Painting relief wallpapers and wallcoverings


Relief wallcoverings can be painted using a brush or roller. The first coat should always be an emulsion paint but you can, if you wish, follow this up with a coat of solvent-based paint.

The exception is Lincrusta which should always be painted with a solvent-based paint or, if a wood, effect is wanted, it can be treated with ‘5 scumble, a thin oil-based covering which gives a ‘grainy’ effect.

The painting process will show up any air bubbles trapped behind the paper. As the paint dries the air bubble will probably flatten again but if this does not happen: use a razor blade to make two careful cuts diagonally across the bubble
• push more adhesive under each flap and press the paper back
• wipe off excess paste from the paper surface, allow to dry and then repaint.

Hanging relief and embossed wallpaper

If you want a change from the flat surface which ordinary wallpaper gives, you can hang a relief wallcovering with a raised, embossed pattern for a different look on walls or ceilings.

One way of covering up a poor wall or ceiling surface is to use a relief or embossed wallcovering. It must be stressed at the outset that the wall or ceiling should be in sound structural condition, but these types of wallcoverings will provide an ideal disguise for minor defects such as hairline cracks, a rough finish or slight unevenness in the surface. Even where the surface is perfect, you may simply decide that you like the look which a raised pattern can give.

Frequently, embossed or relief wallcoverings are referred to as ‘whites’ because they come only with a white finish. Most of them require overpainting (you can, of course, paint them white, if you wish) so the paper is protected against dirt, moisture and reasonable wear and tear. Painting over a wallcovering normally means that it won’t be an easy job to remove it later, so it’s usually best to hang a relief wallcovering only if you intend leaving it in place for some time. (Although a steam stripper will make removal easier.) There is a wide range of relief wallcoverings available which vary in design, thickness, depth of embossing, quality, strength, method of manufacture and price.

Woodchip wallpapers

One of the most commonly used of the ‘whites’ apart from lining paper is woodchip wallpaper. This relatively thick paper is made from soft wood-pulp with small, medium or large chips of wood added during the manufacturing process. These chips create the textured surface. Woodchips are hung in normal fashion; you paste the back with a paste suitable for medium weight papers and butt-join lengths of paper before trimming off the overlaps. The cut lengths must be allowed to soak and become supple before hanging, but be careful that you don’t oversoak them (follow the manufacturer’s instructions as to the length of soaking time) or it is more likely you will tear the paper when trimming.

Low-relief embossed papers

This range of wallpapers, which includes Anaglypta, is also made from pulped wood fibre. During manufacture two sheets of paper are bonded together with a waterresistant adhesive. Before the adhesive dries, the paper is run through shaped steel rollers, one with a raised pattern and the other with corresponding indentations, to stretch the soft paper and create the embossed effect.
The back surface of the paper has hollows and you need to take extra care when hanging these types of wallcoverings to ensure that the hollows are not squashed flat against the wall. You should use a heavyduty adhesive and allow the paper to soak (usually for 10 minutes) and become supple before hanging. Take care that the edges are well pasted.

High-relief embossed papers

The majority of good quality high-relief ‘whites’ are made in a similar manner but often using cotton linters (short cotton fibres), china clay and resins rather than pulped wood fibre to produce the ‘paper’. These ingredients give a more durable wallcovering and enable it to be given a greater depth of embossing. Supaglypta is the best known example of this type of paper.

Depending on the design, high-relief embossed papers can often require some depth of drop matching to maintain pattern repeats. Soaking times (use a heavy-duty adhesive) should therefore be kept as constant as possible so that each length stretches, before and during hanging, to the same degree.

Blown vinyls

Classed as ‘whites’ and intended to be overpainted, blown vinyls are made from, a type of vinyl bonded to a paper backing. During manufacture the vinyl is heated to make it expand, then before it cools it is passed through a machine which embosses a pattern into the surface. The result is a wallcovering with a slightly soft, spongy feel. But despite this softness, blown vinyls are strong, easy to handle and create few hanging problems. You should hang a blown vinyl wallcovering with a heavy-duty or ready-mixed paste containing a fungicide; these types of wallcovering do not require soaking.

