The basics of hanging wallpapers

Types of Wallpaper

DIY decorating is not just a simple matter of painting—hanging wallpaper is another decorating task that you might like to tackle on your own. And like paint, wallpaper comes in a confusing array of choices and materials. Getting to grips with the basics is a good place to start.

Lining Paper

A smooth, flat, unfinished paper, lining paper comes in different thickness (or weight) grades:

•Standard weight 200 grade

•Medium weight 400 grade

•Heavyweight 600 grade.

Lining paper rolls come in standard lengths (11 yds./10.05 m), but you can get double-length or quadruple-length paper. Where a lot of lining is to be done, it can save paper.


Lining paper is used under wallpaper as a smooth “ground.” It helps to cover up surface imperfections and to even up the amount of porosity (suction) in a surface. On previously glossed surfaces, it is necessary to hang lining paper (after flatting down the gloss) before hanging vinyl or wallpaper. Lining paper can also be used as a ground when painting ceilings or walls in poor condition.

Special-Purpose Lining Papers

Cotton- or linen-backed lining papers These can be used over cracked and filled ceilings and walls to help prevent cracks moving and opening up. They are hung with the fabric side to the surface.

Pitch-backed lining papers (usually brown) are coated on one side with a nonporous pitch coating and used over areas where dampness is a problem. They are hung pitch-side to the surface.


Sometimes called wood ingrain, woodchip is supplied in fine, medium, and heavy textures and in single-, double-, and quadruple-length rolls. It is ideal for hiding rough and uneven surfaces and is durable when painted.

Standard Patterned Wallpaper

Comes in lightweight, medium weight, and heavyweight qualities and in matte finish or sheen, flat-surfaced or slightly textured. The heavyweights generally need a longer soakage time when pasted, whereas the lightweights may become thin and difficult to handle when soaked. Follow the manufacturer’s recommended soakage time, usually given on roll instructions.

Note: Avoid overbrushing matte-finished papers, especially at the joints, as this can cause polishing and shiny streaks on the surface.

Embossed Paper

These papers have a pattern, which is in relief and has depth. They are produced by passing the paper between relief pattern rollers, and are recognized by the hollow texture at the back of the paper. Avoid overbrushing or using a seam roller, as this can flatten the pattern. Often self-finished, although sometimes they need finishing with matte paint, satin, etc.

Duplex paper This heavy-thickness paper is usually two or more papers laminated onto a paper backing. Can hide imperfections.

Anaglypta Hollow-backed, this heavy-thickness paper needs finishing with paint. Needs adequate soakage time when pasted, and is liable to stretch if overbrushed or soaked too long. Hang from the center of the wall, then upward toward the top and downward toward the floor. Durable when painted.


This type of paper consists of a layer of vinyl facing (often fabric) laminated to a paper backing. It can be smooth-faced or slightly textured, and comes in a large range of colored patterns. The material is durable, washable, and reasonably easy to hang. It should not be hung over damp-affected areas, as it is prone to black mildew and lifting from the papered surface. The vinyl will not remain stuck at any overlaps with the vinyl surface. If overlaps are unavoidable, an overlap adhesive should be used (usually supplied in tubes). A good heavy-duty cellulose type adhesive is necessary, or a heavy-duty ready-mixed tub paste.

The face of the vinyl can often be dry-peeled when stripping off, although I would recommend stripping off the backing paper with water, because although it may look like a sound surface to hang new paper over, sometimes the backing paper can lift and blister under the new paper.

Blown vinyl Usually has patterned backgrounds in high or low profile, with colored motif patterns printed on top. These materials can be recognized by their flat back and are easier to paste than embossed papers or anaglypta, and are good to handle and hang. The high-profile patterns are excellent for covering and hiding uneven surfaces, but tend to be a bit soft when it comes to resisting wear and tear. The low profile varieties tend to be less vulnerable. These vinyls become relatively durable after they have hardened up. Because of the vinyl face and the profile, overlapping cannot be done successfully. Blown vinyls can usually be dry-peeled when stripping off. Heavy-duty adhesives are best. Tip: Leave painting the vinyl until it has been on for a while, then “freshen up” when redecorating.


Because the top of the wall where it meets the ceiling can be uneven, especially if the ceiling dips in places, it is a good idea to start the tile pattern a little down from the ceiling, i.e., with the horizontal grout line away from the ceiling. This gives a better result if there are wall height differences than a full tile pattern line running into the ceiling.


