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Wallcoverings Glossary


Public and private buildings that experience high traffic require more durable wallpaper, and that is where contract wallcoverings come in. Whether the building is a hospital, hotel, school, office, or retail outlet, this particular wallcovering can take more abuse than the average wallpaper. It is more durable and not as likely to show marks or scratches as the typical wallpaper.

Contract wallcoverings is made from three different types of material and three different durability types. Each of the three types is composed of three layers.

Fabric-backed Vinyl

The name derives from the additional fabric or synthetic substrate added to the back of the wallcovering. Once applied to the back, the backing is laminated. It is the most popular type of contract wallcovering because of how sturdy it is.

Vinyl-coated Paper

This contract wallcovering has a base material onto which the decorative pattern is either coated or sprayed using a polyvinyl chloride or an acrylic vinyl.

Solid-sheet/Paper-backed Vinyl

A contract wallcovering with a paper base material that is laminated to a decorative surface.  With the durability of this wallpaper, you can scrub it and when necessary peel it to replace it.

Type I

While durable, Type I is the lightest duty wallcovering and typically is around 19 oz and less than 54” per yard. It must meet several minimal requirements set by the Federal Specification CCC-W-408D; breaking strength, blocking resistance, crocking, and tear resistance. They are most commonly found in waiting areas and calm spaces, such as waiting rooms in doctor’s offices or hospitals, hotels, and offices.

Type II

Type II offers a stronger covering than Type I and at a lower cost than Type III. It is typically between 20 and 32 oz per 54” linear yard. Locations with heavy traffic, such as the entry way of a public building or hallway of a hospital commonly have this wallcovering because it meets a higher Federal Specification for abrasion resistance, colorfastness, and stain resistance, in addition to having higher standards than all of the specifications regulated for Type I.

Type III

The most durable of the contract wallcoverings, Type III is exceeds 22 oz per 54” linear yards, making it ideal for locations with extremely heavy regular traffic. It has the highest standards for all of the Federal Specifications regulated for both of the other types, and has additional specifications for blocking and cold cracking resistances, coating adhesion, and heat aging resistance. Type III is best used for wainscots or low areas of walls that are likely to get kicked or banged up more than higher areas of the wall.


Specialty coverings tend to be both more decorative and functional than the average wallpaper, but they have special applications. They are very eye catching in their design. There are also some types that are vinyl to provide additional durability.


Acoustical wallpaper acts as a sound dampener between the room and whatever is on the other side of the wall, whether it is a garage, neighbor, meeting room, or auditorium. A combination of artificial polyesters and olefin fibers helps to reduce the sound made either in the room or outside it. Acoustical wallcoverings have an NRC, or noise reduction coefficient, to help you determine how much noise will be reduced by each roll of covering.


This aptly name wallcovering is made of cork peeled from a cork oak tree. Because the tree regrows the bark within a decade, there is no need to chop it down to make use of its trunk. You can find natural looking or laminated cork wallcovering, making it easy to create a different feel in various rooms by simply changing the color. There are many perks to cork, from its high resistance to rot and mildew to a mild sound and heat insulation.


This is a specialized wallcovering that offers a reflective cover to your room. Made from crushed silicate, the mica particles (also called vermiculite are applied to the front of a metallic paper.


As the name suggests, this particular wallcovering is made of grasses and plants. Like cork wallcovering, plants are chosen that are quickly renewable, including jute, sisal, and abaca. The grasses are then dyed and laminated to a paper backed wallcovering to create a natural textured look.


One of the oldest types of wallpaper, linen gives a room a classic look from natural fibers. They tend to be more breathable, so that walls do not trap moisture. Linen wallcoverings are also more resistant to mold and other growths.

Non Woven

Made of polyester and a wood pulp, non woven wallcovering is a lightweight alternative to PVC. It can be as durable as a Type II wallcoveirng.


Organic wallcoverings are made of sustainable resources. Environmentally friendly and biodegradable, this wallcovering can be very durable for years.


Similar to the other woven wallcoverings, paperweave is made from a blend of papers, like rayon and cellulose, that are woven to make unique designs. Before weaving the papers together, the materials are dyed with water based dyes. Once the weave is complete, it is laminated to a paper backing. The paper gives your wallcovering a more even tone than other natural materials.


