How to wallpaper a ceiling – 5 steps for getting pro results

Wallpapering a ceiling isn't easy, but if you’re up for a challenge this fail-proof method will ease the way

Wallpapering a ceiling
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Keen DIYers need to know how to wallpaper a ceiling. Walls aren’t the only surface that will benefit from wallpaper. Now it seems that decorative wallpapers are defying gravity and finding their way onto ceilings. But unless you’re a champion decorator, it’s best to start plain before you venture into pattern.

Below, we take you through the steps to wallpaper a ceiling like a pro.

How to wallpaper a ceiling

Knowing how to wallpaper a wall needs to be somewhat rethought for wallpapering a ceiling. Your biggest challenge is defying gravity, which makes it awkward to prepare the surface – perhaps you have to remove wallpaper first before applying a new one – and though pros can tackle a ceiling alone, for mere mortals it sure helps to have a partner in crime. Below we take you through the steps to help you get your ceiling ideas right first time.

Start with prepping and gathering the kit, including measuring for wallpaper to ensure you have the right amount before you start the job. 

You will need:

  • Wallpaper 
  • Paste
  • Pasting brush
  • Paper hanging brush or smoothing tool
  • Seam roller
  • Pasting table
  • Bucket
  • Sponge
  • Damp cloth
  • Sharp scissors
  • Tape measure
  • Tacks
  • A string and pencil or chalkline
  • Dust sheets
  • Trestles or step ladders and scaffolding boards

1. Prepare the ceiling

Put down dust sheets and set up a platform to work from. A scaffolding board arranged across two trestles or step ladders is ideal. For a smooth finish, first fill any holes or cracks, and use sealant over any stains. Clean the ceiling with detergent. Brush the ceiling with size (diluted wallpaper paste) to create a good key for the wallpaper and allow it to dry.

2. Mark a guideline

The usual place to start is at the window and then work away from it. ‘If the room isn’t a straightforward shape, choose the longest length of paper first, as the starting point,’ says James Greenwood, Wallpaper Specialist at Graham & Brown

‘For best results with patterned wallpaper, center the paper in the middle of the ceiling.’

For the first length, mark a guideline on the ceiling, a roll-width from the wall, minus ½in (12mm), which will allow the edge to overlap onto the wall. Use a couple of tacks or drawing pins with string stretched between them to get a straight line, and mark it with a pencil, or use a chalkline. 

3. Start hanging the wallpaper

Measure the length you need, adding 2in (5cm) at each end and cut out the piece. Once you’ve pasted it, make concertina folds along the length, without creasing the paper. ‘If you’re working alone, you can use a cardboard tube or spare roll to carry the weight of the paper while you’re hanging it,’ says James. If you have an assistant, they can support the concertina folds on an upturned broom while you work.

Facing the window, standing on the right of your support and holding the folded paper in your left hand, position the free end of the paper on the ceiling against your pencil marks or chalkline. Use your hand and the paper hanging brush to smooth it into place. Release the next fold, and move along, brushing this section into place, and continue in the same way. 

Now go back and pull the paper away where it meets the walls, trimming the edges to fit the ceiling. Wipe away excess paste with the sponge or cloth. Hang the next and subsequent lengths, butting the edges together. Use a seam roller to smooth them flat.

4. Wallpaper around ceiling light fittings

Turn off the electricity at the consumer unit and unscrew the fitting. Hang the paper in the usual way, but when you reach the fitting hang the paper over it, and then make a series of cuts from the center point of the fitting outwards. (Make a cut from the edge of the paper to the fitting if needed.) This effectively creates a ‘hole’ for the fitting. Continue pasting the length, then go back and trim the excess paper. When you screw the fitting back, the cut edges will fit neatly.  

'For larger ceiling roses, use the same method, making small cuts in the paper outwards from the center of the rose,’ says James. Now push the rose through the paper and loosely press the paper into place. Next, trim off the excess around the rose.'

5. Use paste-the-wall or peel-and-stick wallpaper

‘When wallpapering a ceiling using paste-the-wall wallpaper, make sure you apply paste to the ceiling an inch wider than the wallpaper you are about to hang,’ says James. 'This means you can hang the second length of wallpaper without worrying about applying paste over the first piece. Use a small paint brush to add paste at the top of the wall, or around the light fitting. This will ensure even coverage in difficult areas and avoid the wallpaper “lifting” when dry.’

Applying peel and stick wallpaper to a ceiling is another option that's great for first timers since it is easier to reposition as you work. It does, however, require the surface to be prepped differently: some peel and stick wallpaper may require you to apply a coat of gloss paint or satin paint to the walls before you hang. 

Where do you start when wallpapering a ceiling?

When wallpapering a ceiling, always hang the length, starting at the window and ending at the opposite side of the room, so that the wallpaper is hung away from the light. This is the best way to avoid shadows on the wallpapered surface.

If you are wallpapering walls, too, always start by wallpapering the ceiling, before moving down to the walls. 

Why wallpaper a ceiling?

There are many reasons to wallpaper a ceiling. The most basic is to cover an uneven or cracked surface; you can then paint over wallpaper on a ceiling for a perfectly flat finish, though you may want to check how to paint a ceiling since again it differs slightly to painting a wall

'Ceilings wallpapered with an eye-catching design are very on trend at the moment, which is another reason to do so,' says Lucy Searle, Editor in Chief, Homes & Gardens. 'Carrying the print from the walls up onto the ceiling creates a cocooning effect in a bedroom, while a wallpapered ceiling in an otherwise plain room can look very effective.

Lola Houlton
Lola Houlton

Lola Houlton is H&G's long-term intern. Currently student of Psychology at the University of Brighton, she began writing content for Real Homes around the subjects of children's and teenagers' bedroom, in particular covering the psychology of teens and their approach to tidiness. From there, Lola expanded her knowledge of a broad range of subjects and now writes about everything from organization through to house plants while continuing her studies.