Meet the expert
Bob Rowland has been hanging wallpaper for more than 44 years. He’s covered hundreds of acres of commercial walls and has worked on everything from modest starter homes up to the governor’s mansion in St. Paul, MN.
Anyone can hang wallpaper, but it takes a little know-how to hang it straight and with tight, nearly invisible seams. We asked professional paperhanger Bob Rowland to give us some insight into what it takes to get the job done right. He told us that every quality job starts with careful planning and proper preparation.
Map out the room
A. Use a roll to lay out the wall
Use a full roll of paper as a guide to lay out the room. Butt a roll into the corner where you plan to start, and make a pencil mark on the wall at the edge of the roll. Slide the roll down to that mark, and make another pencil mark at the other edge of the roll. Keep doing this until you know where every seam is going to fall. You may have to cut down the first panel to avoid hanging small strips (3 in. or less) near doors and corners.
B. Work away from the door you enter
Wallpaper seams on straight walls are butted, not overlapped, but seams are less visible if you place them at the point farthest from where the first panel was installed. Minimize the visibility of seams by starting in the area opposite the most-used entrance to the room.
C. Start with a plumb line
Don’t assume the corner you’re starting in is plumb. Use a level and draw a straight plumb line about 1/4 in. past where you want the first panel of paper to end. Take into account that inside corner seams need to be overlapped at least 1/8 in. For more information, see “Seam Inside Corners” below.
D. Hide the last seam
If you’re hanging paper that has a repeatable pattern, the pattern on the last seam is not going to line up, so try to hide it in a low-visibility area. The corner just above the entry is usually the best spot.
Prep the walls
Use a “wall size” primer/sizing product
Using wall size will help the paper adhere to the wall and reduce the chance that the paper will shrink. It also makes it easier to remove the paper when the time comes.
Start by removing plate covers, heat registers and light fixtures. Fill any holes with a nonshrinking joint compound so you don’t have to wait until it dries and apply another layer. Scrape the walls with a drywall knife or sand them with 50-grit sandpaper to remove smaller imperfections.
Finally, cover the whole wall with “wall size,” a primer/sizing product. Bob is using Shieldz made by Zinsser in the photo. Don’t skip this step! Using wall size will help the paper adhere to the wall and reduce the chance that the paper will shrink. It also makes it easier to remove the paper when the time comes. One-gallon containers are available at home centers. And never, hang wallpaper over unfinished drywall—it won’t ever come off if you do. Make sure all the walls have at least one coat of primer.
Order enough paper
When measuring a room, you need to take into account the pattern of the paper. Sometimes the pattern on one panel needs to line up horizontally with the pattern on the panel next to it. If you’re measuring a room with 8-ft. walls and the paper you’re hanging has a pink poodle that repeats every 54 in., only two poodles will fit on each length of panel. If you cut off the first panel so the two poodles are centered on the wall, you’ll have to cut about 1 ft. off the roll to make the poodle on the next panel line up with the first one. This means you’ll be using 9 ft. of paper for every 8 ft. of wall. So in this case, you would multiply the linear feet of the room by 9 ft. instead of 8 ft.
Roll on the paste—don’t dunk!
Apply paste with a paint roller
Use a high-quality 1/2-in.-nap paint roller cover to apply paste—the cheap ones will leave fuzz balls behind.
Use a high-quality 1/2-in.-nap paint roller cover to apply paste—the cheap ones will leave fuzz balls all over the paper. When working with prepasted products, Bob prefers to use a paint roller to roll the water on the paper. Submerging paper in a tray is messy and doesn’t guarantee uniform coverage. He even adds a little paste to the water (2 cups per gallon) to encourage stronger adhesion.
Choose the right paste for your paper
There are three basic types of paste: clay, wheat and starch. Each group has several subcategories. Most wallpaper instructions will indicate which paste to use. Avoid the “universal” paste unless the paper you’re hanging specifically calls for it.
Seam inside corners
Overlap to ensure the first run is plumb
When starting from an inside corner, allow at least 1/8 in. overlap on wallpaper from the adjacent wall. This lets you hang the paper plumb, regardless of how plumb the corner is.
Corners are rarely perfectly straight. You’ll need to create a seam at every inside corner to make the next panel plumb. The first panel installed in a corner should be overlapped onto the adjacent wall at least 1/8 in. When working your way into a corner, measure over from the last panel to the corner at the top, middle and bottom. Then cut the corner panel 1/8 in. longer than the longest of the three measurements. You can use the leftover piece to start the new wall, but you may need to cut it at a slight angle to accommodate a crooked corner. Some wallpaper won’t stick to other wallpaper, so run a small bead of seam adhesive in the corner before overlapping the second piece.
