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Design Files for Wallpaper: The Ultimate, Detailed Guide to Printing

Designing for large format printing like wallpaper comes with its own set of unique technical challenges. Due to the size of the medium, extra consideration must be given to the files submitted for production. This article aims to demystify the process and make it accessible to anyone wishing to work with a printer on wallpaper designs or any other large-scale project.

RGB vs CMYK: Battle of the Color Modes

Incorrect color modes are among the most common issues faced by professional printers. “Why doesn’t the print match what I see on my screen?” is one of the most frequent queries from customers.

The main problem here is that the vast majority of images you find on the internet and on digital cameras will be RGB (Red Green Blue) - a format explicitly designed for screen use. There are certain colors in this mode which are impossible to reproduce with traditional printing inks, especially when dealing with fluorescent colors.

By contrast CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, blacK) is based on the four inks used in commercial printing applications, ensuring a more faithful representation on screen of what you will be printing.

Note : For projects where color matching is absolutely critical, it is recommended to ask your printer for a press proof.

RGB mode vs CMYK mode for print files

Fortunately, setting the right mode is quite simple:

In Adobe Photoshop

Click on the Image Menu, scroll down to “Mode” and select CMYK, then save your image.

In Adobe Illustrator

Click on the File Menu, scroll down to “Document Color Mode” and choose “CMYK color”. This will also automatically transform any embedded images in your file to CMYK as well.

The Importance of Image Resolution

By far, this is the most important concept when designing for anything larger than a small poster. But what exactly is resolution? Wikipedia defines it as “equivalent to pixel count in digital imaging”. But what does that mean, and what are pixels?

The easiest way to understand this is to think of every digital photo or image as a mosaic composed of tiny square tiles. Each tile is a pixel, and the amount of detail one can attain in the mosaic depends entirely on how many of those little squares go into the overall image.

image resolution explained

The image on the left measures 25 x 25 pixels. The resolution is so low you can see the pixels more than you can see the actual image.

At 50 x 50 pixels the middle image has twice as much detail. You can now decipher what it is, however it still looks blurry.

The final image is 400 x 400 pixels and while it looks great on the screen, if you printed it bigger than 2 inches it would also look blurry. This is because computer displays operate at 72 pixels per inch, while high quality printing is at least 300 “dots” (the printing equivalent of pixels) per inch.

Finding the Resolution

So you’re ready to roll your sleeves up and tackle this resolution issue. Let’s say you already have an image on your computer and would like to see if it works for final print. There are several ways to determine this:

Using Adobe Photoshop

Open the file in Photoshop, click on the Image menu and select “Image Size”. It will not only tell you the physical size of the image in inches or cm, but also the actual resolution in terms of pixels per inch.

resolution in photoshop

Using Mac Finder

If you go to your folder, and switch to column view mode (third button from the left), then click on the image, you should see a preview of it in the far right column along with some details underneath, among which you will find the pixel dimensions of your image (width x height in pixels)

resolution in mac os finder

Using Windows Explorer

Right-click on the image and then select “Properties.” A window will appear with the image’s details. Go to the “Details” tab to see the image’s dimensions and resolution.

resolution in windows

Is The Resolution High Enough?

Once you know the pixel width of an image, some simple math can help calculate if the image will print well. Just divide the image width in pixels by the desired printed width in inches. For example, 2000 pixel image divided by 20 inch printed width gives us 100 pixels per inch.

Note : For any large format printing project, you want your files to be at least 150 pixels per inch, though higher resolutions may be preferred for highly detailed graphics.

Editing Resolution

A common question we receive is “Can we just add more resolution?”. This is a valid query and technically you can do just that. In Adobe Photoshop you can click the Image menu, select “Image Size” and just punch in bigger numbers. The problem here is that you are just using more tiles/pixels to represent the original, low quality image. No new details are added and all you achieve here is adding to the file’s size with no visual improvement.

File resolution source

A standard image @ 1000 pixels wide

File resolution expanded

Same image zoomed in @ 1000% and with resolution increased 10x. Notice the pixelation and blurring.

File resolution expanded

A better quality source image, zoomed into the same level of detail.

To ensure the quality of your wallpaper print, high resolution in the source file is key. For wallpaper projects using stock images, this usually means paying for the highest available resolution to ensure faithful reproduction at large sizes.

For those who are producing images with a digital camera, it is similarly recommendable to adjust your camera to maximum resolution (Raw Image Format) to eliminate blurring and pixelation.

The Power of Vectors

What if we told you there was a way you could skip all this ceremony and create files that have zero resolution, yet print with amazing clarity at any size? This is exactly what vector art does.

Simply put, vectors take a completely different approach to graphics. Rather than build a mosaic of many tiles, images are built on a series of points, lines and curves, mathematically plotted on a 2D grid.

