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Mural Media: A Complete Guide to Digital Wallcovering Applications

Why Digital Wallcovering; Why Now?

By Ed McCarron, Director of Sales and Marketing at InteliCoat Technologies

According to a January 2011 report by Global Industry Analysts, Inc. (GIA), the global wallcovering market is expected to reach $26 billion dollars by 2015. GIA attributes this growth to the increased demand for the remodeling/refurbishing of homes within the residential construction industry.

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  • This sets the stage for sign makers to use their digital printing technologies for the creation of not only custom décor applications for the residential market niche, but for the high volume commercial markets as well. Unlike other printing processes, digital imaging is uniquely positioned to take the reigns of wallcovering applications due to its ability to produce one-off /custom graphics and displays.

    So the time might be right, but there's more for sign makers to like. Wallcoverings are a high margin application with the potential for high volume with national or regional chains. Add to this the ease with which installation can be sub contracted to professional wallpaper installers, as well as the wide variety of materials available for all inkjet technologies, and you have a perfect storm of opportunity.

    The following article will explain the various steps for creating quality digital wallcoverings, and provide tips and advice for success in this burgeoning market niche.

    Wallcoverings for the Home and Beyond
    Specialty applications like fabrics and wallcoverings are becoming increasingly more common in the sign industry. This is due in large part to the value that many place on the ability to decorate the spaces they operate. Vendors and homeowners are generally willing to pay more money to create a desired look or atmosphere.

    Among the most common venues, there are several opportunities sign makers should consider. For example, art murals are very popular for both residential and commercial uses. Due to the increased ease with which people can purchase artwork directly online, many have begun licensing artwork and marketing murals over the Internet for printing and installation in a home or venue.

    Museums and historical sites are ideal for one-off custom mural installs since backdrops are as a critical piece for many exhibits. This is similar to transit venues such as airports and train stations, which often rely on large custom murals for decoration and advertisements to grab the attention of travelers. The ability of digital imaging technologies to produce one-off pieces for such spaces makes it an affordable option for museums and transit venues alike.

    Retail and hospitality venues' are another critical revenue source since they have a strong need for custom environmental graphics to create unique atmospheres. The retail and hospitality industry also presents a high volume opportunity for sign makers. With the omnipresence of regional, national and international chains, sign makers can realize significant profits by partnering with the right organization.

    Getting Started: Choosing the Right Wallcovering Media
    Although there are many media options available to sign makers, the most ideal products for wallcovering applications feature heavyweight latex bases. The latex in the paper acts as a moisture barrier and gives the product a lot of dimensional stability. In cases where a product is being paneled together, the more stable it is; the less likely a seam will be created in the middle.

    There are a number of products on the market today featuring heavyweight latex base papers with different top coats or treatments to meet various printer technologies. This enables sign makers to find the ideal wallcovering material, regardless of type or brand, from water-based to solvent to UV to eco-solvents printers.

    When working with designers and/or architects, it is also critical to choose a wallcovering media that meets requirements for both Type II commercial wallcoverings, as well as the ASTM Standard E-84 tunnel test procedure, which ensures that the product base meets flame spread requirements. The media manufacturer should have certification documentation available upon request to prove that it is in accordance with such standards.

    It is also important to note that sign makers should not use vinyl, polyester or thermal laminates for the production of wallcoverings. Since wallcoverings require the application of a wet paste to the back of paper and to the wall, moisture must escape from the paste for proper drying. Traditional vinyl, polyester and thermal laminates do not allow this to take place therefore it would not dry well. The added weight can also cause installation, de-lamination, and wall adhesion issues.

    In addition, paper expands and contracts at a different rate than vinyl, polyester and thermal laminates, causing an imbalance. Over time, the combination of a laminate and a paper product would fight against each other in different environmental conditions forcing the expansion and contraction at different rates. This would be a very unstable construction - leading to distortion of the wallcovering over time.

    Printing and Finishing Your Wallcovering
    After choosing the appropriate media for the application, the production process can begin. Since wallcoverings are typically installed as panels, it is critical to overlap images when creating panel files. The panels should contain a one-inch overlap to help match the pattern across panel seams. It is also good practice to number the panels and provide a map indicating panel segments to the installer. During installation, the installer will overlap the panels, use a straight edge and razor to cut a straight line down the middle of overlap, and mold the two seams together.