Use vinyl paper in high-traffic rooms
Wallpaper made from paper absorbs moisture and can be hard to clean. Vinyl products are better suited for bathrooms and kitchen and hallways, but not all vinyl wallpapers are the same. Some are solid vinyl, others have a vinyl face with a paper backing, and some are mostly paper with a thin vinyl coating. Solid vinyl wallpaper is the most resistant to moisture and the most washable. To avoid confusion, many manufacturers have a “Best Uses” label on each roll.
Book the paper before hanging
Fold the paper in thirds
Fold the paper so that when you unfold it, you’ll be working with two-thirds of the panel.
Roll the paper
After you’ve folded a length of paper, roll it. Set each roll in front of the wall where it’s going to be hung.
Booking is the process of folding the paper in on itself. It allows time for the paste to activate and the paper to soften. Fold the paper so that when you unfold it, you’ll be working with two-thirds of the panel. The longer the paper, the easier it is to get straight. Cut a bunch of pieces of paper at once, and book several at the same time. Set each roll in front of the wall where it’s going to be hung. If you’re a beginner, set them in a plastic bag to give you more time to work with them.
Gently smooth out the paper
Use a smoother
Run a smoother over every square inch of the paper. Don’t push too hard and squeeze out the paste or stretch the paper.
Once the paper is on the wall, be sure to run your smoother over every square inch of the paper. But don’t push too hard on your smoother or you’ll squeeze out the paste and stretch the paper. This is especially important when you’re working with prepasted paper. Stretched-out paper with too little paste behind it is guaranteed to shrink when it dries. Shrinking causes gaps in the seams—gaps are bad.
Wipe down as you go
Keep it clean
Use natural sponges to clean off paste residue after each sheet is hung. It’s a lot easier to clean up the paste while it’s still moist instead of waiting until it cures.
It’s a lot easier to clean up the paste before it has fully cured, so Bob sponges off every panel with warm water as he goes. He uses natural sponges, one in each hand. He swipes with the first and makes a final pass with the other. He uses a few drops of dish soap when he’s working with particularly sticky paste. To avoid creating suds, Bob squeezes the sponges out while they’re still submerged in water, then he gives them another small squeeze above the water bucket.
Tools of the trade
Hanging wallpaper doesn’t require a huge investment. You probably already own many of the tools. Bob’s most expensive tools are his beech wood cutting table and his magnesium straightedge. You can substitute an old door slab and a level.
Roll every seam
Set your edges with a roller
Don’t press too hard and squeeze out too much adhesive.
To keep the edges from curling, you need to set them with a roller. But the same rule that applies to the smoother applies to the roller: Don’t press too hard or you’ll squeeze out too much adhesive.
Overlap and cut both pieces at once
Cut down the middle of the overlap
Lap one panel over the other, and cut down the middle of the overlap. Angle the knife blade down low so more than just the tip of the blade is doing the cutting.
Sometimes, rather than butting one panel up to another, you’ll need to create your own seam. The best way to do this is to lap one panel over the other, and cut down the middle of the overlap. Then peel the two pieces apart, and pull out the small strip that was cut off the underlying piece.
If you don’t have a steady hand, you can use a drywall knife as a cutting guide. Try not to penetrate the drywall paper. Angle the knife blade down low so more than just the tip of the blade is doing the cutting. Bob uses a knife with blades that snap off. Blades are a lot cheaper than wallpaper, so he snaps off a section after every cut.
Use a taping knife as a cutting edge
Use a drywall knife as a straightedge
If you don’t have a steady hand, you can use a drywall knife as a cutting guide.
Leave an extra 2 in. at the top and bottom, and use a drywall knife as a guide to trim it. Bob prefers a 10-in. knife so he doesn’t have to move it as often as he would a smaller one. Hold the knife down close to the wall to avoid cutting into the ceiling.
Make relief cuts before trimming
Use a scissors for relief cuts
Use a scissors instead of a knife to avoid accidentally cutting into wood trim and other obstacles.
When you’re up against trim or other obstacles, you’ll need to make a relief cut before trimming the paper. You could make the cut with a knife, but scissors are better to avoid scratching the trim.
Required Tools for this Project
Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.
- Chalk line
- Paint roller
- Tape measure
- Taping knife
- Utility knife
Required Materials for this Project
Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here’s a list.
- “Wall size” primer/sizing product
- Wallpaper paste