Vector graphics explained

This not only drastically cuts down file size, but ensures that the file can be printed at any size, even a giant billboard will not lose image quality. The only catch is that vectors use solid shapes for rendering which makes them a poor choice for photographic murals, but more than ideal for most graphic patterns.

To highlight what makes vectors special here is an SVG file:

wallpaper pattern

If you were to increase the font or zoom level of your browser, the image would appear clear no matter how close you got. Here is a side-by-side comparison of this same image in pixels vs vectors zoomed in to 1000%:

wallpaper pattern resolution comparison

This is possible because vectors are “resolution independent” and are basically coded instructions for a printer. The best part is that you don’t have to understand code to leverage this powerful file format. Indeed, most of the major stock image houses provide an impressive collection of vector graphics

You can also use a program, like Adobe Illustrator to create vectors from standard images. While the end results for photos are not always ideal, this is a valuable tool for making sure that logos, icons and other crisp graphics retain their detail at larger sizes.

Designing Wallpaper Patterns

As discussed in a related article the first step is to identify the core part of the pattern which is being repeated. Here’s an excerpt from that article:

The core pattern of a wallpaper design can be determined by finding elements which are repeated both vertically and horizontally, creating a square or rectangle around the repeatable area.

Core Design of a Wallpaper Pattern

Creating Perfect, Seamless Tiles

By far one of the most common challenges we face in user submitted designs is ensuring that the pattern itself is 100% seamless, so each panel flows into the next without any change. The easiest way to do this is to simply make copies of your design and put them side by side to check horizontal seams, then above and below to check vertical seams.

Here’s an example of something we were sent. At first glance it looks great, but zooming in (at least 500%) reveals imperfections. There is a break in the design where some elements are not aligning properly.

wallpaper pattern edge which is misaligned

Our designers went in and cleaned up the design to ensure that all elements are lined up and the border between each repeated section is completely invisible.

wallpaper pattern edge which is aligned

This process usually quite straightforward when printing solid colors, but extra care must be taken when a background has a texture or uneven colors like gradients so everything aligns without any visible edges or seams.

Here’s another example from a client: their design included a parchment texture in the background. On its own, again, everything looks great. But as soon as the pattern is put side by side it is clear where one ends and another begins.

visible seam on a repeated texture background

In this particular case our designers opened the file in Photoshop and used the trusty rubber stamp tool with a large, soft brush (hardness set to 0%) in order to borrow textures from other places and create a smooth transition.

invisible seam on a repeated texture background

Designing Wallpaper Murals

Since murals are designs that occupy an entire wall, more consideration should be given to the placement of design elements. You don’t want the focal point or best parts of your mural covered up or out of place. Many of these decisions will come down to personal preference.

For example if you enjoy nature, the following orientation of this wallpaper might seem more appopriate near the bed.

asian wallpaper oriented from left to right

Or if you are a more cosmopolitain type you may prefer to flip the canvas and rest under a scenic view.

asian wallpaper oriented from right to left

Regardless of preference, a successful design will interact with its surroundings, including furniture, lighting and accessories to create a harmonious composition of your space that best reflects your character/aesthetic.

Technical Requirements

Murals require far larger file sizes so you will need a speedy CPU with at least 8-16GB of RAM to edit, process and potentially repair a large image. Since the files are often greater than 2GB they will be need to be saved as Large Document (.psb) files.

You will also need a digital printshop which can produce rolls of printable wallcoverings at least 48” in width. Find someone with a proven track record in large format printing and graphic design services to ensure quality.

NOTE: We highly recommend paying for press proofs. These are small samples to provide an accurate preview of your final rolls. This is also the phase where you can catch mistakes, correct colors, and potentially save a lot of wasted time/resources. If color and quality matter to you, always print proofs before pulling the trigger.

Digitizing Old Wallpaper

Sometimes designing a wallpaper from scratch is not as accessible or appealing as reproducing discontinued or rare wallpapers. Recent years have shown a great increase in the number of people remodelling their homes with a touch of wallpaper nostalgia.

The success of this method hinges on the quality of the original sample and the quality level of your scanning equipment or camera. This is not a task for novice designers. You will definitely want to contract people who specialize in this process and have a proven track record for quality and service.

Image of a colorful wallpaper pattern on a computer display with the original sample leaning against the screen

As this process is beyond the scope of this article, we recommend learning more from a related article: “How to Reproduce Existing Wallpaper Designs”

Wrapping It Up

We hope that this article serves as a starting point for anyone interested in producing their own custom wallpaper rolls for remodels, renovations and the purchase of new property which continues to drive demand in this growing sector of the printing industry.