For a grand look and feel, silk brings a level of beauty and rich coloring to the room. In addition to brightening the room, the silk creates a shimmering look because of the way silk is structured. Because of the way it reflects light, this wallcovering will create a slightly different feel depending on the angle at which you view it.

Textile Wallcovering

Textiles are made of several synthetic blends, including olefin, polyester, and rayon. These blends are added to acrylic backing, then a stain-resistant finish is applied to the surface. To qualify as a textile wallcovering, the wallcovering must pass a test for abrasion, crocking, and flame resistance.

Wood Veneer

Wood veneers are a stunning addition to the room. With more than 200 different trees to choose from, you can find almost any color and design to match your needs. The wood is typically dyed to create a more consistent look for color and grain.

Dry Erase/Writable

The perfect wallcovering for young children or office conference rooms, this particular type of covering is made of vinyl and polyester. The materials are laminated to your choice of non woven or woven backing. You can write on them using a dry erase marker to maximize the amount of space you have for artistic ideas or to fully cover all of the points of a presentation without a clunky machine.


All three types of wallcoverings are composed of three layers to ensure the durability.

Decorative Layer

As the name suggests, this is the layer that contains the patterns, designs, and other elements of interest. It is also the thinnest of the three layers. The designs and colors are added through several different methods, including flexography, gravure, and screen printing. A polymer coating may be added for protection and to enhance the look.

Intermediate Layer

This layer is multifunctional and may also be referred to as the ground level. It acts as the surface on which the design is created and serves as the background color to the design. It varies in thickness from a very lightweight used in Type 1 to heavyweight usually with solid vinyl.

Backing or Substrate

The layer that is applied directly to the wall, the backing or substrate determines what type of wallcovering the final product will be. There are four types of materials that are generally used for this layer.

Paper Backing

Backings made of paper, this type is used for vinyls, vinyl coatings, and specialty products.

Woven Fabric Backings

The woven fabric backing is called scrim and is used in areas for light construction. A second kind, called osnaburg, is better for areas that see medium to heavy usage, particularly hallways and corridors.

Nonwoven Fabric Backing

This backing has different grades, giving you the opportunity to select a type based on your needs. They allow for elegant printing techniques without having to sacrifice the strength of the wallcovering. They are frequently used for commercial buildings.

Latex Acrylic Backing

This backing is often coupled with textile to offer greater stability.


Contracted wallcoverings must meet strict mandates set by the federal government before the term can be applied to a product. To ensure the mandates are met, the following 16 character tests are conducted on the product.

Abrasion Resistance

The ability to hold up under rubbing, scrubbing, or scraping that over time can cause removal of the covering from the wall’s surface.

Blocking Resistance

The resistance to items sticking or adhering to other surfaces with wallcovering after touching under set conditions for loading, temperature, and time. 

Breaking Strength

The ability to hold up while being pulled.

Coating Adhesion

The measure of the strength of the adhesion between the surface layer and substrate layer.

Cold Crack Resistance

The resistance of the layers to cracking when exposed to lower temperatures for a set period of time and then being folded. 


The ability of the product to retain its color over a period of time of being exposed to light.


The resistance to transferring color from the covering to an item that rubs up against the surface.

Flame Spread

The resistance of the wallcovering to flames that spread at a rapid rate when exposed to an ignition source.

Heat Aging Resistance

The resistance of the layers to deterioration when exposed to higher temperatures for a set period of time.

Mildew Resistance

The ability to deter or limit fungal growth, particularly mildew, on the decorative layer.

ScrubabilityThe ability to hold up to being scrubbed with a brush and prescribed detergent.


The ability of the wallcovering not to shrink over 1% when immersed in water for at least 30 minutes, then being set out to dry.

Smoke Development

The ability of the covering to produce less smoke when exposed to an ignition source.

Stain Resistance

The resistance to showing noticeable visual changes after a re-agent is applied then removed.

Tear Resistance

The resistance to further tearing.


The ability to hold up under occasional cleaning with a damp sponge and a prescribed detergent.

