A Basic Guide to Interior Wall Graphics

Oracal 631 Wall Graphics

To install successful interior wall graphics, you need to use the right vinyl and the right application tape.

Anyone who’s been in a craft store or visited Etsy.com recently knows that interior wall graphics are big business. Because of this explosion in interest in using sign vinyl for  interior decor, we humbly present this updated basic guide to interior wall graphics.

Why do we need a special guide for wall graphics?

Experienced sign and graphics folks need to understand that interior wall graphics pose unique challenges. If you start with the idea that you can use the same materials and techniques that work for window and auto glass or aluminum sign blanks, you’re in for problems.

For hobby users, all of this is new. Basic guides for self adhesive vinyl may not deal specifically with wall text & graphics. This article covers the basics of what to use, how to apply it, and where to get more detailed information for further study. Let’s take a look at the unique materials, surface challenges, and application tips that will make your wall graphics applications successful.

1) Unique Materials: Choosing The Right Vinyl

To install successful interior wall graphics you need to use the right vinyl. There are two particular features most interior wall installations require. For most wall décor graphics, you’ll need a vinyl with a matte finish and a removable adhesive.

The matte finish is important because interior lighting can produce hotspots of glare on traditional glossy vinyl surfaces obscuring the text or graphic.  Matte vinyl is a rare commodity in the sign industry. Out of the over 30 different lines of self adhesive plotter films we stock, only ORACAL 631,  EnduraMATTE, and MACtac 8900 have a matte finish.  These have proven to be very popular with our customers installing wall words.

The other critical element is the adhesive. Most vinyls have permanent adhesives designed for long term outdoor use. These aren’t good for interior décor, trade show graphics, or promotional retail signage. When it’s time to remove the graphic, a permanent adhesive can damage painted walls. The aforementioned 631, EnduraMATTE, and 8900 films all have low tack removable adhesives, so they’re perfect for these applications. (Avery 700 High Performance (formerly known as A6) has a luster finish that may be suitable for indoor signage, but it comes with a permanent solvent adhesive. While it can be used for long term indoor signage, it’s not suitable for seasonal interior home décor or promotional retail signage.)

2) Unique Materials: Medium Tack Application Tape

Now that you know what vinyl to run through the plotter, let’s talk tape. Getting the vinyl and tape combination right can be almost as important as choosing the right vinyl. These matte finish films have unique surface properties that gives them that appealing matte finish. These can also make it more difficult for most tapes to make a secure bond with the face film. With some brands, this means it’s hard to get the cut and weeded vinyl off the release liner.  This is complicated by the fact that, after pulling the vinyl from the liner, the tape has to release the vinyl so that the vinyl sticks to the wall.  That wall may not be vinyl friendly, especially if it has a dimpled texture. More on that later.

So the tape’s adhesive compound must be aggressive enough to pull the vinyl off the liner, then passive enough to let go if it so the decal can stick to a painted wall. Manufacturing “passive-aggressive” transfer tape is quite a challenge for the tape manufacturers and there are only a few that get it right.

The best of the bunch is Main Tape’s Preview Plus GXF100. GXF100 is a medium tack clear tape that works well on EnduraMATTE, MACtac 8900 and ORACAL 631. Click here to read more about this nifty product and its features.  Since Preview Plus is transparent as the name implies, it offers the added bonus of a better-looking finished product for those who sell do-it-yourself wall graphics or signage.  If you prefer a traditional paper tape over a clear pre-mask, you can opt for Main Tape’s medium tack PerflecTear Plus GXP750. This may present a challenge with removing some vinyls from their release lines, but there’s a way around that. More on that shortly. For a complete guide to matching transfer tape and vinyl- including “wall vinyl”- please click here.

Surface Challenges: Pushing the Envelope

Self adhesive plotter films were designed to replace paint in commercial signage. So they’re made to adhere to standard industry substrates like glass, aluminum, and plastics. All of these have very smooth surfaces that produce a good bond between the substrates and the vinyl’s adhesive.  Putting these films on interior painted walls is pushing the envelope. So it’s important to understand what kinds of walls will and will not work with vinyl graphics. Yes I said the “N” word. It may not work. Let’s understand why.

Texture: Putting vinyl on any surface that is rough or porous seriously degrades its ability to adhere. Textured, painted walls are some of the toughest challenges in the vinyl world today.  The rougher the surface, the weaker the bond with the adhesive will be. Severe textures like brick will require expensive cast vinyl such as 3M 1J8624 or MACtac RoughWrap. Unsealed concrete walls present a different challenge. They’re not that rough, but are very porous. Getting graphics to stick to such walls requires the use of a vinyl with a unique high tack adhesive like PrismJET 235 High Tack or Hexis VCR200.

