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Hang Wallpaper Like a Pro

A Guide to Decorative Borders and Wallpaper

© 2009 by ; all rights reserved; content may not be copied, rewritten, or republished without author’s written permission.

Tea, a painting by Mary Cassatt
Tea, a painting by Mary Cassatt

This article was updated on 02/18/21.

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Learning how to hang decorative borders and field wallpaper isn’t hard, although it can certainly be messy. In that respect it’s like learning finishing drywall. Just pay attention to wall preparation and pay close attention to detail.

Borders are hung horizontally where walls meet the ceiling. Their purpose is to set off the room as a less expensive alternative to installing crown molding. They are commonly used decorating a baby’s nursery because they actually help develop the visual senses.

The First Step is Preparing the Walls for Wallpaper

  • First, remove all paintings, posters, wall hangings, and the like.
  • Remove all the electrical cover plates. Set them aside for re-installation.
  • Sometimes it’s possible to paper over existing wallpaper but it’s better to remove it. If the wall is textured, sand it down.
  • If the wall surface needs repairs, tape and float the bad spots.
  • “Size” the wall. Sizing means rolling on diluted wallpaper paste. It forms a barrier between the wall and the new paper or vinyl making for easy removal in the future; you or a future occupant will thank you.

Use a Plumb Bob for the First Drop

It’s important to start with a plumb wallpaper drop; any mistake here will compound down the line. It will be impossible to correct because the pattern won’t match.

It’s possible to get the plumb line using a 4’ level, but nothing is as accurate as gravity. Make a pencil mark at the top and the bottom of your wall and then strike a chalk line through them. You’ll need a helper for this step.

Cutting your Wallpaper Drops (Strips)

Use a flat work table and a razor blade or X-acto knife to cut the strips. It’s more efficient to cut several drops at a time. Measure and make them about 3” longer than the height of the wall.

This additional material ensures enough play so that the pattern can be easily matched. It’s better to waste a little bit than a whole drop.

Prepare the Adhesive

The paper or vinyl will be pre-glued or not. Pre-glued simply needs to be soaked in a pan. Otherwise, the glue or paste must be rolled on un-pasted paper. For the pre-glued kind, loosely roll up the drop and submerge it in the water pan for the time period specified by the manufacturer.

When it comes time to hang it, stand on the step ladder, hold the loose end, and drop it to unroll it. Now it becomes obvious why it’s called a drop.

For the roll-on type, roll the paper out on the table, cut it to length, then paste it. To avoid a mess, loosely fold it in half with no crease (glue to glue) and then fold in half again (dry to dry). Alternately, fold (no crease) the bottom glued side to the middle, and the top glues side to the middle. This may take a little practice, but be patient and don't be afraid to get a little glue on your hands.

Hanging the Initial Wallpaper Strip

To hang the first strip, drop the roll and align one edge along the chalk line. Allow an excess of approximately 1” at the ceiling. Use a squeegee to smooth out all air pockets and then use a seam roller on the edges.

Cut the excess material off with a sharp razor blade at the ceiling line and at the bottom. Use a wide drywall floating knife as a guide to get an accurate, tight, cutting edge. Now, use a wet sponge to clean any excess glue from the ceiling and baseboard before it dries. Have a bucket of clear water available so that you can wring out your sponge often. Have extra blades available as well.

Installing the Rest of the Drops

The way some people prefer to get the tightest seams is to use the double cut method. I find this method the most accurate. This works best on wider rolls. Overlap the seam of the next drop by an inch or so over the previous one. Squeegee completely.

Now, use a straightedge and razor to cut through the center of the overlap. Strip off the 2 narrow orphan strips and mate the cut seams carefully with the seam roller. Easy as pie and it is hard to make a mistake.

Other paper hangers prefer to match seams and leave it at that. Try both methods and go with what feels best.

Hang Decorative Borders

Decorative border wallpaper at the ceiling line can go on after the walls are done, if this is part of your project design. They definitively add that special touch. The basic process of gluing and hanging is the same as you've done with the walls, if that's what you go with, but many models are peel-and-stick for convenience.

The one thing to take note of here is that your border has a pattern, you'll have to do some measuring to make both ends of the wall come out the same.

Further Wall Covering Tips

Know, going into this job that inside and outside corners are rarely plumb and residential walls are worse than commercial because homes use wood framing and those studs are often warped. The way of dealing with this for outside corners is straightforward: simply run the first drop around the corner and past it a bit. Then use the plumb bob on the second wall.

Run that drop back over the previous seam and double cut. The closer it is to the corner, the harder to notice will any inconsistencies be.

Inside corners are handled in a similar fashion although sometimes the cut can be made right in the corner if you’re careful not to cut through the mud and drywall tape.

When working with seams, use the steps on the step ladder! Only a level eyeball will avoid visual distortions when matching seams. And that's how you hang wallpaper like a pro.

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation and financial and energy trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

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