Pattern and Dye Lots

Every roll of wallcovering identifies the pattern that was applied and the dye lot used during production. The pattern number shows what design and color were used, while the dye lot specifies the batch in which the roll was produced. This is important because typically you want to use the same dye lot for a complete room. Minor discrepancies in color occur between the different dye lots, and can affect the way a room looks when multiple dye lots are used. The pattern number can be used to easily identify what pattern to request if you need additional wallcovering.

Prior to beginning the application of the wallcovering, all of the rolls should be checked to make sure the same pattern number and dye lot are on each roll. The information should be recorded and stored for later use in case it becomes necessary to order additional wallcovering.

Once the process begins, three strips should be applied and checked for uniformity before the project continues.  

Pattern Matches

Wallcovering that have a repeating pattern that requires precision will need to have pattern matching conducted over the course of the process. The check ensures that the vertical distance between the two identical points on different strips are appropriately aligned. The distance between one point and the next one in the pattern is called the repeat. This distance varies based on the pattern; it could be as small as a few centimeters or it could be the entire length of the roll. The repeat depends on the pattern.

The process will require one of three types of pattern matching based on the type of repeat the pattern has. In some cases the pattern will use a straight hang, such as plaid, other times it will require reverse hanging to ensure the repeat lines match up.

Drop Match

Some patterns are not meant to be aligned straight across, and these are called drop match. There are two types.

Half Drop Match

Every alternating strip aligns at the halfway point between each of the vertical pattern repeats. The strips in between begin at the same point, but the design runs diagonally. You will need to apply three strips to verify that the pattern has been done correctly. Marking the strips to be odd and even can help you ensure that the right strips are applied in the right order. However, if you do mark the strips, use a light pencil marking on the back of the wallcovering.

Multiple Drop Match

The difference between a half and multiple drop match is the number of strips to set the pattern. This drop match is difficult as it requires at least four strips, sometimes more, to match the design pattern. 

Random Match

The easiest of the wallcovering patterns, this one does not require any special attention to the way the strips align, such as stripes, linens, and grasscloths. Most of these should be reverse hung so that the pattern is alternating, creating a more visually appealing alignment. Some patterns, such as stripes, do recommend a straight hang to ensure the directional quality. This can be the most environmentally-friendly as it wastes less covering since it is not dependent on the repeat pattern.

Straight Match

The type of matching most people are familiar with, the straight match, repeats the pattern on every successive strip. Typically, it has a straight hang, but the occasional design requires a reverse hang.


Adhesion is applied to the back of the substrate layer with a roller or machine. Several types of adhesives are required for the various types and weights of wallcovering. The different purposes of the wallcovering require a range of formulas to meet the uses. Adhesion is measured based on how easy it is to apply, solids, strippability, and wet-track. More specialized levels include VOC and antimicrobial resistance. Details and method of application are included with the rolls and should be followed during the application process.

Cellulose Adhesives

With a water content of about 97%, cellulose adhesives are the least sticky of the adhesives. It is commonly found as a dry white powder that you will mix with cold water when you start the application of the wallcovering. They are not intended to be used for medium or heavy types, rather they are meant for the lightweight types, such as silks, murals, paper-backed corks, and grasscloths. The high water content means that it will not hold as well as the stickier adhesives, but they leave very little residue or powder when the wallcovering is removed.

Clear Adhesives

Natural polymers are the primary base of these clear adhesive pastes, including cornstarch and wheat. They can also be made of synthetic polymers, or additives such as biocides, cellulose, or flow agents. Water content is between 60 and 70%. Touted as strippable, clear adhesives are the preferred adhesive for sheetrock in the event that strips need to be reapplied. They do not have a single purpose or a most common use, making them the most widely used for the different types of wallcoverings, including light and heavy weight types.

Clay Adhesives

The primary difference between clear and clay adhesives is the addition of clay to the paste to increase both the wet-tack and solid level. This means that these adhesives have a higher wet-tack, but are harder to clean. As a result of the addition of clay, the water content is lower, between 40 and 50 %. Originally, clay was added to provide a more reliable adhesive for hanging commercial vinyls with a fabric back.

