Papering ceilings

Papering a ceiling is not as difficult as it looks. With a sensible scaffolding arrangement and the right technique, the job is no harder than papering an ordinary wall.

How much paper? First decide which way the paper is to be hung, as this determines how many lengths of paper can be obtained from one roll. A standard British roll of wallpaper measures about 10m long, is between 500mm and 550mm wide and covers an area of around 5.3m2. A roll of Canadian wallpaper contains about 3.34m2 of paper, so allowing for trimming, matching and cutting strips to size, around 3m2 can be covered.

To estimate the number of rolls required for your ceiling measure the length of each wall (ignoring any protrusions such as chimney breasts) add the measurements together and match the total against the chart.

Other materials

All papers suitable for walls can also be used on ceilings. However, if you choose an embossed ceiling paper, remember that it turns yellow very quickly and must have at least one coat of emulsion paint applied after hanging. Heavily-embossed ones such as Anaglypta usually need two coats of paint for a good and even finish.

Different papers require different pastes for hanging and your wallpaper stockist can advise on which is the best for your chosen paper.

The ceiling must be sized, or lined with lining paper, to make it less porous before you start hanging. With cellulose wallpaper paste, you can use some of this, diluted, as your size. Cold-water starch pastes require a special glue size.

Lining paper

Lining a ceiling with lining paper is not essential but gives a more lasting finish—providing you hang it at right-angles to the direction which the top paper will eventually take. Also, it prevents the ceiling plaster from showing through if gaps should appear between the joints of the top paper— embossed and Anaglypta papers have a tendency to shrink as the paste slowly dries out.

A final plus for using lining paper is that it absorbs paste more evenly than plaster, thus making it easier to apply the top paper.

Preparing the ceiling

Whether or not you decide to apply lining paper, the ceiling must be thoroughly clean and free from loose or flaking paint. Gloss paint must be rubbed down with glasspaper and any cracks filled with a cellulose-based filler. Any old paper must be completely stripped off so the ceiling is left as smooth as possible for the application of the new layer.

Where to start

Where possible, all papering should start and work away from the natural daylight source. This system prevents shadows from obscuring the joints as you hang the paper. Obviously if there are windows at both ends of the room, either one may be used as the starting point. Where a bay window is involved, the first length should be hung across the opening of the bay. Then work back towards the top of the window.

Before you start papering, get yourself properly prepared so all essential equipment and materials are to hand. The erection of a proper scaffolding arrangement is the most important piece of preparation.


Makeshift scaffolding is extremely dangerous. To be safe you need two pairs of sturdy stepladders and a wide scaffold plank.

Experiment with the positioning of the plank so you have it at a height which does not make you stoop or stretch as you apply the paper. Check the height by standing on the plank and reaching up to the ceiling— you should be able to touch it comfortably with the palm of your hand.

Marking a guideline

The scaffolding should be set up under a chalked guideline which marks the outside edge of the first strip. To work out where this line should run, measure the width of the paper and deduct 10mm. The deduction allows for bumps and other imperfections at the junction of the ceiling and the wall. Measuring out from the wall, mark off this measurement on the ceiling at either end of the first run of paper.

Next, fix a steel drawing pin into the ceiling at one of the measured points and tie a length of twine around it. Thoroughly rub the twine with coloured chalk then pull it taut across the ceiling to the other measured point and fix it securely. Pull the centre of the twine down from the ceiling, letting it snap back into place. This leaves an accurate guideline by which you can hang the first length of paper with just the right amount of overlap at the side wall.

Cutting all the lengths of paper you need at one time is useful as it cuts down on the number of interruptions in your work flow. Measure the length of the first strip carefully against the wall allowing at least 100mm excess for trimming. Subsequent strips can then be measured and cut against it.


To paste a length of paper evenly, slide it across the board so that it overhangs the edge furthest from you (the back edge) by about 10mm. This prevents the paste from being deposited on the board or on the other lengths of paper.

Apply a full brush of paste down the centre of the paper—the larger the brush the quicker the paste can be applied, thus avoiding the risk of drying before the paper is hung.

Brush the paste outwards over the back edge with an overlapping crisscross action to avoid missing any patches of paper. Gradually draw the paper towards you, overhanging the front edge by about 10mm, as you apply the paste.


When you are sure that the length of paper has been completely coated in paste, fold it ready for hanging. Fold over the first 300mm paste to paste, lift the fold and place it on top of the next 300mm. Continue this pattern down the whole length to obtain a concertina-type series of folds. This enables you to release the paper in manageable lengths on the ceiling.

