Wallpaper is a nonwoven (paper) or woven (fabric) backing, decoratively printed for application to walls of a residence or business. Wallpaper is not considered essential to the decoration of a structure; however, it has become a primary method by which to impart style, atmosphere, or color into a room.

The wallpaper industry divides the manufacture of wallpaper into those used in residences and those hung in businesses or other public buildings. The two categories of paper differ in weight, serviceability, and quality standards. Residential-use wallpapers are made from various materials and can be purchased prepasted or unpasted. There are no mandated serviceability tests for residential papers. The commercial-grade wallpapers are divided into categories based on weight, backing composition, and laminate/coating thickness. All commercial-use wallpapers must have a vinyl surface and pass rigorous physical and visual tests as mandated by the Chemical Fabrics and Film Association.

There are four popular methods used to print wallpapers, and designers choose the printing technique based on cost as well as aesthetics.


The earliest wallpapers used in Europe as early as the thirteenth century were painted with images of popular religious icons. These "domino papers" were pasted within homes of the devout; however, they also enlivened the bleak homes of the poor. Within the next few centuries, papers were hand block-printed, but only remained popular with the poor.

By the sixteenth century, however, more expensive wallcovering, depicting tapestries hung in homes of nobility, became popular with the middle class. Small sheets either carried a repeating image, or several blocks produced a pattern spread across many sheets. Fashionable eighteenth century Americans puchased wallpapers from France and England; "paper stainers" were producing wallpapers in this country by the early nineteenth century if not before.

Two problems plagued wallpaper stainers until the mid-nineteenth century. One was the problem of producing long sheets of paper for printing, the other was printing attractive wallpaper inexpensively. Until the mid-1700s, rag-based paper was individually printed in sheets, then applied to walls. Then, wallpaper manufacturers were pasting the pieces together, ground coating them, then printing. In the late nineteenth century, the paper industry developed "endless" paper, or paper made in very long strips. By 1870, wood pulp had supplanted rag stock, resulting in a very cheap backing for wallcovering.

In the nineteenth century, printing costs were greatly reduced by abandoning labor-intensive block printing in favor of cylinder printing. Wood-block printers applied each color by hand using a separate block for each color in the pattern. Thus, each block had to be inked with the right color, pressed down on the paper, tapped to ensure a quality imprint, lifted up, and reinked as the printer moved down the paper roll—an expensive process. Wood blocks were supplanted by copper cylinders, which carried the design below the surface of the roll, each roll printing a single color. The cylinders were mounted within one machine and

the paper was mechanically fed between cylinders until the paper was completely printed—no hand printing involved. Thus, by about 1885 wood pulp paper printed with cylinders so greatly reduced wallpaper costs that it was cheaper to wallpaper a house in the United States than to paint it.

More recent advances include development of additional printing methods, new inks and solvents, and use of latex and vinyl as coatings or laminates.

Raw Materials

Wallpaper consists of a backing, ground coat, applied ink, and sometimes paste on the backing used to adhere the paper to the wall. Non-woven backings can be of ground wood, wood pulp, or wood pulp with synthetic material. Woven backings are those made of sturdy woven textiles such as drill (heavy woven cotton much like jean material). The woven backing is then coated and printed.

The ground coat is the background color laid on the surface, which receives the printed pattern. Coatings or laminates are made of latex or vinyl (polyvinyl chloride) and render the paper durable and strippable. Ground coats also include additives that enhance the ease of handling, opacity, and drapability of the paper.

The paper is printed with inks composed of pigment and a vehicle which ties the ink to the backing. Solvents can be acetone or water, for example. Printers choose inks carefully as the solvents they include affect the drying time and production time between color applications of the paper.

Pastes may or may not be applied to wallpapers. If they are, they are usually made up of cornstarch or wheat starch and are applied wet to the backing. Prepasted wallpapers must be rewetted for adhesion to the wall.


New wallpaper designs are generally derived from sketches purchased from a staff designer or freelance wallpaper designer. The artist lays out the design on tracing paper and completes at least a partial pencil sketch. The marketing and design staff will then decide if the paper is the right "fit" for a specific look or line. If the design is accepted, the artist produces a full-scale color sketch in various colors and palettes.

After the printing process is chosen, the sketch is fine tuned to fit the requirements of the printing process and the pattern is sent to the engraver or screen-maker. Once the cylinder or screens are in place and a few pattern repeats are printed, a "strike off' (sample wallpaper) is printed to test the color and pattern. When okayed, the paper is commercially printed in large runs.

The Manufacturing

Making the paper



There are four possible types of printing techniques.



Quality Control

The Chemical Fabric and Film Association (CFFA) has devised quality standards for commercial-use vinyl coated wallcoverings. The various categories of commercial-use papers have different physical test requirements specified in CFFA Quality Standard documents. All papers must undergo testing on such attributes as minimum coating weight, tensile strength, tear strength, coating adhesion, abrasion resistance, flame spread, smoke development, shrinkage, heat aging, stain resistance, etc.

Each wallpaper printing company conducts visual inspections in the form of spot checks or representative product samplings to ensure their product conforms to certain values established by the manufacturer. Generally, wood pulp and ground wood paper backings are given visual checks to see if there is foreign matter imbedded in the backing. When woven backings are received by printers, the printer checks thread count and physically tests the fabric for minimum requirements.

As the backing is printed, constant visual checks ensure proper adhesion of vinyl to backing, correct color, no streaking or unwanted shading, trimmed edges, etc. Representative samples are physically and visually examined before being cut into smaller rolls.

Where to Learn More


Chemical Fabrics and Film Association, Inc. CFFA Quality Standard for Vinyl Coated Wallcovering. Cleveland, OH: CFFA, 1995.

Lynn, Catherine. Wallpaper in America. New York: W. W. Norton, 1980.

Swedlow, Robert M. Step by Step Guide to Screen-Process Printing. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1985.

Teynac, Francoise, et al. Wallpaper: A History. New York: Rizzoli, 1982.

Nancy EV Bryk

Also read article about Wallpaper from Wikipedia

User Contributions:

Is it possible to use the same screens, pigments, and tables for screen printing wallpaper that you would use to print fabric? I work at a textiles printing company and we were considering trying to print wallpaper if they could both be done with the same equipment. We use water based inks and our tables have a glue adhesive on them to keep the fabric in place while printing. Also, what would be the best type of paper to use?


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