Wallpaper Anatomy

This page explains the physical characteristics of residential and commercial wallcoverings.  The manufacturer's label should always be checked for stippability, cleaning methods, durability and other physical properties, as these vary.

Wallcovering backing material

The surface of wallcoverings products usually commands the majority of attention paid to wallcoverings, but the backing material is just as important with regard to function and installation.  The various types of backings are:

Paper backings:  Used on paper backed vinyls, vinyl coated papers and specialty products.

Woven fabric backings:  Common materials used as this backing are scrim, osnaburg, or drill cloth.  Scrim is used mostly in light construction.  Osnaburg is installed in medium to heavy usage areas.  Drill cloth is used in the heaviest wallcoverings.

Non woven fabric backings:  Non woven wallcovering substrates are produced on a paper machine from a mixture of long fiber cellulose pulps and textile fibers combined with binders. The web is reinforced with acrylates and pigments are added to provide opacity. Special additives are used provide wet strength and absorbency. Non wovens provide a substrate that is dimensionally stable when wet thus allowing a paste the wall technique to be used for hanging.

Latex acrylic backings:  Used on fabric wallcoverings to allow for stability and improved hanging qualities. 

Types of residential wallpaper 

Wallpaper products today offer not only a wide variety of patterns, but also a variety of protective coatings. Basic wallpaper categories:

Vinyl coated paper:  This wallpaper has a paper substrate on which the decorative surface has been sprayed or coated with an acrylic coating.  The proper name for this type of paper should be acrylic coated paper, but the inaccurate name has caught on and is used in it's stead.  These wallpapers are classified as scrubbable and strippable, and are suitable in most any area. These papers are better resistant to grease and moisture than plain paper, and are good for bathrooms and kitchens. 

Coated fabric:  This wallpaper has a fabric substrate coated with liquid vinyl or acrylic. The decorative layer is printed on this coating. This is generally considered more "breathable" wallpaper which makes it best for use in low moisture rooms, like living areas. 

Paper backed vinyl/solid sheet vinyl:  This wallpaper has a paper (pulp) substrate laminated to a solid decorative surface. This type of wallpaper is very durable since the decorative surface is a solid sheet of vinyl. It is classified as scrubbable and peelable. Solid sheet vinyl can be used in most areas of the home since it resists moisture and is stain and grease resistant. However, this type of wallpaper will not withstand hard physical abuse.

In-register paper-backed vinyl:  Solid vinyl layer of material is laminated or bonded to a paper backing sheet. These wallcoverings have a heat-embossed (raised) effect to register (fit) the pattern design, and provide a multitude of textural effects.  These wallcoverings have a high quality appearance and are durable because the decorative surface is solid vinyl.  They resist moisture, stains, and grease and are scrubbable and peelable but will not withstand extreme physical abuse. Cleaning may be more difficult due to the raised pattern. 

Fabric backed vinyl:  This wallpaper has a substrate laminated to a solid vinyl decorative surface. General categories of this type of wallpaper include: 
       a. Solid vinyl - this wallpaper consists of a vinyl film laminated to a fabric or paper substrate. It is generally considered the most durable wallcovering because the vinyl is a solid sheet and not applied in a liquid form. This type of wallpaper is ideal for consumers looking for a great degree of washability, scrubbability and durability. 
       b. Paper - this type of wallpaper refers to wallpaper with a paper substrate/ground combination upon which the decorative layer is printed. True papers are not coated, but some may have a coating applied to seal in the inks. Because this type of wallpaper varies widely, check the label for attributes of the pattern/brand you want to purchase.

String effect:  Wallcoverings that have very fine vertical threads laminated to a paper type substrate. Threads may be of a man made material or natural fiber such as silk or linen. These wallcoverings should not be subjected to abuse and require great care in their cleaning.

Flocked wallpaper:  Wallcoverings made by a machine that shakes very fine cotton, silk, rayon or nylon fibers from a hopper over a pattern printed in varnish or slow drying paint to give the appearance of velvet or damask or create a three dimensional effect.  These wallcoverings should not be subjected to abuse and require great care in their cleaning.

Expanded vinyl / paintable wallcovering:  An "expanding agent," added to liquid vinyl, makes the wallcovering expand in size after it is heated at high temperatures, producing a three dimensional effect. Vinyl is printed on a paper substrate and may be strippable or peelable.  This wallcovering provides a unique and dramatic appearance and  retains three-dimensional effect after hanging.  Good for imperfect walls, over paneling or concrete blocks; usually pre-pasted and paintable.  It is best used on larger walls, where the design and visual effect can be seen to best advantage.  It can cover defects in wall surfaces but is not suitable for areas requiring frequent cleaning, which may be more difficult due to the raised pattern.

Natural fibers:  Natural materials, such as vines, jute, wool, seagrass, coir, cork, hemp, sisal, cotton, and grass that have been dyed and laminated to a paper backing. After lamination, the product is printed, using conventional methods. There will be some shading, as the wallcoverings are natural materials. They are usually unpasted.  They provide a natural and textured character to decoration and are available in an extensive variety of color combinations.  They are ideal for low-traffic areas, such as living and dining rooms.  Can require specialized cleaning techniques.

Murals:  Wall decoration with a pictorial design that continues over two or more strips of wallcovering and is intended to cover part or most of a wall without repeat. These scenes may be photographic, digital, custom, hand, or machine printed. They also can be printed on on nearly every substrate.  Cleaning care and durability widely varies depending on the manufacturing technique and materials used.