You can then paint them like any other relief wallcovering, and they can be scrubbed clean. When you want to remove the wallcovering you pee! off the vinyl layer leaving the paper lining on the wall. This can be left in place to serve as a lining paper for the next covering, or else it can be soaked and stripped off completely.

Pre-finished vinyl reliefs

Another type of relief wallcovering comes with a textured or plain vinyl surface. It is prefinished so it does not require over-painting (though you can paint it if you wish), and it is bonded to a paper backing. These can be regularly wiped clean and are easily removed by peeling them off. There are also vinyl relief wallcoverings with a printed decorative embossed surface designed to give the appearance of wall tiles, wood panelling or other effects.

Lincrusta types

Lincrusta is a heavy, solid, embossed wallcovering made from a combination of oxidised linseed oil and fillers bonded to a paper backing. During manufacture the putty-like surface is embossed while still soft, and is then left for 14 days to mature and dry out. It is available in two versions – one intended to be overpainted and the other already finished. As this type of wallcovering is heavy and will easily pull away old, poorly-adhering emulsion or other paints, you should take special care in preparing the wall surfaces. They must be thoroughly clean, made good and should also be given a coat of size. To hang Lincrusta, first cut it into dropmatched lengths, allowing an extra 50mm (2in) for later trimming at the base. The top edges of each length should be cut to fit precisely. Then trim the edges of the lengths using a straight edge and a sharp knife. (Lincrusta is one of the few wallcoverings which require edge trimming). Offer each length up to its intended position and make any cutouts required for light switches or other obstacles. You should then dampen the paper backing with warm water applied with a sponge to allow the material to expand fully and make hanging easier. Leave it to soak for up to 30 minutes on a flat surface with two lengths aid back to back, then wipe off any excess water.

Brush special Lincrusta glue onto the damp backing paper; work fairly quickly and aim for even coverage. Position each length immediately after it is pasted, and use a soft cloth to press the wallcovering gently but firmly into position, working from the top downwards. Trim the bottom length with a sharp knife and you can then go ahead and hang the other lengths, butting each tightly up against the next. Because of its thickness and the nature of its surface, Lincrusta does not easily bend round corners so you will have to cut and butt join it at corners as neatly as possible. As with other types of wallcoverings, you’re unlikely to get perfect pattern matching at corners because the walls will probably be slightly out of true. It is very difficult to remove Lincrusta and you are quite likely to damage the wall behind in the process if you try to remove it, so it’s worth thinking carefully before you decide to hang this type of wallcovering. It is, however, extremely durable, so can be used where ordinary relief wallcoverings might be prone to damage-in stairwells, for example.


Although not really a relief wallcovering and certainly not a ‘white’, there is another slightly textured wallcovering worth describing which is made from an unusual material and hung in an unusual manner. This is Novamura, which is a foamed polyethylene wallcovering. It is extremely lightweight and supplied in standard-size rolls in a wide variety of designs. It is soft and warm to touch and possibly the easiest wallcovering to hang. Instead of pasting lengths cut from the roll, the paste is applied directly to the wall; the roll is unfurled down the wall onto the pasted area and then trimmed. This method eliminates the need for paste tables, mixing buckets and other paperhanging paraphernalia and takes comparatively little time. Novamura must nevertheless be treated with some care and should not be overstretched. Although it can be wiped clean it should not be scrubbed. To remove it you simply peel it away from the wall, with no soaking or pre-treatrnent required.

London Decorators and Painters

Hanging straight lengths of wallpaper

It makes sense to get all the lengths measured and cut out in advance, and pasted up in batches of twos or threes (depending on your speed of working) to give adequate soaking time for the type of paper you are hanging; check the manufacturer’s instructions on this point. Cut all the strips, including those which will be trimmed for chimney breasts, to full room dimensions plus 100mm (4in) excess for trimming.