Vinyl Over Vinyl (VOV)

VOV is specialized with the intent for it to provide a commercial application over existing vinyl wallcovering that is to be pasted over with a new vinyl wallcovering. It is the stickiest of the adhesives and can be used for installations that are particularly difficult, particularly if a more tenacious adhesive is required. Before applying a new layer of wallcovering, you will need to ensure that it will still comply with flammability standards. Multiple layers of wallcovering can increase both smoke generation and flammability, two considerations that need to be analyzed to ensure the wallcovering does not pose a risk.

Mildew and Mold

The primary cause of these two fungal growths is having an excess of moisture, whether from a wallcovering that does not breathe or walls that hold in the moisture. Mildew and mold can cause discoloration and deterioration. If either of these are noticed, it is important to locate the source to reduce or elimination the moisture. In the event that the moisture is coming from the wall cavity, it is better to use a wallcovering that has a much higher permeability rating.

For buildings in areas that are humid or near large bodies of water, it is important to consider the risks of mildew and mold caused by moisture that comes through outside areas. This moisture tends to be trapped behind the wallcovering. If you live in a location where the inside and outside temperature are drastically different and the building will be vacant for long periods of time, such as schools or areas of a hotel, condensation is a serious concern. You will need to make decisions about your wallcoverings and adhesives to minimize the problem.

When making your selection consider the building’s tightness. The tighter the building, the less moisture can escape. Review the building for liquid water infiltration and have it repaired. Determine where condensation is likely to occur because of cold surfaces. Analyze the amount of moisture generated within the structure itself by the occupants and their regular duties.

The following points can help you reduce the moisture, and ultimately minimize the risk of mildew and mold.

-          Avoid having multiple wallcoverings. If there is already existing wallpaper, remove it before applying the new wallpaper.

-          Ensure that air pressure is positive so that moisture is less likely to infiltrate the wallcovering.

-          Select wallcoverings that are breathable.

-          Add vapor minimizers and airflow on the outside of the structure to ward off moisture. If possible, analyze the full wall assembly with an eye for condensation likelihood based on cooling and heating cycles.

-          Select hydrophobic materials that have a low moisture content. This will help keep the area enclosed and dry before the interior finishes are complete.

-          Add a method of allowing high-moisture rooms (like bathrooms) to exhaust moisture outside.

Discuss moisture and vapor control and how it will affect each of the types of wallcovering you are considering to get the best results.


Permeability refers to the amount of moisture that passes through the wallcoveirng. You can check the permeability rating which is based on the amount of moisture that passes through the covering over a specific amount of time. The measurement is in perms, and the higher a material’s perm, the more moisture the material will allow to pass through to the wall. ASTM E-96 is not an official test, but it is used by many companies as a way of letting consumers know what the permeability.

To optimize the benefits of vinyl wallcovering, you need to minimize moisture accumulation. By keeping moisture from accumulating on the wallcovering, you are protecting the wall from moisture penetration. Problems with the design or maintenance of a facility can encourage moisture build up, which can be exacerbated by some types of wallcovering as it serves as a barrier to the moisture escaping.

The best way to reduce the risk of trapping moisture is to have an analysis conducted on the walls. If areas are detected that will trap moisture or could be a potential source for moisture accumulation, correct it and verify that it is no longer a problem before installing the wallcovering. While the more moisture resistant wallcoverings can protect the walls from external moisture, they cannot combat moisture that accumulates in the walls. Alternatively, you can improve permeability for some vinyl wallcoverings with microventing or a high quality perforation. Once it is perforated, the covering can be installed. Proper maintenance will need to be done to the wall on a regular basis.


ANSI stands for American National Standards Institute, and it helped develop the sustainability standard for the industry. NSF International is a third-party certifier that tests and certifies products according to the standard set by ANSI. The NSF/ANSI 342 applies to all of the different types of wallcovering products for their entire life expectancy, from material to disposal. The standard tracks these aspects to ensure transparency in how each product performs, as well as details about the different manufacturers and distributors.

NSF/ANSI 342 focuses on six primary areas:

  1. Innovation
  2. Product manufacturing
  3. Product design
  4. Long-term value
  5. End of life management
  6. Corporate governance

To qualify, both the manufacturer and distributor must be certified for the product they sell and distribute.