Foils:  Constructed by laminating a thin sheet of aluminum foil onto a substrate of paper or scrim. Foils sometimes have a polyester sheet between the paper backing and the foil to prevent water in the adhesive from actually contacting the foil.  These wallcoverings may have a pattern printed on the foil surface.  Many times they are constructed not of foil but of mylar-like material.  It is not actually mylar, but metallized PVC.

Molded wallcovering:  Permanent wall covering coated with a wood flour and linseed oil mixture on a paper backing which is molded instead of printed.  These wallcoverings normally have a raised pattern and are paintable.

Glass textile wallcovering:  Paintable, decorative and functional wallcovering for interior wall and ceiling surfaces. Designed for strength, health, safety and design versatility.  Unusual wall and ceiling conditions may require special procedures and application techniques.  Woven glass yarns treated with a modified starch binder.

Liner paper (blankstock):  Blank paper used under wallpaper. Lining paper is a traditional product used under fine wallcoverings to absorb excess moisture from the finish wallpaper.  It allows seams to dry sooner and safer, and the promotes short term stability of the installation.  Benefits of use include:
    a.  Provides a smoother surface for final wallcovering.
    b.  It is very porous and serves as an excellent base for decorative wallpaper application.
    c.  It sets (bonds) the seams and controls the expansion/contraction process (moisture and vapor bubble reduction).

Bridging liner:  Porous under-wallcovering material designed to cover irregularities on walls or smooth surfaces, such as brick or paneling,  to hang decorative wallpaper.  Woven or non-woven (spun), either synthetic or a blend in composition.  This material may also be painted though many will want to hang liner or float joint compound over the bridging material for a smoother surface.

Types of Commercial Wallcoverings

Commercial wallcoverings are produced specifically for use in hotels, apartment buildings, office buildings, schools and hospitals. They are manufactured to meet or surpass minimum physical and performance characteristics set forth in Federal guidelines (Federal Specifications CCC-W408). The guidelines focus on requirements for flammability, tear strength, abrasion resistance, washability, scrubbability, and stain resistance. Examples of various types of commercial wallcoverings are:

Vinyl coated paper:   Wallcovering that has a paper substrate on which the decorative surface has been sprayed or coated with an acrylic type vinyl or polyvinyl chloride (PVC).

Paper backed vinyl/solid sheet vinyl:  Wallcovering that has a paper (pulp) substrate laminated to a solid decorative surface. This type of wallcovering is very durable since the decorative surface is a solid sheet of vinyl. It is classified as scrubbable and peelable.

Fabric backed vinyl:  Wallcovering that has a woven substrate of fabric or a non-woven synthetic substrate. In either case, the substrate is laminated to a solid vinyl decorative surface. General categories of this type of wallcovering include: 
    Type I: Light duty commercial grade wallcovering weighing between 7 and 13 ounces per square yard.  Generally produced on a scrim or non-woven backing.
    Type II: Medium grade commercial wallcovering weighing between 13 and 22 ounces per yard.  It is produced on an osnaburg, drill, or non-woven fabric backing.
    Type III: Heavy duty commercial grade wallcovering, weighing in excess of 22 ounces per square yard.  Usually produced on drill fabric backing.

Natural textile:   Wallcoverings are usually laminated to a backing to enhance dimensional stability and to prevent the adhesive from coming through to the surface.  These backings are usually acrylic or paper.  Textiles are manufactured in a variety of widths and are constructed of natural fibers.  Natural textiles can be finely designed or coarse in texture depending on the desired look.

Polyolefin/synthetic textile:   Wallcoverings are woven and non-woven looking and were developed to give the aesthetic 
appearance of a natural textile while adding an increased value in stain and abrasion resistance.  These products are generally put up with an acrylic or paper backing. Many of these products are comprised of polyolefin yarns, which are olefin fibers made from polymers or copolymers of propylene.

Acoustic wallcoverings:  Designed for use on vertical surfaces, panels, operable walls and any place sound reduction is a primary factor such as meeting rooms, offices, theaters, auditoriums, restaurants as well as corridors and elevator lobbies.  These products are predominantly made of man-made polyester and olefin fibers, and are tested for a special sound attenuation rating known as a Noise Reduction Coefficient (NCR) rating.  This rating indicates the amount of sound absorbed into the wall.  The higher the number, the more noise absorption.

Cork and cork veneer:  They have a variegated texture with no definite pattern or design. Cork veneer is shaved from cork planks or blocks and laminated to a substrate that may be colored or plain.  Cork naturally absorbs sound, insulates, provides visual contrast and can be used as a bulletin board.

Wood veneer:  These wallcoverings are mostly laminated to fabric backing. They are usually made in sheets 18 to 24 inches wide and provided in any length up to 144 inches long. Due to characteristics relative to environmental and grain matching, wood veneers are used mostly in the office or conference room environment along with some other specialty areas, such as  large columns.

White board:  This style of wallcovering has a white plastic coating that enables the wallcovering to be used as a writing surface or as a backdrop for video displays or slide presentations.  Erasable markers are used to draw presentations or notes.  Generally utilized in board rooms or conference areas.

Electromagnetic wallcoverings:  Are used to shield sensitive computer equipment from the harmful effects of electromagnetic energy. These are constructed utilizing metallic shielding material.  These wallcoverings are used where computer equipment or computer storage equipment is housed.

Information used on this page graciously provided by Graham & Brown.


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