The concertina fold
The secret of successful ceiling papering is the correct folding technique, as you paste, so that the paper can be transferred to and laid out against the ceiling surface in a smooth manner. Each fold of the concertina should be 300mm (1ft) wide approximately, apart from the first, which can be shorter. It’s worth practising folding with dry paper first.

Hanging the paper

Assemble the working platform securely at the correct height across the whole length of the room, beneath the area where the first strip is to be pasted. Before you get up there with a fold of wet, pasted paper, make sure you have the tools you will need to hand. The last-to-be-pasted section of each length is first to go on the ceiling; tease off this first section and brush it into place. Continue to unfold the concertina in sections, brushing it down as you go and checking it is straight against the guideline.

Trimming and seam rolling

When you trim, you should make sure the paper butts exactly up to covings, but allow a 5-10mm (1/4-3/8in) overlap down to the surface of the walls you intend to paper later. Except with embossed papers, you should roll the butt joints between strips with a seam roller. Light fittings or shades should always be removed, leaving just the flex hanging down. Turn the power off, to ensure safety. If a chimney breast falls parallel to the run of the paper, you will need your scissors handy to take out an approximate piece as you work along the platform.

It’s worth anticipating this before you get up there; mark a rough line on the paper at the approximate position of the chimney breast. Cut out the chimney breast piece, leaving an excess of about 15mm (5/sin) for detailed trimming when the whole strip is in place. If the strip ends at a chimney breast there are less problems. Remove any vast unwanted sections as you work and trim to fit later. External corners are dealt with by making a V-cut so that one flap of the paper can be folded down the inside alcove edge of the chimney breast (or trimmed there if you are working to a coving).

Choosing wallpaper patterns

In rooms full of awkward corners and recesses, pick a paper with a random, busy design which the eye doesn’t try to follow. This will help disguise the fact that a corner is out of square, or a ceiling is sloping.

When you are measuring for the width of 1 paper required to fill a corner gap:
• measure from the last full fixed length to the corner at the top, middle and bottom of the gap
• take the largest measurement; for an internal corner add 12mm and for an external corner 25mm (1 in) to give you the width to cut from the next length
• the offcut left is used on the ‘new wall’ and overlaps the 12mm or 25mm (1 in) strip turned round the corner.

Never try to take a lot of paper round a corner. If you do, you will end up with it badly creased into the angle of the corner, and the part that is taken onto the ‘new wall’ will be completely askew.

On an external corner the overlap of the 1 edges of the two strips of paper which cover the corner should be positioned where they will be least obvious (eg, on a chimney breast it is better to make the overlap on the side wall rather than have it on the wall facing into the room).

Ideally, you’ll use the minimum of paper if you centre a full-width strip of paper over the door opening. Where the door is close to a corner, fit a narrow strip above the doorway. Pattern discontinuity will be least 1 noticed in between two full strips.

Wallpapering awkward areas

The techniques for papering round tricky areas like corners and reveals are quite basic. But care and patience is required if you are going to get really professional results from your paperhanging.

Although the major part of wallpapering, hanging straight lengths is fairly quick and straightforward. The tricky areas – corners, doorways and so on – which call for careful measuring, cutting and pattern matching are the bits that slow the job down. There’s no worse eye-sore than a lop-sided pattern at a corner; but if you use the right techniques you can avoid this problem.
You have to accept in advance that the continuity of a pattern will be lost in corners and similar places; even a professional decorator can’t avoid this. However, he has the ability to match the pattern as closely as possible so that the discontinuity is not noticeable, and this is what you have to emulate. Things would, of course, be a lot simpler if all corners were perfectly square, but this is rarely the case.
When you wallpaper a room for the first time you are likely to discover that all those angles that appeared to be true are anything but.