Before climbing up onto the scaffolding to hang the pasted paper, make sure that you have a paper-hanging brush and a pair of sharp scissors or shears within easy reach— in the pocket of your apron or overalls. A cleaner cut is obtained if you take the trouble to clean the paste from your scissors after each length of paper has been trimmed.

Hanging the paper

Place a part roll of paper or cardboard tube under the concertina-folds of the pasted length—this supports the paper and should be held parallel and close to the ceiling at all times. If you are right-handed, take the roll, with its folded, pasted paper on top, in your right hand and hold the paper in place with your thumb—leaving the top fold free.

Pull this top fold open and lay it onto the ceiling against one end of the chalk line. Taking the brush, smooth down the centre of the section then to the edges to expel any air bubbles under the surface.

Make sure this first fold is running true to the line and then release the next fold and smooth it out in the same way. Any adjustments which are needed should always be made with the flat of the hand—never use fingers as the concentration of pressure may tear the wet paper.

When you have applied a few folds of paper, you can move around so that you are facing the roller and the folded paper. Walk along the platform, slowly releasing the folds and brushing them into place.

Continue hanging the paper in this way until the whole length has been pasted up. The surplus paper can now be trimmed off allowing 5-10mm to remain hanging down the wall. This makes for a cleaner finish when the walls are papered. If you are papering up to coving (crown moulding), crease the paper against the edge to make a cutting guide, then trim off the excess.

Paste and fold subsequent strips in the same way as the first, applying them to the ceiling and using the edge of the previous strip as the guideline. Take care not to overlap the strips— they should only butt tightly up against each other.

To get a really neat finish and to ensure that the edges are well stuck down, use a seam or angle roller on the joints. The joints should be rolled after the paste has set—say every four lengths of paper.

The full face of the roller should not be used on embossed paper as the pressure will flatten out its design. In- of the roller stead, use the edge directly on the joints.

Lights and chimney breasts

The paper will need to be cut so that it fits round obstructions such as light fittings. If the fitting is near the edge of a strip, you can cut from the edge of the paper inwards to the centre of the fitting. Make a few cuts outward to form a star pattern and press the paper over the fitting. Thread the loose electrical flex through the hole and smooth down the rest of the strip. Trim off the excess paper with a sharp knife.

Where the fitting comes in the centre of a strip, poke a hole through the paper with your scissors. Make star-shaped cuts outward from this point and finish off as above.

How you paper around a chimney breast depends on whether it is parallel, or at right-angles, to the direction of the ceiling paper.

When the chimney breast is at right-angles, make a cut along the length of the strip—equal to the depth of the breast minus the usual 10-15mm overlap—and smooth the paper into the corner. Repeat on the other side of the chimney breast.

If the chimney breast is parallel to the direction of the ceiling paper, smooth the paper right into the corner. This makes a crease mark indicating the depth of the chimney breast on that strip of paper. Crease another mark at the point where the side wall of the chimney breast and the ceiling meet.

Next, gently peel the strip back from the ceiling and cut down a line connecting the two creases. Replace the strip, checking as you smooth it down that the other side is lined up with your chalk line or correctly butted against the adjacent strip further out in the room.

As you continue along the face of the chimney breast, leave the excess paper to hang down the wall. When you get to the other edge, make a cut upwards from the waste edge of the strip. You can now smooth out the rest of the strip over the ceiling and trim in the usual way.

The final strip

The final strip of paper will almost certainly be narrower than a standard width. If this is the case, you will find it easier to hang and trim if the piece is measured and cut to size. Allow about 50mm extra on the strip then paste, fold and hang it as above.

Liven up your ceilings

There is no reason at all for ceilings to be the most boring aspect of any room. Imaginative use of borders and bold patterns can liven up even the most bland ceilings.

The sunburst design needs to be carefully marked out and masked off with tape after the ceiling has been given an all-over coat of paint.

To draw the circle in this design, you need a length of string and a piece of chalk. Tape the string to the centre of the ceiling rose and, with the chalk in the same hand, stretch it taut to the edge of the circle. Move slowly round until you have chalked a complete circle, keeping the string taut at all times.

The geometric design of the ultra-modern room is composed of painted lines and a border paper. A novel way of creating impact on a ceiling, this also harmonizes neatly with the rest of the room.

Diminishing squares can be laid out either with different coloured paints, or plain and patterned borders. The same is true of the matching squares on the ceiling and walls. In both cases, however, the effect is probably easier to achieve with wallpaper and borders as no masking off is involved.

All plain white ceiling paper should. have at least one coat of paint to prevent it yellowing, which gives you an ideal opportunity to make it just that little bit different from the norm.

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