Designing files for wallpaper doesn’t have to be complicated or stressful, but the truth is it certainly can be, depending on the level of your proficiency and ambition. If you ever need a proper assessment of your project, or just want to talk to a pro about all things wallpaper related, feel free to Call Us at 212.619.5446.

About the Author

Steven Garcia is a multimedia artist & graphic illustrator from Brooklyn, New York. With an extensive background in fine art and history, Steven currently oversees prepress operations at Fine Print’s Restoration Department - industry leader in digital recovery of rare, damaged or lost art. He also curates and performs restorations for, the internet’s #1 source for rare & vintage NYC images. When he’s not creating or repairing graphics, he’s traveling the world, renovating properties and recording music.

Frequently Asked Questions

Health & Safety Concerns

Are your wallpapers hypoallergenic, and how do they cater to individuals with severe allergies?

Our wallpapers are designed with health and safety in mind, catering to the needs of individuals with severe allergies, asthma or other respiratory ailments. By selecting materials that are less likely to harbor allergens, our products aim to create a safer, more comfortable indoor environment. Additionally, we ensure our wallpapers are resistant to mold and mildew growth, further supporting the well-being of sensitive individuals.

How do your wallpapers ensure indoor air quality is not compromised?

Maintaining indoor air quality is a paramount concern for us. Our wallpapers are characterized by low volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions, adhering to stringent guidelines for indoor air quality. By minimizing the release of these harmful compounds, our products help ensure a healthier indoor environment, conducive to well-being and comfort. Through rigorous testing and compliance with industry standards, we ensure that our products maintain VOC levels that meet or exceed regulatory requirements, offering a safer choice for both residential and commercial spaces.

Are there any chemicals or synthetic materials used in your wallpapers that might trigger allergic reactions?

We are dedicated to producing wallpapers that are safe and non-irritating for all users, including those with allergies. Our products are formulated without the use of harmful chemicals or synthetic materials known to trigger allergic reactions, such as formaldehyde, phthalates, and heavy metals. This careful selection of materials underscores our commitment to health and safety.

How does your wallpaper resist mold and mildew growth, ensuring a safe environment for sensitive individuals?

Our wallpapers are engineered to resist mold and mildew growth, an essential feature for ensuring the safety and comfort of sensitive individuals. Through the use of inherently resistant materials and treatments, our products prevent the adherence and proliferation of mold and mildew, thereby promoting a healthier indoor environment.

What certifications do your wallpapers have regarding environmental and health safety?

Our wallpapers are backed by rigorous certifications that attest to their environmental and health safety. These include low-VOC certifications, compliance with international toxicity standards, and certifications for mold and mildew resistance. Through these certifications, we demonstrate our commitment to upholding the highest standards of safety and sustainability in our products. All materials are perfectly suitable for healthcare facilities, nurseries, retirement homes or any other environment where health is a primary concern.

General Wallpaper Questions

Is there a minimum square footage?

Yes, we have 50 square feet minimum per order.

What are the most popular sizes?

The three most requested sizes are 100, 300 & 500 square feet.

What is the maximum width x height you can print per roll?

The maximum roll size wisummaryh is 52 inches wide by 360 inches in length.

How can I make a payment?

We accept all major credit cards and company checks. Please note, a job ticket must be created and payment is required before we can start proofing/final production.

What is the standard turnaround time?

Once final proofs are approved, standard production time is 5-7 business days. Please note, production time may change depending on our current press schedule and how many specialty options have been selected.

Wallcovering Material Concerns

What kind of wallpaper material do you use?

Our wallpapers are a non-adhesive, fabric backed vinyl material which is installable via traditional pasting methods. They are available in matte, gloss, semi-gloss or textured coating/finishing options. We also offer peel and stick wallpaper.

Can I pick my own design/image?

Yes, if you provide high resolution artwork, we can print your custom design.

Is the material durable and washable?

Yes, ordinary dirt and smudges can be removed from the surface with a mild soap and warm water.

Is the material removable?

Yes, our wall coverings can be removed. Please note, all surfaces must be primed with a drywall sealer and water based primer prior to installation.

Do you provide installation services?

Unfortunately, we do not provide or recommend installation services, however the following article is a useful guide for installers: How to Prepare Wall Surfaces

Wallpaper Sample Questions

Can I see sample before printing my project?

Yes, you can order a press proof sample of your custom artwork. We offer four coating/finishing options: matte, gloss, semi-gloss and texture.

Can I see a digital proof before final production?

Yes, our pre-press department will provide two rounds of digital proofs for approval prior to final print production. Please note, any additional digital proofs will be billed accordingly.

Can you ship material/printed samples for my review?

We can not send out material/printed samples without a job ticket being generated into our system.

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