Paint: Most interior walls are painted. Unlike the sign industry, there isn’t a standard vinyl-friendly paint in use on interior walls, so there are variables that can affect success. The two most common interior paints used are enamel and latex. Enamel is best because, like glass and aluminum, it provides a smooth, non-porous surface. Latex is more porous and is not as suitable for vinyl graphic application. The bigger issue with paint is out-gassing. Freshly painted walls emit gaseous solvents until the paint cures. If these gases are trapped under an applied vinyl graphic, they may cause bubbles or react chemically with the adhesive and weaken it leading to failure. That’s right, I said the “F” word. Putting vinyl graphics on any freshly painted surface will lead to failure due to out-gassing of the substrate.  ORACAL advises that you allow paint to cure for at least five days before applying vinyl graphics.

Drywall & Dust. Now that we know to wait until the paint is fully cured, we can focus on what’s under and over the paint; drywall and dust. Drywall problems can also lead to vinyl failure and can be difficult to spot. ORACAL’s Wall Graphics Installation guide advises “Moisture behind drywall…can cause the drywall paper to release. Watch for walls that back up to cooling systems, water pipes, overhead windows or windows that have been boarded up. These areas are prone to condensation that may not be obvious at the time on installation.” In other words, make sure the drywall isn’t really a wet wall in disguise.

The last surface problem to watch for is simple dust. A textured wall can hide enough accumulated dust to cause to adhere only temporarily.  If you apply a wall graphic and it falls off the wall within the first 24 hours, dust may be the culprit. Fortunately, this problem is easily avoided. Just take a minute to wipe down the wall area with a dry tack cloth or a lint-free cloth before installation to make sure it’s clean and dust free.  Or advise your customers to do so.

5 Application Tips: The devil is in the details.

Now that we’ve covered the basics, it’s time to talk about the details. As with any craft, little things can make the difference between fun and frustration. So to help steer you toward fun, here are five simple wall graphics application tips.

Fig 1 - Oracal Flip Tip

To help transfer the weeded graphic from the liner to that wall, turn it over and remove the liner by pulling it upward.

1) ORACAL Flip Tip: ORACAL 631 may be the most difficult in this regard, but all ORACAL vinyl is a little harder to remove from the Kraft paper release liner.  To help transfer the weeded graphic from the liner to that blank, barren wall, turn it over and remove the liner by pulling it upward. (As shown in Fig. 1) Don’t throw away that release liner yet. We’ll use it in Tip #4.  For more details on this handy trick, please refer to our March 15th “ORACAL Flip Tip” Blog Post.

2) Heating Paper Tape: Remember that reference to a paper tape tip above? Well here it is. If you’d rather use standard paper tape than clear, you’ll need to use a medium tack tape, as noted above. A high tack tape is usually required for pulling ORACAL vinyl films off the release liner. But if you use a high tack tape for wall graphics, chances are you won’t be able to transfer the decal to the wall. So you’ll need to use a medium tack tape. But medium tack tapes have trouble with ORACAL’s stiff face film. So, to get the vinyl off the liner, you may need to use a little heat.  Use a heat gun or blow dryer to warm and soften the tape’s adhesive. Then squeegee it firmly and do the ORACAL flip tip. For more details on this tactic, please refer to our June 16th “Applying ORACAL 631” blog post.

Fig 3 - Squeegee Finesse

After having squeegeed the masked graphic to the wall, begin peeling the tape at one corner. As you uncover the edge of the vinyl graphic, use your squeegee to move along the vinyl and keep it pressed to the wall.

3) Squeegee Finesse: No matter which tape you use, you may have to work a bit to get the masked vinyl to adhere to a textured, painted wall. After having squeegeed the masked graphic to the wall, begin peeling the tape at one corner. As you uncover the edge of the vinyl graphic, use your squeegee to move along the vinyl and keep it pressed to the wall, as seen in Fig. 2. This added pressure helps the vinyl to resist the pull of the tape as it’s removed. A nylon squeegee with a fairly thin edge works best for this technique.

#4) Release Liner as Finishing Film: Now get the Kraft paper release liner you set aside earlier and use it to cover the vinyl graphic while you apply firm pressure with your squeegee to secure the vinyl to the wall. Applying pressure to the liner instead of the squeegeeing the graphic directly allows you to apply a lot of pressure without worrying about scuffing the vinyl or the surrounding paint.

#5) Keep it Dry: Always use dry application techniques with wall graphics. Sign makers often use application fluid to ease the positioning of a vinyl graphic on the substrate. With wall graphics, this is a not a good idea. Adding application fluid may damage the paint. And, depending on the surface texture, the fluid can become trapped in the paint’s pores and cause adhesive failure.

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