You can, however, help to overcome the problem of careful pattern matching at corners by choosing a paper with the right design. The most difficult of the lot to hang are those with a regular small and simple repeat motif. The loss of pattern continuity will be easy to spot if even slight errors are made The same is often true of large, repeat designs. With either of these types, a lot more time will be involved and it could well take a couple of hours to hang a few strips around a single window reveal.

Sloping ceiling lines are another problem area and certain patterns will show it up clearly. You can understand the nuisance of a sloping ceiling by imagining a pattern with, say, regular rows of horizontal roses. Although the first length on the wall may be hung correctly to leave a neat row of roses along the ceiling line the trouble is that as subsequent lengths are hung and the pattern is matched, you will see less and less of that top row of roses as the ceiling slopes down. And, conversely, if the ceiling line slopes upwards, you will start to see a new row of roses appearing above. So, despite the fact that each length has been hung vertically, the sloping ceiling will make the job look thoroughly unsightly.

Internal and external corners

Before you begin papering round a corner, you must hang the last full length before the corner. Your corner measurement will be done from one edge of this length. You can use a steel tape or boxwood rule to measure the gap to the corner and then cut the piece required to fill it, plus a margin which is carried round onto the new wall. Since it’s likely that the walls will be out of square and that the margin taken round the corner will not be exactly equal all the way down, it’s obvious you would have a terrible job hanging the matching offcut strip to give a neat butt join. For this reason you must hang the matching offcut which goes on the ‘new’ wall to a true vertical and then brush it over the margin you’ve turned onto this wall. You should aim to match the pattern at the corner as closely as possible. Since the paper overlaps, the match will not be perfect, but this is unavoidable and will not, in any case be noticeable as the overlap is tucked into or round the corner out of sight.

Papering round window reveals

Unless you intend to paper just one or two walls in a room you will eventually have to cope with papering round a window. Pattern matching is the problem here, but you should find cutting the paper to fit above and below a window is not too difficult provided you work in a logical order (see box opposite). But you may have to be prepared for lots of scissor work when you cut out strips of paper for the two sides and top of the reveal to ensure the pattern matches the paper on the facing wall. (It’s worth getting into the habit of marking some sort of code on the back of each piece of paper before it’s cut up so you will be able to find matching pieces quickly.) Make sure that you don’t end up with a seam on the edge of the reveal, where it will be exposed to knocks and liable to lift. Before you begin work on the window wall, take a roll of wallcovering and estimate how many widths will fit between the window and the nearest corner. If it looks as though you will be left with a join within about 25mm (1 in) of the window opening you should alter your starting point slightly so that, when you come to the window, the seam will have moved away from the edge of the reveal.

Where the lengths of paper are positioned on the window wall obviously depends on the position of the window, its size and the width of the wallpaper. But the ideal situation occurs when the last full length before you reach the window leaves a width of wall, plus window reveal, that measures just less than the width of the wallpaper. You can then hang the next length so its upper part goes on the wall above the window, the lower part on the wall below it and (after making two scissor cuts) turn the middle part to cover the side of the window reveal.

The edge of the middle part can then be creased and trimmed so it fits neatly up against the window frame. Go on to hang short lengths of wallpaper above the window, cutting them so their lower parts can be taken on to the underside of the top window reveal, and again trim them so they fit neatly up against the window frame. When you reach a point where the reveal on the opposite side of the window is less than the width of the wallpaper away from the last edge hung, you should stop and repeat the papering process below the window between the sill and skirting board, trimming as you go.

You can then hang the next full length in the same way as the one you hung on the first side of the window. You should, first, however, hang a plumbline over the pieces in place above the top and bottom of the window then hang the full length to the plumbline, trimming any slight overlap on the new length if necessary. (By doing this, you will ensure that the lengths to be hung on the rest of the wall will be truly vertical.) Often, however, the position of the last full length at the window will fall so that the paper does not cover the reveal at the side of the window, and in this case you will have to cut matching strips to fill the gap.
Similarly, you will have to cut strips to fill the gaps on the underside of the reveal at the top of the window.