Cushion vinyl (includes “tile on the roll”) Quite a thick vinyl-faced paper, with a soft cushion finish, which is washable. Heavyweight adhesive is necessary. Avoid overlapping. May require a lining paper to be hung first; in spite of the thickness of the material, imperfections on the surface may show through the paper.

When using tile on the roll papers, it is essential to keep the horizontal lines running true because of the horizontal as well as the vertical lines of the represented tile grout. Using a plumb bob and a level is a good way of checking this.

Washables (vinyl-coated) A cheap and sometimes quite thin paper, which can be difficult to hang—too much or too little soakage and blisters can form. Too much brushing can result in wrinkles. Keep to the manufacturer’s instructions with regard to soakage time. Washables usually will not dry-peel and tend to be difficult.

Wide Fabric-Faced Vinyl and Hessian

These are 54 in. (137 cm) wide or more and are used where overall textures provide the decoration rather than patterns. Sometimes every other length is reversed, to give a more random effect. Mostly used in commercial premises, very often as feature walls.

Due to their width these papers are usually hung by professional decorators. Each length is overlapped by about 2 in. (5 cm), then both the overlap and the piece underneath are cut through with a sharp-bladed knife, using a straight edge to cut against. Then the cut edges are stuck down and butted together, and any surplus paste on the surface wiped off. Heavy-duty, ready-mixed tub paste is recommended, which is either applied to the wall surface or the back of the material, depending on whether the woven face is fabric- or paper-backed (follow the manufacturer’s instructions).

Woodgrain-Effect Papers

These papers have either a pattern representing wood—the grain effect either slightly embossed and having a texture—or are printed matte with a smooth finish. Some patterns represent boards or planking. The smooth-faced variety may require the surface to be first hung with lining paper. Cellulose-type adhesives are usually used with these papers.

Stone- and Brick-Effect Papers

These can vary from smooth-faced photographically produced paper, to quite thick, slightly embossed effects. Traditionally often used on fireplace walls or dado areas (lower wall sections) or as feature areas, the thicker varieties require heavyweight adhesives.


When stripping paper, first rub the surface with either a coarse abrasive or a wire brush, to help to “open up” the washable surface and make it more porous.

Flock Papers

The patterns of flock paper are formed by a raised pile on a colored paper background. Originally the pile would be silk, but nowadays the pile is usually synthetic fibers; consequently these papers are not as expensive as they used to be. Flock paper requires careful handling when pasting and hanging, paste on the face of the paper can be difficult to remove and can spoil the raised pile pattern. If using a seam roller, care should be taken not to flatten the pile at the seams. A heavy-duty adhesive should be used, and it is best to first hang lining paper on the walls.


Papers with a watered-silk effect (often in the background, behind the pattern) are produced by fine embossing and sometimes supplied as vinyl. Care should be taken to ensure that the adhesive is kept off the face of the paper, as it can be difficult to remove from the finely embossed background. If your walls are old and imperfect, line with lining paper first.

Striped Papers

Supplied as standard wallpaper, vinyl, blown vinyl, embossed paper, anaglypta, washable, moiré, and flock papers. The striped patterns can vary in the width of stripe from thin pinstripes to wide decorated stripes. Sometimes the stripes alternate between other patterns. A stripe pattern can make a room feel taller, but a bold stripe can be dominating and have the effect of enclosing a room.

Great care needs to be taken to hang stripes vertically straight, as any slightly crooked lengths are exaggerated by the stripe. If vertical corners of a room are slanted, stripes are best avoided, as it will show up the imperfections.

Lincrusta (Walton)

A thick, low-relief material produced by oxidized linseed oil to produce a hard putty-like face. Supplied in either panels (with separate borders) or in rolls, these can have a decorative finish or be a plain buff color, which has to be stained and varnished or painted. Many of the patterns are wood effects, but there are a number of other patterns such as tiles, leather effects, and ornamental decorations. These materials require skill to handle and hang, and may be best hung by a professional decorator.


Before hanging Lincrusta, it helps if you first soak each piece to be hung with warm water; this makes the material more pliable, flexible, and supple. A very strong adhesive, such as rubber glue, is necessary.

Wallpaper Roll Symbols and Instructions

The following information is usually displayed on the wallpaper roll label: pattern number, batch number (or lot number), pattern design name, and color. There may well be a number of other symbols, some of which are shown below.

Note: Wallpaper is manufactured in batches, so each batch may vary slightly. Therefore, it is important to buy wallpaper with the same batch number and pattern number.

* Creates an alternating top to lengths of paper: i.e., lengths 1 and 3 are the same pattern, and 2 and 4 have a different section of pattern opposite.

