Wallcovering Basics


Commercial wallcoverings are produced to add design, color and durability to every vertical surface in any commercial facility – office buildings, hotels/motels, schools, government buildings, churches, healthcare facilities, retail establishments, restaurants, bars, casinos, and so much more.

For the most part, commercial wallcovering is wider (54”) than traditional residential wallpaper (27”) and is inventoried in large rolls (30 – 50 yards long). It has no adhesive or paste on the back and requires special care when installing to minimize seam exposure, pattern mismatching, and shading.

These wallcoverings can be applied to almost any substrate providing the surface is smooth, dry, primed, and clear of dust and dirt. This would include plaster/gypsum drywall, wood or metal based operable walls, tile/brick/cement block (a liner must first be applied or the surface skim coated). For each of these substrates the proper adhesive is required, but with the right combination of proper wall preparation and appropriate adhesives, the options are almost limitless.

Type I is for light duty or light traffic areas where abrasion is minimal - offices, hotel bathrooms and guestrooms, etc.

Type II is for medium to heavy traffic areas such as corridors, classrooms, lounges, foyers, etc.

Type III is for super heavy duty traffic areas. Although Type II wallcovering provides sufficient protection in most commercial applications, Type III provides extra protection in areas more susceptible to regular abrasion from items or equipment.

Life Cycle Analysis of Vinyl Wallcovering vs. Paint 


Fabric Backed Vinyl Wallcovering is composed of a solid sheet of vinyl film laminated (heat, time, and pressure) to a woven or non-woven fabric backing. The vinyl face film is typically decorated by printing a pattern and then reducing the glare by embossing (adding a texture) to the surface. There are Federal standards that address flammability, tear strength, abrasion resistance, washability/scrubability, and stain resistance. Additionally, performance standards allow one to determine where to best use this type of wallcovering.

Textile/Natural /Synthetic Wallcovering is composed of either natural yarns (silk, cotton, linen, jute, etc.) or made-made fibers (polyester, polyolefin, viscose, etc.). These yarns are woven in small geometric patterns (Dobby loom) or elaborate decorative patterns (Jacquard loom). They are typically 54-55” wide and have a paper or acrylic (liquid coating) backing. These backings keep the adhesive from leeching through during installation, provide an appropriate surface to which the adhesive can adhere, and provide dimensional stability to the pattern so it does not waver or fluctuate on the wall. Additionally, textile wallcoverings have their outward surface topically treated with a soil repellent finish to aid in the maintenance and cleaning of the wallcovering.

Acoustic Wallcovering is composed of synthetic or natural fibers. Synthetic acoustical wallcovering is normally composed of pre-and post - consumer recycled polyester that is laid out in batts, compressed, needle punched to mesh the yarns together, and uses heat to fuse the product to form a smooth backing. Natural acoustical wallcovering is made from natural fibers such as goat hair and is mechanically woven into coils or furrows and is most similar to carpet.

Acoustical Wallcovering is used in commercial projects where noise abatement or reflective sound reduction is required. Typical locations are theaters, auditoriums, recording studios, conference/meeting rooms, etc. Acoustical wallcovering is subjected to testing to determine the amount of sound energy absorbed by the acoustical wallcovering surface. The result is a “NRC” (Noise Reduction Coefficient) rating. The higher the number the more sound that is absorbed.

Specialty Wallcovering is composed of a variety of natural and man-made elements that are laminated to a backing and suitably manufactured or treated to be applied to the wall. The surface elements can be wood veneer, cork, Mylar (plastic), grass/reed, mica, stone, metal, beads, flock, paper, fabric, etc. all of which can be plain or printed. The origin of these elements and products is worldwide and as a result the widths, applications of use, maintenance, and prices vary greatly. Virtually anything that is textural, decorative, and visually stimulating is a candidate to be adhered to the wall.

Dry Erase Wallcovering is a dry erase coating that has been laminated to a fabric back. When installed, this provides a dry erase writing surface for the user. Dry erase wallcovering is a Type II product and installs like standard wallcovering. It is available in either a high gloss or low gloss (projection capable) finish.

Underliner is a blank stock-type wallcovering. It comes in different weights such as light, medium, and heavy. It can be plain paper stock or a non-woven type material. Liner can be used on almost any wall surface, such as plaster, sheetrock(drywall), paneling and cinder block. Its purpose is to provide a smooth surface for the installation of wallcoverings.


Microventing is a technological process used in congruence with vinyl that allows vapors to pass through wallcovering. Microventing helps eliminate the risk of accumulating excess moisture that can potentially cause mold and mildew. During the microventing process, tiny holes are punctured through the surface allowing the material to breathe. The most accurate way to tell if a wallcovering is microvented is to hold it up to a light source, making the tinyholes visible.

Microventing Information Sheet 

Wallcovering Adhesives

There are many types of adhesives, each formulated for specific applications. They all fall into two general groups:

  1. Clear, strippable adhesives
  2. Clay based adhesives


Some adhesives are formulated for lightweight and delicate fabrics, others for heavyweight vinyl and acoustical coverings.

  • Adhesives vary in level of wet-tack, solids, open-time, strippability and ease of application.
  • All wallcovering adhesives contain a biocide system. These systems are designed to prevent bacteria contamination and mildew / fungal infestation both “in the can” and on the wall.
  • Vinyl wallcovering adhesives are generally applied to the back of the wallcovering, either by roller or pasting machine.

