By Jeff Goetze
Wall murals are not, in themselves, a new medium. From prehistoric cave paintings to first-century frescoes, people have always been decorating walls to change indoor ambience. Today, however, large-format digital inkjet printers and substrates optimized for photographic image reproduction have made large-scale environmental graphics more popular than ever in retail stores, hotels, museums, restaurants and other facilities—particularly since production and installation are both easier now than when frescoes involved the application of earth pigments directly to wet lime plaster. That said, the process still requires attention to detail.
Choosing an image
In some cases, the client will provide an image for a wall mural, such as a photo of a retail product for display in a store. In others, however, there may be many creative possibilities and perspectives to consider.
Murals for offices and public spaces, for example, may be chosen to support an architectural design scheme or simply to create a pleasant atmosphere. For these types of jobs, it is common for print service providers (PSPs) to assist clients in image selection, as they know from experience what has worked well for similar projects. Sources may include stock photography or partnerships with professional photographers and designers.
Some pro photographers have converted their archived images into wall murals and/or teamed up with PSPs who offer large-format graphic production and installation services. In many cases, they handle small-scale projects for such clients as medical offices, to put patients at ease while waiting, or food-service establishments, to create a distinctive ambience.
Sourcing photos only from experienced professionals is highly recommended. Otherwise, image flaws that might not be noticeable at first glance can become glaring imperfections when they are enlarged to wall-size scale. An amateur photo will rarely translate into a high-
Image selection is subjective, but to help guide the process, it is a good idea to ask the client the following questions:
1. What do you want the space to accomplish?
2. What is the purpose of the image (i.e. to motivate, relax or distract)?
3. What are the wall’s dimensions, the ceiling’s height and the lighting conditions?
4. Are there windows and will the image be consistent with the view?
5. Do these conditions require the image to make the space seem larger or, conversely, more intimate?
Another related factor is viewing distance. The greater the distance, the lower the file-size requirements for the source image.
Wall murals are often used in the greater context of interior design and, as such, the designer may want to enhance the illusion of the image by accommodating other physical components. One common example for a room without windows is to add faux sashes, panes, mullions and drapery to create the same effect as a window.
Choosing the substrate
The choice of printable substrate should be connected to the choice of image. There are a wide variety of wallcovering materials and adhesive-backed fabrics and vinyls that can be used to create photographic murals, each with its own set of esthetic properties and installation characteristics. Their surface textures, whiteness levels and opacities will all affect the look of the print.
Materials manufactured specifically as wallcoverings tend to provide the necessary thickness, texture and opacity needed to disguise any photographic imperfections. They can be applied with traditional wallpaper paste. Texture options may include woven canvas for museums and hotels, smooth velvet for corporate and health-care facilities and pebble finishes for images with softer details.
Self-adhesive fabrics offer print-and-stick functionality for application on a wide range of wall surfaces. Some are rip-, wrinkle- and stretch-resistant. And some allow cut-out contoured images to be applied, repositioned and removed without leaving any residue behind.
Wallpaper free of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) has been environmentally certified by organizations like Underwriters Laboratories (UL) for indoor use where volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are restricted. The material should also be mildew- and flame-resistant.
Another advantage of fabrics over shinier vinyls is they do not reflect glare from light in the room or coming in the windows. That said, conformable self-adhesive vinyl may be necessary for placing murals on surfaces that do not work well with traditional adhesives, such as rough-
While some smaller-scale mural materials can be installed by staff with no specialized training, full wall wraps should only be applied by professional graphic installers.