** Turn every other length upside down to create a random effect. Usually the size of the pattern repeat is shown, e.g., repeat 64/32 cm.

Wallpaper Patterns – Hanging Types

There are thousands of different patterns and dozens of different types, but from the point of view of hanging wallpaper, the patterns fall into four hanging methods.

Plain Patterns with No Match

These wallpapers tend to have textures and some have all-over patterns. The paper can be hung at random and can also be described as free-match or random-match.

Note: To obtain an even, more random effect, some paper instructions advice hanging every other length upside down.

Patterns with a Straight Through Match

Patterns that line up horizontally and match at the edge of the paper fall into this category.

Note: Pattern at the top of each length is identical. Lengths of paper are cut with the same pattern in line at the top of each length.

Patterns with a Drop Repeat and Alternating Top

Every other length has a different pattern at the top of each length hung: for instance 1, 3, and 5 have one type of pattern top, whereas lengths 2, 4, and 6 are another type of pattern top.


A good method when marking out where the lengths should go around a room is to mark a cross on the wall at every other length, then mark a cross on the back of every second roll used (see opposite). Then, continue using further sets of two rolls for remaining lengths.

Note: To avoid confusion while hanging the paper, it is good to mark lengths cut off the marked alternating roll and place them in a separate position to the unmarked lengths (see diagram opposite).

Note: To save paper, it is a good idea to cut lengths from alternate rolls of paper: for example, lengths 1, 3, and 5 from one roll and lengths 2, 4, and 6 from another roll. See an example of “marking out” a room for an alternating pattern below.

Patterns with No Paper Edge Match, but Which Have to Be Lined Up Horizontally

Some stripe patterns, for instance, which have no edge match, may have a pattern motif between the stripes that has to be lined up horizontally.

Preparing Surfaces for Wallpaper

Before we actually discuss which surfaces can be wallpapered, it is important to remember that there are some surfaces that are unsuitable or difficult to cover with paper.

Surfaces Unsuitable for Wallpaper

•Bricks, concrete sections, and textured surfaces all have irregular surfaces and would look uneven and terrible if papered.

•Glazed tiles, glass panels, glass, and metal all have smooth, nonporous surfaces, which make it difficult for an adhesive to stick, and the paste would have to dry out through the paper, which could mark the face.

•Although it is possible to hang paper on new plaster, it is not a good idea as the paste is sucked into the surface, and when stuck paper bonds and laminates with the plaster, it makes it very difficult to remove later when trying to strip it off.

Surfaces That Are Difficult to Paper

•Plasterboard, fiberboard, and wood are all very porous and tend to suck in the adhesive. Thorough size-coating is necessary, which must be allowed to dry before paperhanging. When hanging heavyweight papers, it may be necessary to first hang lining paper.

•Gloss painted surfaces are nonporous and do not provide a good surface for the adhesive to stick to (see page).

Preparing Painted Surfaces for Wallpaper

Emulsion Painted Surfaces

Matte-painted surfaces and surfaces with a slight sheen, such as satin, may pose a problem, as they may not be sound (stuck thoroughly to the surface) and can, if loose, come away on the back of the paper, bringing the paper off. This can happen when hanging heavyweight paper with an extra strong adhesive (the adhesive can work on the paint, loosening it).

1.Always wash the surface, and while wet, scrub it and note whether any areas show signs of lifting.

2.Apply an even coat of size. Note whether the size coat causes the paint to come away as it dries out.

3.Should you be unfortunate and the paint shows signs of lifting and loosening, scrape off these areas while wet, then wash off the size coat.

4.Allow the surface to dry out thoroughly, then scrape and sand all loose areas and dust off.

5.Apply a primer sealer to the whole area, and allow plenty of time (usually a day) for it to dry out.

6.When the primer is dry, hang a lining paper the opposite way to that which the wallpaper is to be hung (for instance, on walls hang the lining paper horizontally).

Note: Do not apply a size coat on top of the sealer, as this just sits on top of the painted surface and does not do much good.

7.Allow lining paper plenty of time to dry out (as it is now on a nonporous surface) before hanging the wallpaper.


A useful test to see if a paint surface is sound (although not completely foolproof) is to hang a small rectangle of wallpaper first, and allow it to dry out. If it remains stuck and then strips off without loosening the painted surface, this is some indication that the paint is not loose (or at least not that part of the surface).

Whitening and Size-Bound Distemper

These types of surfaces are loose and powdery, and should be completely removed where possible by wetting, scraping, and scrubbing off. Ceiling and frieze areas, in particular at old properties, are sometimes covered in this material. When clean, apply a size coat and allow to dry thoroughly. Any areas that will not scrub off should be scraped, sanded, and size-coated. When dry, apply a sealer coat to these areas.