    Prior to printing the panels, sign makers should be sure to check the printer manual for alignment options. Due to the heavy gauge of wallcovering material, it can commonly feed through the printers at different rates, which can cause print alignment issues.

    Once printed, panels should be finished with a liquid laminate, which is applied prior to installation. The application of a liquid laminate or acrylic spray finish ensures the easy removal of paste residue, which commonly remains after the install, especially along the seams. Such finishes also deliver water, stain, abrasion, chemical, graffiti, and UV resistance, as well as the ability to clean the surface of contaminates throughout the life of the wallcovering. This is very important for wallcoverings that are displayed in high traffic/high visibility areas.

    Potential air bubble issues or outgassing may occur if liquid laminates are applied via a liquid laminator or laminator bath, so it is recommended that sign makers use hand or aerosol applications. Products with liquid laminates meet surface durability requirements for wallcoverings (ASTM F-793).

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    Installing Your Wallcovering
    When it's time to install the wallcovering, there are a few tips for success. One of the most critical is to use pre-mixed commercial grade wallcovering pastes, which are sold at most hardware or home improvement stores. It is also important to pre-wet the back of the paper with a sponge before applying paste and to apply a "thinned" layer of paste or sizing to the wall prior to installation. The use of thinned layers of paste or sizing enables the forming of a thin skin/film for the wallcovering to be applied to - ensuring easy removal of the wallcovering at the end of its life. By acting as a breaking point, the panels can be removed in one piece without the unwanted removal of paint or dry wall.

    It is also advisable to use professional wallpaper installers, especially with regional or national accounts. In addition to eliminating the need to travel for installation, certified wallpaper installers are inexpensive, plentiful and easy to find. You can visit the website for the National Guild of Professional Paperhangers to find listings for certified installers by area at

    Below is a quick checklist of some other installation guidelines to consider before getting started:

      Wall Preparation:

      • Wall should be prepped to a smooth, clean, and dry surface prior to installation. Wallcovering will not hide wall flaws such as: nail holes, bumps, or dirt.
      • Primer sealer should be used on unpainted drywall. Use acrylic wallcovering primers. Priming provides a sound surface that wallcovering will adhere to. It is recommended to strip down previous layer(s) of wallcovering. The wallcovering may seem to be firmly adhered to the wall, but the addition of another layer can cause adhesion failure.
      • Prime over glossy paint with primers.

      Paste Information:

      • Clear adhesives provide good adhesion and allow for easier stripping when the wall covering is to be removed or replaced.
      • Clay adhesives have also been shown to be effective both during installation and the removal of wallcovering materials.
      • For more permanent applications, use pastes with aggressive adhesion.
      • Vinyl over vinyl pastes tend to dry too quickly and are not recommended.
      • Apply a coat of the adhesive using a 1/2" nap paint roller. Book for 10 minutes.

      Hanging information:

      • Do not use tape on imaged surface.
      • Align top and adjoining edges. Smooth panels into place with a smoothing brush, starting at the center of the panel working towards the edges.
      • Use a plastic smoother to push air pockets to the edges.

    As this article suggests, digital wallcoverings present a great market opportunity for sign makers looking to increase their business. Beyond the burgeoning industry growth, wallcoverings are a high margin application with the potential for high volume. This combined with the ease that installation can be sub contracted and the wide variety of materials available for all inkjet technologies makes it a an attractive option for sign makers. To view InteliCoat's recent Wall Mural Media and Applications webinar, visit the InteliCoat YouTube channel at

    About the Author
    As director of sales and marketing for InteliCoat Technologies, McCarron oversees the company's development and marketing of coated paper, film, and specialty substrates for wide format digital imaging applications within the award-winning Magic®, Magiclée® and Museo® brands. Due to his wealth of both hands-on and field experience, McCarron is regarded as a valuable resource and has visited 14 countries to train digital printers in the latest printing and finishing techniques. McCarron is a frequent speaker at industry conferences, trade shows, and conventions as well as a member of various industry associations. For additional information, visit

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