A lot of people struggle with how to customize their walls beyond painting or hanging pictures/art/mirrors. Wall graphics are popular, however the selection of designs can be limited or expensive depending on what you want. I had briefly sold handcrafted graphics on Etsy but due to the complexity of preparing large scale murals for shipping and the birth of a new baby (now 12 weeks old), I just don’t have the time anymore. They are easy to make and you can trace out basic household items like plates and bowls to come up with an attractive design. And the sky is the limit once you get going — you can make a small cluster of designs or a huge wall mural.
A couple of recommendations before we start:
- Only use on eggshell or satin finish painted walls. It may stain flat wall finishes and it may not adhere as well to high-gloss paint. Semi-gloss paint is one that I’ve had mixed results with.
- Allow painted walls to cure for about a month before applying graphics to reduce the risk of pulling off paint when you go to remove them.
- Don’t attempt to remove graphics in hot weather. Latex paint gets stretchy and it can pull off with the graphic when it is warm out. Also, don’t use a hair dryer to attempt to remove graphics as it will likely heat up the paint and cause stretchiness.
Vinyl usually removes without damage to the underneath walls so long as you follow the above advice.
Ready? Here we go!
There are several types of sign vinyl available. I prefer to use Oracal 631 because it has a matte finish. If you use a glossier vinyl, it will be more likely to look like a decal instead of a painted part of the wall, and it will also enhance any flaws in the wall finish underneath (bumps, dings, etc). Oracal 631 comes in 15″ and 24″ widths. The 15″ does have perforations on the sides so there is actually 14″ of usable width. It also has a handy grid pattern on the backing paper. And — it holds up well in steamy areas. I’ve had them in my bathroom and a friend has been experimenting with them in her kitchen over her stove.
The clear vinyl in the front is clear application transfer paper. This is helpful if you’re creating graphics that have cutouts (like these seedpod flowers) because it ensures that it will apply to the wall without crinkling or bunching. It’s also useful for placement because it holds the graphic until you get it exactly where you want it — you can move it around until it is positioned properly. But the transfer paper isn’t necessary for putting up graphics in your home. In fact, I never used it until I started making graphics to sell and wanted to make sure placement and application was as straightforward as possible for the buyer. It can be a bit pricey, but it lasts a long time.
To start, you’ll need a template. I highly suggest using posterboard to make your template because it is sturdy and reusable. You can sketch out a design or trace some simple geometric shapes — varying sized circles, for example. Repetitive graphics in two alternating colors are attractive but not overwhelming. You can still hang pictures or art around them and they don’t take over the whole wall. Or if you want the graphic to be a large-scale centerpiece, you could always use a projector to trace out the template to the size you want. I would suggest taping the posterboard together and then cutting down from there. Here I am going to use saucer templates.
Cut out your shapes. They will want to curl up due to being on a roll for a while. And don’t worry if you see oil from your fingerprints on the matte finish vinyl — it washes off with soap and water or glass cleaner.
Stick this edge down on the bottom layer once you figure out where you want it positioned. You don’t want to pull the whole backing off yet — if you do, you’ll end up with a slew of air bubbles underneath. Once the vinyl is stuck together, it is very difficult to separate to get the bubbles out. Another thing to keep in mind is that lighter colored vinyl may be slightly “tinted” by the color underneath it, as you can see with the yellow.
If you use the side of your fingers as a squeegee, the backing will slide out as you move across to adhere the layers together. Make sure you inspect the layers as you go along — if you notice any big bubbles, pull back slightly and smooth down again until they are gone.
Now we have two contrasting saucers to put on the wall. This is where the transfer vinyl can come in handy. If you’re not using transfer paper, you can peel the backing off similarly to how you attached the two layers — place the one side on the wall and then smooth across to avoid air bubbles. The positive of using two layers of vinyl together is that it makes the vinyl sturdier and less prone to curling.
Now, if you’re using transfer paper, you will start by cutting a piece large enough off of the roll. Place the graphic face down on the adhesive side, smoothing across the back of your graphic from one side the the other to adhere them together.
Examine it from the front to make sure there are no huge wrinkles or bubbles. It is pretty easy to smooth out bubbles from the front because the transfer vinyl is low tack. Smaller bubbles are okay and won’t affect application to the wall.
Once the graphic is positioned into place, rub hard with your fingers or use a credit card as a squeegee, either working from one side to the other or from the center out to the edges to adhere it to the wall.
Finally, pull away the transfer paper. When you get to the edge of the graphic, you will want to pull at a sharper angle to separate the transfer paper from the graphic. Smooth down the edge of the vinyl again as it will likely pull away from the wall a bit. The rest of the transfer paper should pull away from the graphic easily and your graphic will be in place on the wall.
Now, there are a number of ways to go about creating your template. You can use simple repetitive geometric shapes or stylized outlines:
Or you can base your graphics on an image. A good way to go about this is to continue to use simple shapes to make up the image. You may want to print out the image and trace the shapes you will use to make up the image onto transparency paper. Then, using an overhead projector (I have an old-school one), you can enlarge the image from the transparency to the size you need and trace that onto posterboard. You will cut out your template from there. I did this for the following three graphics: jellyfish and a firetruck that were custom orders, and the third is part of a racecar theme in my son’s room:
Another neat option of vinyl is that you can draw on it with Sharpies! This is a great way to personalize and embellish your graphics, especially to add fine detail that would be difficult to make out of vinyl. However, this will render the graphics un-washable as you could potentially smear or wash off the detail you added. You’ll also want to be careful when applying the marker so that it has adequate time to dry and to not smear it with your hand as you work on different areas. I used black sharpie marker on both the peacock feathers in my kitchen and the pair of Things for a friend’s twins:
And last (but not least) woodgrain adds a unique touch to vinyl graphics. I prefer the heavyweight woodgrain vinyl at Design Your Wall. I’ve used both their rosewood and zebrawood vinyl and have been very impressed with how realistic it looks. However, it is more expensive. Aubuchon Hardware has a decent selection and you can also find some on eBay if you search. Here is the DYW rosewood vinyl used for my beloved NYC skyline:
I hope you found this tutorial inspiring! If you have any questions, please leave a comment and I’ll be happy to clarify. You can also check out more of my custom graphics in my Flickr set.