Dormer windows

In attics and loft rooms there will be sloping ceilings and dormer windows with which you will have to contend. If you decide to paper rather than paint the sloping ceiling, then you treat it in the same way as you would a vertical wall; there are no unusual problems involved, other than the peculiar working angle. Remember, too, that if you choose the wrong type of paper the irregular pattern matching could give unfortunate results.
Paper the wall alongside the window and then round the window itself, moving on to the wall below the other side of the sloping ceiling (see step-by-step photographs). Finally, you can paper the dormer cheeks.

Chimney breasts and fireplace surrounds

Special rules apply to chimney breasts. For a start, since they are a focal point in the room, any pattern must be centralised. The design of the paper will affect where you begin to hang the wallpaper. Where one length of paper contains a complete motif, you can simply measure and mark off the central point of the chimney breast and use a plumbline at this point to help you draw a vertical line down the centre

You can then begin hanging the wallpaper by aligning the first length with this line. On the other hand, if it is the type of paper, where two lengths, when aligned, form a motif, you will first have to estimate the number of widths which will fit across the chimney breast and then draw a line as a guide for hanging the first length of paper so the combined motif will, in fact, be centralised.

Your order of work should be from the centre (or near centre) outwards and you will then have to turn the paper round the corners at the sides so you form an overlap join with the paper which will be applied to the sides of the chimney breast. Follow the usual techniques for measuring and papering round external corners, remembering in particular not too take too much paper round the corner.

When it comes to fireplace surrounds, there are so many varying kinds of mantel shelfs and surrounds that only general guidance can be given Usually the technique is to brush the paper down on to the top part of the wall and then cut it to fit along the back edge of the mantelshelf. You can then cut the lower half to fit the contours of the surround. If it’s a complicated outline then you’ll have to gradually work downwards, using a small pair of sharp scissors, pressing the paper into each shape, withdrawing it to snip along the crease line, then brushing it back into place.
If there is only a small distance between the edge of the mantelshelf and the corner, it’s a lot easier if you hang the paper down to the shelf and then make a neat, honzontal cut line in the paper. You can then hang the lower half separately and join the two halves to disguise the cut line.

Tips for wallpapering

To make it easier to carry a long length of wallcovering, fold it in concertinas and then drape it over your arm.

When measuring up remember that lengths meeting the stairs skirting must be measured along their longer edge, not their shorter one.

To minimise the risk of stretching
• allow the same amount of soaking time between pasting and hanging on each length
• if you do find the paper has stretched, match the pattern as best you can at eye level, where bad matching would be most noticeable.

It’s best not to try hanging long lengths of paper by yourself; the weight of the paper may cause it to stretch or tear. Get someone to take the weight and unfold the paper as you work down the wall.

Where long narrow strips are needed, measure up and trim the drop approximately to size before pasting. This is easier to handle than having large waste pieces covered in paste flapping around.

Vinyl will not stick to vinyl where you are using ordinary paste. If an overlap is unavoidable use a special vinyl overlap adhesive.


Falls from ladders and steps cause many deaths and injuries in the home. To prevent the risk of an accident :

• make sure ladders and steps can’t slip by resting their feet against a batten screwed or nailed to the floor or tread on which they are standing
• always secure boards to whatever they are resting on – with rope, or bolts dropped through pre-drilled holes
• never trust a handrail to support your weight or that of a board.


A safe working platform is essential when you’re decorating a stairwell. Ladders, steps, hop-ups and scaffold boards can be used, with variations to suit the layout of your particular stairwell, to reach even the most inaccessible parts. Alternatively, use a slot-together tower platform with an extra frame and adjustable feet. However, it is recommended to use professional Painters and Decorators.

stairwell ladders for wallpapering and painting

Wallpapering a stairwell


Even if the walls are flat, papering a stairwell presents problems. The awkward angles, height of the walls and long lengths of wallcovering make for special difficulties of access and handling, but you’ll find that these can be overcome.

Hanging wallpaper in an ordinary room is not too difficult. But with stairwells there are awkward corners and long lengths to cope with.