Removing Whitening and Size-Bound Distemper

1.Wet in a strip at a time.

2.Scrub off as much whitening or distemper as possible.

3.Change the washing water frequently.

4.Scrape off any remaining thick areas while wet.

Safety note: Wear protective goggles.


It is good to spread a double layer of newspapers over drop cloths on the floor when scraping off distemper and water paint. Once you have finished you simply bundle the mess away in the newspaper.

Oil-Bound Distemper and Oil-Bound Water Paint

These surfaces will not scrub off, and can cause a problem when they are “shelling” (flaking off). They may require thorough scraping and sanding and, in some cases, filling the edges of flaking areas followed by further light sanding. Then “fasten down” by sealing with a primer sealer and hang lining paper if necessary.

Fill the edges of a scraped area of loose oil-bound water paint

Gloss Painted Surfaces

Any loose areas of this type of surface should be scraped, filled, and sanded. Otherwise the whole surface requires thorough “flatting down,” which can be done dry with an electric orbital sander or manually (protective mask and goggles are necessary). It can also be “flatted” using wet-and-dry abrasive paper and water, with the abrasive wrapped around a sanding block, followed by removing surface dust and residue thoroughly. It is necessary to hang lining paper to the flatted surface (cross line in the opposite direction to the following wallpaper). Note: Do not apply a size coat.

Allow plenty of time for the lining paper to dry out (at least a day) before hanging the wallpaper.

Preparing Previously Papered Surfaces for Wallpaper

It is best to strip off old wallpaper even if it appears to be sound (stuck well). Paper that seems sound can lift off the surface, spring away at the joints, and blister when the newly pasted wallpaper is applied. Vinyl papers that “dry peel,” leaving a backing paper that looks like lining paper, are best fully stripped because this is not a suitable surface and often blisters and lifts off beneath the new wallpaper, causing problems.


•Before stripping off paper, place a double layer of overlapping newspapers around the edge of the room, near the walls to be stripped, or over the whole floor if stripping a ceiling. These can then be rolled up with the stripped paper fragments inside (A and B).

•Place rolled up rags or strips of paper towel near skirting boards. This helps to absorb water, which runs down during stripping (C).

Tips When Using a Steam Stripper

•Do not overfill the stripper—this can result in the steam plate spitting scalding hot water.

•Remember to check that the steam stripper does not boil dry, as this can damage the heating elements or the thermostat. Not many steam strippers have a water level gauge, so you have to check how full the level is by feeling the weight of the stripper.

•If wallpaper is difficult to remove, first use a perforator (a device that makes small holes in the paper) allowing the steam to penetrate better.

•Do not leave the steam plate on the wall very long (no more than about 15 seconds). If you can hear slight cracking sounds, beware; it usually means loose plaster.

•Turn off the electricity when working near switches and sockets.

•It is often quicker to boil a couple of kettles to fill the steam stripper, or fill with hot water from the tap, rather than use the stripper to heat the water.

•It is best to wet in and scrub down (using an old flat brush) following steam stripping, while the old size coat is still soft. Time can be saved by doing this to the first stripped area, while waiting for the kettle or steam stripper to boil.

Two types of perforator

Stripping Wallpaper Manually (the Traditional Way)

Safety note: Turn off the electricity when stripping using water near light switches and sockets.

First, remove any dry, loose paper before wetting in the walls with a flat brush and cold water—just enough to stay wet. Repeat the wetting sequence at least two or three times, and keep the surface wet. It is possible to buy “wetting agents” that can be added to the water to help it soak into the paper.



•While stripping the first, second, and third walls, keep breaking off to wet in all the walls again. This prevents the water from drying out on the paper before you can get to it.

•Place a piece of soft rag over the end of the stripping knife handle to protect the palm of your hand.

•Stripping water can be made more effective by adding a small amount of acetic acid (vinegar) to hot water or by adding liquid soap, which keeps the water on the surface longer.

•If the wallpaper to be stripped has a nonporous face, such as vinyl-coated washable paper, open up the surface with a wire brush or rub with a coarse house brick, before either wetting or steaming.

•As each wall (or ceiling) is stripped, wet in the wall once again (with warm water) and, using an old flat brush, scrub from the top of the wall downward. This will remove any remnants of old paste and size, and wash off small particles of wallpaper, saving a lot of rubbing down later.

