Production and installation techniques for professional results

Ten Steps to Successful Wall Murals

“If it was easy, everyone would be doing it!”—Francis Breakspear

Wall murals have similar production and installation techniques to vehicle graphics, but with some distinct differences. Here’s a 10-step program for wall mural success.

1) PrePress—Success starts in the oft-forgotten prepress department. The biggest headache they have is resolution. Wall murals are huge and require huge files. But clients seldom have enough resolution in their digital files to create a useable image. There are a couple of tricks though. Software like Genuine Fractals can help to add resolution to some images, if they are good quality shots to start with. If this still doesn’t do the trick, an 8x10 print can be made at a photo house and drum scanned for ultimate resolution. After the scanning comes the image cleaning. Even the smallest spec of dust becomes a monster when enlarged to wall mural size. The file has to be examined in Photoshop on a pixel by pixel level to correct any anomalies. Finally, the tiling is not as simple as it might seem. Care should be taken to avoid seams in obvious places, like through a person’s face. And care taken to maximize usage of stock.

2) Printing—The choice of substrate is crucial. Only a few manufacturers have print media specifically designed for use on walls. As well, color match is critical during the printing process. All of the panels in a mural should be from the same roll of stock. Even tiny discrepancies in media color show up strongly when the panels are mounted. Printing equipment also sometimes does not print consistent color from the left to the right. This difference may be too small to notice until the panels are placed side by side. Flipping the panels during printing, by printing one panel top first, the next bottom first, etc., can alleviate that problem by always aligning left to left and right to right sides of the panels.

3) Laminating—The type of laminate chosen for the project is important as well. Wall murals need to be able to withstand a fair amount of abuse, including regular cleaning. The laminate needs to be tough, cleanable and yet flexible and thin. During the lamination process the roller tension must be carefully adjusted to avoid stretching the prints. Stretched prints won’t align properly on the wall.

4) Layout—Measure the wall again to ensure proper fit. Unroll the mural panels and check for flaws. Have a large spotlessly clean area available. Lay the panels out on the floor and ensure proper alignment. Then trim to size with 1/2" overlap.

5) Wall Prep—Walls come in a myriad of surface conditions and paint types. Properly prepping the walls is the most important part of the job. Irregular surfaces will transfer through the graphic visually, so thorough filling and sanding is a priority. After a round of surface prep the wall needs a coat of primer so that the surface anomalies show. Then another round of the same thing to finish off any leftover glitches that only showed up after priming.

6) Paint—The paint finish on the wall is also critical. Pressure sensitive adhesives do not stick well to flat latex paint. This paint has a chalky surface that flakes off in a surface powder, not allowing the graphics to adhere. Old peeling paint is another hazard. The finish should be a gloss or semi-gloss acrylic, oil or lacquer paint. And it should be a smooth, even finish that has been sanded lightly after it is dry to enhance smoothness and promote adhesion.

7) Clean—As with vehicle graphics, the importance of a spotlessly clean mounting surface cannot be stressed enough. Thoroughly washing and drying the surface with lint-free cloths is vital. 

8) Position—The next step is to position the graphics on the wall. Using a scissor lift can save a huge amount of time and allow the installers to do a better job, thus also saving money. The panels should be taped into position on the wall before mounting.

9) Mount—If all of the previous steps have been performed properly, the mounting will be easy. Starting at the top and moving downwards, the backing paper is released while slowly pressing the adhesive mural onto the wall. Using a high quality squeegee and with careful handling, no problems should be encountered.

10) Finish—Finally, the finishing touches include removing errant bubbles, trimming edges and cleaning up the install site. No muss, no fuss, no headaches