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How Wallpaper is Made: History, Raw Materials, Design & Manufacturing Process

How Wallpaper is Made: History, Raw Materials, Design & Manufacturing Process
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Wallpaper is a staple in just about every home or building you walk into. These days, there are so many different types and varieties of wallpaper to choose from. You’ve got subtle modern styles and designs, ancient rustic looks, or plain old coloured wallpaper.

It’s one of those things we look at and don’t really think about how it came about. We just think about wallpaper as coming from a DIY store somewhere. Rarely do we actually consider how it was made.

So, it’s time for a brief lesson for all of you, as we’ll explain exactly how wallpaper is produced and made into the sheets we see today. You’ll see the history behind it, the raw materials used, along with the design & manufacturing process.

To find all of this information, feel free to carry on reading this post.

The History Of Wallpaper

It may surprise you to know that you have to go all the back to the 13th Century before you come across the first signs of wallpaper.

Back then, wallpaper was more commonly referred as ‘domino paper’, and it involved mainly decorative pieces of paper/fabric.

The idea was that people stuck these small square papers to their wall, to pay homage to whoever was painted on it.

In most cases, religious icons were adorned on these papers, and people saw them as an opportunity to breathe new life into their otherwise baron homes.

Nothing noteworthy happened in the wallpaper field for another three centuries.

Then, in the 16th Century, there started to be new developments. A new type of covering was created for people to put on the walls in their homes. This was a lot more ambitious than the domino papers of the past, and more expensive too.

Here, you had sheets that contained an image, which was printed over and over again. There were also small sheets that had patterns on them, of which you could buy many to decorate your home.

The main players in the wallpaper game at this time were the British and French. It’s thought that people would spend good money from across the Atlantic, to get this wallpaper shipped to them.

Throughout this time, the process with which wallpaper was produced proved to be difficult.

People that created these pieces were known as wallpaper stainers, and they had a few major issues.

The first main problem was that it was nearly impossible to produce large sheets of wallpaper, meaning they had to use small sheets that were printed and stuck to walls individually to make up a pattern or design. This was the method up until the 18th Century, when it changed slightly.

Now, wallpaper stainers were sticking small sheets together, coating them, before finally printing the patterns.

The second main problem was that it cost a lot of money to print good looking wallpaper.

This changed in the 19th Century as wallpaper stainers changed their printing methods. Instead of block bringing, they opted for cylinder printing. This method of printing involved copper cylinders that had the paper design on them. They were attached to a machine, and the paper was passed through the cylinders and printed mechanically.

With block printing, wooden blocks were used for each individual colour, and it all had to be done by hand. The process was both time-consuming and way too expensive to make wallpaper affordable for everyone.

These days, newer printing methods have been introduced, but we’ll cover them in more detail when talking about the manufacturing process. Plus, the inks and materials involved to paint and coat the sheets have also been upgraded.

Raw Materials Used In Wallpaper Production

In total, there are 3-4 raw materials used in wallpaper production – depending on the type of wallpaper being produced.

Firstly, you have the backing, which can either be woven or non-woven. A woven backing is more fabric-based, while non-woven is pure paper. Typically, a non-woven backing is made using a variety of wood products. This can be wood pulp, ground wood, or a combination of pulp with another material. When dealing with woven backing, you’re likely to use various materials, but cotton is often the most popular.

Secondly, you have the ground coat, which is essentially just the background colour of the wallpaper. Once the coating is applied to the backing, it’s ready to receive the pattern itself. In modern times, the materials used to coat wallpaper is typically either vinyl or latex. Both of these raw materials have properties that make the wallpaper far stronger, and harder to rip. One or both of these materials is joined by various other things that further enhance the wallpaper and give it a particular feel, making it easier to use and drape over walls.

Thirdly, you have the ink which is applied on top of the ground coating. Different wallpaper printers use different types of ink depending on the quality of their products. One thing you can count on is that the ink will normally contain pigments to give it colour, along with something to help it fully blend in with the paper.

There is an optional fourth raw material, which is known as paste. Some wallpaper manufacturers use a paste to help their products stick to people’s walls. The paste is typically composed of cornstarch or something similar, and is activated by wetness. If you were to ever purchase a piece of wallpaper that’s got paste on the back, you would need to wet it and then stick it to the wall.

Wallpaper Design Process

Designing wallpaper is arguably the easiest part of the whole production process. It starts with a designer who will come up with various sketches of different design ideas they have. Companies can seek out designers and purchase their original ideas, or they can hire some and give them a design brief.

The very first draft of the design is done with pencil and paper, normally on tracing paper to help further down the line. Everyone gets together to analyse the sketch and figure out whether or not it fits the bill. If it gets the green light, the designer can them amplify their sketch, and add different colours to it.

After this step, the wallpaper company will discuss which printing method they’ll use. Then, the design is altered, so it’s ready for the specific printing method. The design pattern is given to whoever is in charge of the printing equipment, and they’ll apply it to their machines.

Next, a practice run takes place where some of the designs are printed as sample pieces. This gives everyone a chance to review the product, and decide whether or not full printing shall commence.

The Wallpaper Manufacturing Process

There are typically three main steps in the manufacturing process, one optional one in prepasting, and the final one which is packaging it up. Each step is outlined below:

Step One: Making The Paper

The process begins with the trees used to make the paper. A tree is chosen, then the bark is stripped off, and the main wood of the tree is ground down into a semi-liquid type mixture. This mixture is then turned into a groundwood sheet, which is one backing option for wallpaper.

There is an alternative method to creating paper, which involves putting the mixture through a pulp mill, and adding different chemicals. This will provide you with wood pulp sheets to use as backing.

Once the backing sheet of paper is created, it is sold to the wallpaper printer where they’ll cut it to size.

Step Two: Coating

The next step involves coating the paper to prepare it for printing. This is relatively straightforward, and ground wood sheets are normally coated in vinyl.

Wood pulp sheets are most likely to be coated with latex. Regardless of the coating type, it will be coloured accordingly, depending on the wallpaper design.

Step Three: Printing The Pattern

This step will differ depending on the printing method in use. Modern wallpaper printers will normally choose between one of the four options below:

  • Surface Printing: The wallpaper pattern is fixed onto metal rollers using slightly elevated rubber material. The ink is then applied, and the rubber pattern will press onto the paper as it is passed through.
  • Silk Screen Printing: A hand-printing method that involves creating stencils for each pattern using a silk screen. The screen is then set on top of the sheet of paper, and ink is applied. The stencil keeps getting moved along the sheet until it’s completed.
  • Gravure Printing: The wallpaper pattern is engraved into copper cylinders, which the paper passes through. The engraved cylinders get pushed onto the paper, depositing the ink. Once completed, the paper is dried and passed through the next roller with a different colour.
  • Rotary Printing: Stencils are wrapped around rotary cylinders, and the process is very similar to Gravure Printing in that the paper passes through and ink is applied through the stencilled pattern. However, the look is similar to silk screening, but is completed far quicker.

After these three steps, the wallpaper is produced and ready to go. Unless it is prepasted, in which case the wallpaper is rolled with a wet starch-based coating, then dried. Next, it’s onto the packaging process, which differs from manufacturer to manufacturer.

Once quality control is approved, the wallpaper is ready to be shipped off and sold in stores or online.

There you have it, you now know how wallpaper is made. Who’d have thought such a common thing involved so much complexity and precision?

Do you want to have a wallpaper fitted in your business or home? Give Highly Decorated a call today and we’ll provide a free, no obligation quote and advice.

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