cut through the top piece only.)
There will always be a pattern mismatch at the corners. Keep it slight by starting out of the corner with the cut-off piece you came into it with. Photo 12 shows a way to cut this piece by guiding the razor with a broad knife with cardboard taped to one side to create the 1/4-in. wrap. If the strip you cut off is less than 2 in., discard it and start the wall with a new strip.
Trick: Our pattern repeated twice across the width of our paper. To avoid a mismatched corner, hold up a second sheet, find where the pattern aligns and cut a strip lengthwise. If your paper doesn't allow this, hang a full sheet—only your eyes will notice the mismatch.
If you're using a vinyl-coated or vinyl paper, use a vinyl-to-vinyl adhesive on the overlap. Regular paste won't hold. Use this adhesive any time you're putting a paper over a vinyl-coated or vinyl paper—on borders, for instance.
If an outside corner is perfectly plumb and straight (check it with your level and a long, straight board), you can wrap the paper around it and keep hanging. If not, fit it like an inside corner (Photo 14). If the corner is prone to a lot of abuse, install corner protectors (available from home centers).
Trim the paper around window and door moldings by pressing it to the edge of the molding and making relief cuts with scissors and a razor until it lies flat to the wall. Using the razor, trim off the excess paper following the contour of the moldings. Guide your cuts with the broad knife on straight sections.
Don't try to cut an opening for a window or door with the wallpaper on your worktable. Instead, align the seam and smooth out as much of the sheet as possible up to the molding. Relief cuts (Photo 15) will allow the paper to lie flat on the wall. Make these gradually so you don't overcut. Trim tight against the molding with the razor. Cut freehand along the contours and guide the razor with a broad knife on straight areas. Slit an “X” over electrical boxes and trim off the excess paper. CAUTION: The power must be off.
Crucial Details for Buying Wallpaper
The back of the wallpaper sample tells about ordering, durability and the essential hanging details you need to know. If the sample doesn't have this information, ask the salesperson about each of the following categories.
The repeat is the length of the image before it shows itself again. Repeats can range from none, for a covering without a pattern, to more than 36 in. Order extra paper for repeats more than 24 in.; you'll waste a lot when matching the pattern.
The match is how the patterns align sheet to sheet. Our straight match requires shifting the pattern to have all the birds at the same distance from the ceiling. With a random match, you don’t have to fuss with lining up patterns from sheet to sheet. This is the easiest pattern to hang. You align the pattern of a drop match halfway down the repeat. With drop matches, plan the dominant elements so you don't slice them off at the ceiling.
Single roll/double roll
Look for the square foot coverage to calculate how many rolls you'll need to cover a room. In double-roll bolts, the paper is twice as long as on a single roll. Compared with a single roll, this provides more usable square footage of paper. Add up the area of the walls (minus doors and windows) and divide by the number of square feet listed on the roll. Round up your calculation to the nearest roll. Order at least one extra roll, two if you've got a lot of tricky cuts or angles. The worst thing that can happen when wallpapering is to run out of paper!
Washability is the degree of cleaning a paper can take before showing wear. If a paper isn't washable, use it only in areas that aren't subject to a lot of abuse.
Most wallpapers are pretrimmed, which means the edges are perfectly cut and all ready for hanging. Don't store or drop pretrimmed papers on the ends because you’ll mar the edges. Untrimmed papers require a good straightedge and experience to cut. Stick with a pretrimmed paper for your first hanging experience.