Over the past few years, wallcoverings have improved a lot. They used to be rolls of paper which had to be hung very carefully to avoid marking or tearing them and, once hung, they were difficult to clean. Ordinary wallpaper like this is still widely available, but in addition there are many other types. Some have plastic coatings washables and vinyls and may be as easy to clean as paint. Others have special surface effects often embossed or with a cloth, flock or metallic finish.
Ordinary wallpaper is paper with a pattern printed on it. The paper surface may be smooth, or it may be embossed to various depths, either in register with the printed design or to give the paper an overall surface texture. There is an enormous range of designs available more than for any other type of wallcovering. It is sold in rolls of a standard size, measuring about 10m long and 530mm wide.
Hanging ordinary wallpaper is generally easy, although thinner types may tear and heavily embossed ones may stretch. Ordinary wallpapers are generally not very resistant to soiling, particularly where greasy stains are concerned, and can be cleaned only by very gentle wiping. They are easily damaged by knocks and scuffs and tend to lift at the seams in damp or steamy conditions. But they can be cheap to buy (and readily available) and easy to remove when you want to decorate. The heavily embossed types are also useful for hiding lumps and bumps on uneven walls.
Washable wallpaper is printed wallpaper (like ordinary wallpaper), but with a thin transparent plastic coating over the surface to make it more resistant to stains and marks, and also to make it easier to clean. It is often called vinyl-coated wallpaper, but should not be confused with paper-backed vinyls. Most washable wallpapers have a smooth, glossy surface, although some have matt or embossed surfaces. They are sold in standard-sized rolls, the same as for ordinary wallpapers.
Washable wallpapers are generally less easy to hang than ordinary papers, because they lend to curl up at the edges, and as the base paper is often relatively thin they may tear easily if roughly handled. They are better at resisting stains and scuffs than ordinary wallpapers, and can be scrubbed (gently) instead of just sponged. They lend to lift at the edges in steamy rooms, but perhaps the biggest drawback of most washable wallpapers is that they are very difficult to strip once hung. However, they do provide a relatively cheap way of covering walls that need regular wiping children’s bedrooms, bathrooms and cloakrooms, for example and the choice of designs available reflects this intended use. A few are ready-pasted.
Paper-backed vinyls consist of a plastic film (usually of polyvinyl chloride, hence the name, although other plastics are sometimes used) into which the printed design is fused, and a paper backing. The surface of the vinyl layer may be smooth or embossed with a variety of textures which may be randomly arranged or in register with the printed design. The range of designs available is very large, and there is also considerable variation in the weight of the paper backing. Rolls of paper-backed vinyls are standard-sized and many brands are available ready-pasted.
Vinyls are generally very easy to hang, with less tendeney to stretch or tear than cither ordinary or washable papers. A special overlap adhesive has to be used for overlapping joins. They are very resistant to staining and sculling (although ball-point pen marks can be tricky to remove) and can be scrubbed, but care should be taken to avoid working across the seams. Paper-backed vinyls are very useful for steamy rooms, particularly in kitchens, and are very easy to strip – the plastic layer can be peeled away from the backing paper, which can be left to act as a lining for subsequent wallcoverings. Vinyls are relatively expensive.
Flocks are wallcoverings with a pattern and a raised pile of wool, silk or synthetic fibres. Ordinary flocks have a washable wallpaper base, while vinyl flocks have the pile fused to a paper-backed vinyl base. The patterned areas resemble velvet in feel and looks. Roll sizes are standard, and some brands are available ready-pasted.
Ordinary flocks need great care in hanging, since paste will mark the Hocked areas, and the surface can easily be damaged by scull’s and knocks. Vinyl flocks are easier to hang (although paste marks should still be avoided if possible). Once hung, ordinary flocks can be sponged to remove marks, while vinyl flocks can be washed more vigorously (or even scrubbed, depending on the brand). In both cases, however, the pile may become matted or flattened. Both types need brushing lightly from time to time to keep the pile free from dust. Vinyl flocks are easy to strip for re-decoration, with the vinyl layer separating from its backing as for paper-backed vinyls; ordinary flocks are more difficult to remove. Both types are expensive.
Foil wallcoverings consist of a metallised plastic film on a paper backing. They may come in a single colour gold, silver, copper or even bright pop-art or they may be overprinted with a design fused intothe plastic film. Some foil wallcoverings will conduct electricity and must not be hung where they could come into contact with electric wiring – behind light switches and power points, for example. Most brands are sold in standard-sized rolls, although some come in non- I standard lengths. Some brands are ready-pasted.