Stripping Wallpaper Using a Steam Stripper

Stripping can be quicker and easier with a steam stripper, and these can be rented from some DIY superstores and tool rental shops. They can vary in size and type, but mostly consist of a water-boiling tank that produces steam, which flows through a hose to a steam plate. There are also smaller, hand-held steam strippers that heat the water and are handy for getting into confined spaces.

Stripping Walls

Steam rises, so start at the bottom of the wall and place the steam stripper plate horizontally, parallel with the skirting board. Then work in strips across the wall, right to left if right-handed. Hold the steam plate on the wall for no more than 15 seconds or you may crack off the plaster. Strip off sections where the plate has just been steaming. Work horizontally right across the wall.

Next, place the steam plate vertically above the stripped area and carry on across the wall from right to left, repeat this upward toward the ceiling.

Stripping Ceiling and Walls

Strip the walls first; this allows the steam to rise up and work on the ceiling. If the ceiling is not to be stripped, run a sharp-bladed knife just a fraction below the ceiling and wall corner angle.


It is a good idea when steam-stripping ceilings to wear a peaked cap to protect your face from any hot water which may drip. A long-sleeved shirt will also protect your arms.

Preparing Stripped Surfaces for Paper-Hanging

1.All traces of old wallpaper, paste, and old size should be removed by scrubbing with warm water.

2.When dry, sand the surface to get rid of any remaining small fragments of paper, etc.

3.Rake out cracks and apply filler. Fill any surface irregularities. When dry, sand filled areas using a fine to medium abrasive wrapped around a block of wood.

4.Apply a size coat unless the surface is nonporous, such as gloss paint. (Many wallpapers and ceiling papers come away from the surface because they were not sized.)

Note: Size coat used to refer to glue size, which is used beneath some LAP and dextrin-based pastes, but these days size coat is also used for cellulose-based pastes.


When checking the surface for irregularities, surface imperfections can be highlighted using a low level light such as a table lamp on a cable extension.

Measuring Up for Wallpaper

Square Area Method

Measure the height of the room and the total length around the room (perimeter), or the length of one wall if you are just papering one wall. Do not deduct doors and windows unless there are big areas of windows. Multiply the perimeter of the room by the height to get the total surface area; divide this area by the area of a roll of wallpaper to get the number of rolls needed for the room.

For example: The area of a roll of wallpaper is roughly 33 ft. × 1.8 ft. = 59.4 sq. ft. (or 10 m × 52 cm = 5.2 m2). So divide the area of the room (x sq. ft. or × m2) by 59.4 sq. ft. (5.2 m2) to get the number of rolls.

Measuring ceilings

A convenient way to measure up for a ceiling is to measure the floor (length × width) and divide the total ceiling surface area by the area of a roll of wallpaper.

Rule of Thumb Method

Another, simpler way to measure is to use what I call the rule of thumb method.

1.Measure the height of the room, then divide the length of the roll of wallpaper by the height of the room measurement to find out how many lengths can be cut from a roll. Don’t forget to add a couple of inches at top and bottom of the room height to allow for paper-cutting waste and pattern matching.

2.Then, using a short piece of wallpaper roll as a tape measure, mark out the widths needed from the decided starting position. As you mark off the widths around the room, count them up—one, two, three, and so on—to show where the rolls will come. For instance, if you have found that you can get three lengths at 10 ft. (3 m) each from a roll, then every time you mark off three widths of paper, you know that it will each be a roll of paper.

This method is particularly useful for helping you decide where you will start papering. Note: It may be convenient to work out a different starting position depending on the room.


•Sometimes it is possible to count up the existing wallpaper widths of a room to save marking out when measuring.

•For large repeat patterns, add one extra roll in every three rolls, or add the height of the pattern repeat to each length of paper.

Rule of Thumb Method—Ceilings

Measure the width of the room and decide how many lengths you can get from the roll at the room width. Next, mark out how many paper widths you can get into the length of the room.

Here it will take 7 widths of paper and it is possible to get 3 lengths of paper from a roll. So it will take just over 2 rolls for the ceiling.

Measuring Staircases (Landing and Halls)

Because there are so many different wall heights, it is best to measure each different height separately, and weigh up how many paper widths can be obtained at various heights.

Where the height of the wall is about 9 ft. (3 m), you should get three lengths to the roll. Where the height of the wall is approximately 14–15 ft. (4.2–4.5 m), you will only get two lengths to the roll.

If you are not happy calculating the measurements and area, then you can get a rough guide from a wallpaper calculating chart (opposite). For large pattern repeats, add 1 extra roll in every 3 rolls. Or add the size of the wallpaper pattern repeat onto the paper length (room height measurement).

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