Gaining access
The chief problem in wallpapering a stairwell is that of gaining access to the walls you are papering. This is because of the height of the walls and the awkward angles involved. It is essential to have a safe working platform and to set this up in the right way to suit the layout of the stairwell and the way the stairs rise.

You can hire special platforms for decorating the stair/hall area, or use the components of a tower platform. Alternatively, you can use ladders and steps linked with scaffold boards. A particularly useful item of equipment is a hop-up, a small platform which you can make yourself.

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Before you start decorating, remove the handrail and any other wall-mounted obstacles so you can get at the wall. Then prepare the walls properly so the new wallcovering will stick.

Always remove any old wallcovering; some will peel off, although with most types you will have to soak and scrape them off. Once the walls are stripped, you can work out where to begin hanging. You should position the longest drop of wallcovering first, and to establish where this will be, measure the height of each wall in the stairwell. (You will need a long tape and someone to help you when you are measuring the wall in a stairwell.)
Then, starting as close as possible to this point but about 50mm away from any obstacles – such as a door or window opening – take a roll of the wallcovering you are going to use and move it along the wall to estimate where succeeding widths will fall. If, according to your calculations, there will be a join between lengths within 50mm of an external corner (at another window opening, for example), change your starting point slightly and measure again so you avoid this. Then mark off where this first drop will be hung.

When you have established where you will hang the first drop, use a plumbline to work out a true vertical at this point. Coat the line with chalk, pin it to the top of the wall and allow it to hang. Then, at the skirting, hold the plumb bob with one hand, pluck the string with the other and let it snap back against the wall to leave a vertical chalk line on the wall.

Alternatively, instead of coating the plumb line with chalk, fix it in place, allowing it to hang down, and then place a long straight timber batten so the edge is exactly against the line, and use the batten as your guide to draw a true vertical line down the wall. Remember to plumb a new line every time you turn a corner.

Hanging the wallcovering

The decorating sequence is the same as for any other area – see the techniques already covered. If the wall is bare plaster, start by applying size to the wall to prevent the paste soaking in.
Then measure and cut the wallcovering to length, remembering to allow for the angle of the skirting board if applicable, paste it and allow it to soak. If you are using a ready-pasted wallcovering, place your water trough in the hall or on the landing, not on the stairs where you are likely to knock it over.

Wallcoverings hung by the paste-the-wall technique are particularly easy to hang in stairwells, because you are handling lengths of dry wallcovering.
• Because the lengths of paper for the wall at the side of the stairs will all be of a different size – caused by the rise of the stairs – it is better to cut and paste one length at a time, unlike straightforward rooms where you can cut and paste several lengths at a time. Hang the first and longest length of wallpaper, using the vertical line you have marked on the wall as a guideline to get it straight. Then work round the stairwell from this length, making sure the pattern matches as you go along. If your staircase is curved at the bottom the wallcovering is likely to pucker as it fits around the curve.

To prevent this, you can snip into the overlap at the foot of the wall at intervals so the paper is more flexible in its fit.

Coping with long drops
A problem unique to stairwells is the length of paper you are handling – often as much as 4.5m (15ft) long. Apply paste liberally so it is ess likely to dry out before you have fixed the bottom of the length. (It’s worth keeping a small amount of adhesive ready to apply where the adhesive has dried out before the wallcovering is fixed.) Fold the pasted paper in concertinas and then gather up the folds and drape the folded-up length over your arm to carry it. Because the weight of the paper may cause it to stretch or tear as you are hanging it, try to get someone to help you take the weight.

Where there is no one available to help, you will have to sit on your scaffold board, or other form of support, and allow the bottom of the drop to unfold gently to skirting board level. Then you can take the top up to the ceiling and start brushing it into the correct place. Remember too, that when you are trimming along the bottom of a length of wallcovering that meets the staircase skirting, you will be trimming at an angle rather than horizontally as at the foot of a wall in a room.