Typical Wallcovering Adhesives

Some adhesives are formulated for lightweight and delicate fabrics, others for heavyweight vinyl and acoustical coverings.


Pre-pasted activators were created to hang pre-pasted wallcoverings. While not adhesives themselves, they activate the existing adhesive, increasing slip and extending the open-time available (helpful when matching patterns). Using activators can be less messy, help minimize seam splitting, and reduce seam lifting.


Clear Adhesives are either corn or wheat based. They’re generally considered to have more open-time and are easier to clean up than clay-based adhesives. Most clear adhesives are meant to be strippable, meaning the wallcovering can be removed at some point with minimal damage to the walls. Clear adhesives are ideal for most wallcovering installations, both residential and commercial.


Clay Adhesives, like clear adhesives, are starch-based, but clay is added as a filler to increase the wet-tack. These are harder to clean up than clear adhesives, but have more bond to help hold deeply embossed wallcoverings, or when maximum adhesion is desired.


Vinyl-Over-Vinyl (VOV) and border adhesives contain synthetic polymers and are specifically formulated to bond to vinyl. In addition to the synthetic polymers, these adhesives may contain some starch and other ingredients to assist bonding. VOV adhesives require extra attention during application because once they dry; they make the border or wallcovering very difficult to remove. Vinyl-over-vinyl adhesives are specifically designed to install new wallcoverings over existing wallcoverings or borders to wallcoverings. Please keep in mind that fire ratings may be affected when applying vinyl over existing vinyl.

How To Install Commercial Wallcovering

If at any time during installation there is any sort of discrepancy between what you’re doing and what it says here, STOP! Contact your distributor before doing anything else. Always check product specific manufacturer’s instructions prior to beginning.


Before cutting, examine everything to make sure pattern and color match what was specified and the product is what you ordered. Check all roll tickets to see if more than one run or lot number of the same pattern was shipped and, if so, can be installed with no issues.


Cut panels and headers in roll number sequence, making sure that run numbers are broken at INSIDE corners only. Allow for matching of repeats and trimming at the ceiling and the baseboard.

Many matched patterns, geometric patterns and textiles should be table trimmed BEFORE installing. Use a sharp blade to minimize fraying of fabric (use one blade per cut). Other patterns should be overlapped and double cut on the wall. A double cutting tool or seam pad is recommended to prevent scoring the wall.


Install all wallcovering under adequate lighting and evaluate for color uniformity. When proper lighting conditions are not possible, duplicate the final lighting conditions as nearly as possible, including the natural light from windows. Take extra care to keep adhesives and dirt from the wallcovering surface.


After three panels have been hung on the wall surface and excess paste removed, examine the installed panels for uniformity in color. If any color variation is noticed, discontinue hanging and contact the distributor.

Special Considerations for High-End or Specialty Commercial Wallcovering Applications


  • Natural fiber color variation, slubs and knots are an intricate part of each textile design and add to the beauty and texture of each pattern. They’re a result of the manufacturing process.
  • Textiles are generally designed to be installed non-reversed and dry-hung.
  • EXTREME CARE must be taken to keep adhesives from the face of a textile wallcovering. Adhesives on the surface may be difficult or impossible to remove without staining. Clear, non-staining adhesives are recommended.
  • Remove selvage (excess trimmed edge) from the wall and close seams within one hour.
  • Dry hang acrylic-backed or un-backed textiles; that is, apply paste to the wall and not to the back of the wallcovering.
  • Paste the walls with a paint roller. Paste a section 4 to 6” wider than the width of the wallcovering. In some cases, the adhesive should be allowed to tack sufficiently in order to provide greater adhesion and prevent adhesive bleed through.


  • When installing textured or non-matched patterns, reverse hanging of alternate strips may be required to ensure color uniformity from strip to strip.
  • If the vinyl surface has a sheen (pearlescent or metallic), straight hang to get consistent light reflectivity.
  • Apply adhesive to the back of the vinyl using a pasting machine or roller. Work the adhesive to cover the back completely, especially near the edges. “Book” each strip, folding each end forward, pasted sides together, aligning edges carefully so they do not dry out.
  • DO NOT CREASE THE WALLCOVERING. Allow it to “relax” or “book” for 10 minutes. This allows the adhesive to penetrate the wallcovering backing.

How To Clean Commercial Wallcoverings

  • Always read manufacturer’s guidelines before you start cleaning.
  • Remove stains as soon as possible. The faster it’s removed the less chance the stain has to chemically react with the wallcovering. The longer it remains on surface, the more chance the stain has to discolor the wallcovering permanently.
  • Mild soap and water can remove ordinary dirt spots. Rinse thoroughly with clean water. Blot dry with a soft lint-free towel.
  • Stronger detergent can remove difficult stains that are surface deep-but try an inconspicuous spot first, before applying to the entire wall. Always rinse after applying any detergent. Do not rub spots abrasively.
  • DO NOT use steel wool, powdered cleaners, or active solvent-type preparations (nail polish remover, tar and bug removers, etc.). These will very likely damage the wallcovering.
  • Textile wallcoverings are an exception: like any textile, they require special care and you should follow the manufacturer’s advice. Vacuum occasionally to remove dirt and lint.

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