Metallised foils are not particularly easy to hang, especially if heavily embossed: hanging them on uneven walls will tend to highlight the bumps. They are either washable or scrubbable (but over-vigorous rubbing may spoil the surface effect) and they resist stains and marks well. Metallised foils can be used in humid environments, but stripping may pose problems, since the protective plastic film and the foil may separate.
Relief wallcoverings include a number of products with one common characteristic – they have a three-dimensional surface with either a regular or a random pattern that is intended for painting once hung. Most are part of the family of whiles that also includes woodchip paper and lining papers. There are four main types, of which the most widely known is an embossed paper with a relatively low surface relief. Another type, which is more deeply embossed, is made from cotton linters instead of wood pulp. Vinyl reliefs are paper-backed vinyls with a deeply embossed solid vinyl surface layer, while blown relief wallcoverings have a surface with a spongy texture reminiscent of expanded foam plastic, again on a flat paper backing.
All the relief wallcoverings are relatively easy to hang, although care must be taken not to flatten the emboss on the thinner low relief types when smoothing the paper into place and butting the scams, and they are heavy a problem when you want to use them to paper ceilings.
Once hung and painted over, low relief types can be sponged, while the others can withstand more vigorous treatment, and the vinyl and blown relief types can be scrubbed. If emulsion paint is used, resistance to stains is only fair, but if an oil-based painl is used resistance to marking and scrubbability are both greatly improved. When it comes to stripping before redecoration, vinyl and blown relief wallcoverings can be dry stripped, but relief papers which have been painted are even more difficult to strip than washable wallpapers. All types are ideal for covering poor surfaces and for disguising lumps and bumps.
Woodchip papers are part of the whites family. They are thick pulpy wallpapers into which small chips of wood have been mixed during manufacture to give a wall covering with a surface texture rather like coarse oatmeal. Coarse, medium and fine grades are available, the texture varying with the size of the wood chips. They are intended for painting over once hung.
Woodchip papers are very easy to hang, but cutting the tops and bottoms is not easy and the papers tear, though any tears will be disguised once the surface is painted. Scuffing and knocks may dislodge wood chips from the surface, which is not very resistant to stains unless decorated with an oil-based paint. Stripping is not easy. However woodchip papers do offer the cheapest way of disguising poor wall surfaces.
Lining paper is a plain wallpaper that is used on walls and ceilings to provide a uniform, even surface over which other wallcoverings can be hung. Double and triple length rolls are available. It is usually hung horizontally. A special grade called finished extra white is intended for painting over – useful as a way of rehabilitating badly cracked but otherwise sound walls where you do not want the textured or patterned surface that wood-chip or other relief wallcoverings would provide. Lining paper usually comes in rolls 10m long and 560mm wide and, except for the very thin grades of paper, is relatively easy to hang.
Fabric wallcoverings consist of a fabric such as hessian, felt, silk or wool stuck to a paper backing for ease of hanging. Paper-backed hessian is the commonest (and cheapest) type; others are available mainly from specialist shops, and can be very expensive. Paper-backed hessian comes in natural and dyed shades; felt comes in a range of colours; and silk, wool and similar fabrics come in a number of designs and colours. Fabric wallcoverings are mostly sold in fabric widths (900mm, for example) and by the metre length rather than by the roll.
Fabric wallcoverings are often hung by pasting the wall, not the wallcovering, and great care must be taken not to get paste on the fabric. Joints may have to be overlapped and then trimmed follow the manufacturer’s instructions. They tend to mark easily but can be cleaned -with dry-cleaning solvents rather than soap or detergent. Stripping is generally fairly easy – the fabric can usually be peeled away from the paper backing.
Foamed polyethylene wallcovering has no paper the pattern is fused into the surface of the plastic, and the surface is lightly textured to give it a soft, warm feel. It is extremely light, and is hung by pasting the wall, not the wallcovering. Care must be taken not to score or stretch the material as it is hung and to ensure the edges are well stuck down. The surface resists stains fairly well, and can be washed, but not scrubbed. However, the edges tend tolift slightly in hot humid conditions. It is very easy to strip – it simply peels off the wall in one layer. It is broadly comparable in price with paper-backed vinyls, but easier to hang and not so durable. Foamed polyethylene wallcovering is sold under the brand name Novamura.
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