DIY Vinyl Wall Art




About: Game interface programmer / art chick / video game geek.

I live in an apartment and dig doing large-scale art.

Apartments, however, are usually a pain to paint and then paint to cover-up your awesome paint, and an especially big pain when you move around as often as I do.

I do like having bright, interesting spaces, so I was brainstorming on creating a large art piece that I could maybe mount on the wall, or other types of removable decor, and the universe smiled on my with inspiration from one of my favorite blogs: Nest did a neat post on using contact paper to make wall decals.

With contact paper as my medium, a Tim Burton-esque / Tokyo Plastic vision of swirls, and a hot afternoon (or AC busted that weekend with temps in the 90s!), I was ready to start doin' some art!.

This is my very first instructable, and I hope you enjoy it. Please send me questions. Thanks!

(Edit 1: Added pricing to supplies list. )
(Edit 2: Added bamboo close up images and peeling images.)
(Edit 3: 11/2009: Inserted step 10 describing successful removal, and updated maintenance description.)

Step 1: Stuff You Need

Hardware you'll need:

  • ConTact paper (a brand of low-tack, self-adhesive vinyl, commonly used by grandmas as "shelf liners", has a very matte finish) or similar low-tack, self-adhesive, thin vinyl. 
  • Tape (preferably easily visible and low-stick, like painter's tape or masking tape)
  • Writing utensil (marker or pencil)
  • Scissors
  • Large sized scrap paper (like used news papers or newsprint)
  • Plastic card (like a library card - this is not pictured.)


  • An idea
  • A plan

Costs: The only supply I had to purchase was the ConTact Paper: $30 with shipping, ordered through amazon, with awesome variety in colors, but you can find smaller rolls with different prints at local hardware stores for around $10

Step 2: Test the Stickiness!!!

I can not emphasize testing enough.

Take a segment of your ConTact paper, stick it firmly to a hidden wall, and peel it back up. Use a plastic card (like a library card) to press it firmly onto the surface.Also test that your tape can be removed easily.

If you want to ask about your surface ahead of time, you should contact the Kitterich Corperation, makers of ConTact Paper. They were very helpful in answering surface questions.

I tested my sticky stuff on an interior closet wall, and found that my ConTact paper was about as sticky as a Post-It note, if not slightly less. It was almost un-sticky to a fault, which is fine by me, since I don't want to pay for damages on my walls when I move out!) My tape also came up very easily, so I was good to go.

Step 3: Planning Tips: Method 1: the Paper Sketch

I have two different methods for planning out large projects like this, and I did both of them to share here.

Method 1: The Paper Sketch
All you need is a pencil and a piece of paper.

Draw a loose sketch of the area you want to work in. I distorted my drawing slightly, so that I could see all 3 walls and ceiling in one layout in my diagram.

Now that you have a basic diagram, you can photocopy it and doodle several designs to see what you like. Or, use tracing paper over top of your basic diagram. Or, trace your original diagram with marker, then draw your ideas in pencil, and erase what you don't like until you have a final design you like.

Step 4: Planning Tips: Method 2: All Digital

This method is for the tech savvy, or if you are more confident in your editing skills over your drawing skills.

Method 2: Photos and Software

For this method, take a few digital photos of your space.

Then bring your photos into an image editing program, and then digitally doodle all over it.

I used Adobe Illustrator and my Wacom tablet and had a blast. Copy+paste and transform kept my repeating elements similar, and gave me a fairly accurate representation of what it would actually look like in my space..

Step 5: Draw on the (paper on The) Walls

The general process is to make one swirl at a time, overlapping them to get a smooth connection, and then patch up the gaps in between at the end. Overlaps with this stuff are invisible once you are more than 6" away from the surface.

So, to make the first swirl, tape up a piece of newsprint in the target location. Crease the paper into the join between the walls to have the paper on two surfaces, so help you draw across the dimensions. Using the pencil, I sketched the swirl as i wanted it to appear in the area. . I also drew a line along the crease in th ewall (if it is on a crease) to help me line up the contact paper with the corner later.

Pull the paper down, and clean up your swirl. It's probably kinda chunky and weird from you drawing on the wall (you are standing on a safe step stool or ladder, if it's too high to reach, right?), so go over your lines or adjust them to smooth them out.

Step 6: Transfer to ConTact Paper

Cut your newsprint swirl out, to make a stencil.

Now flip your newsprint stencil over.

You can now trace the stencil onto the back of the ConTact Paper with marker. The flip of the newsprint is because you're drawing on the paper side of the contact paper, which is ultimately the back of the swirl. To have the swirl appear in the orientation you intended, you need ot do that stencil flip.

Add if you don't flip, which I forgot to do several times, just used the new swirl in a different place. It's still a great swirl to use, if backwards.

Cut the swirl form the contact paper. It should cut very easily, and you can glide through it like gift wrap if you have good scissors.

Save the scraps!!! (We'll get back to this in a later step)

Step 7: Peel and Stick. Really, Really Stick.

For the first few swirls, I left the paper backing on and simply taped the swirl to the wall/ceiling to get an idea of where it would be and what it would look like, estimating placement from my original plans.

Now that it was stuck up there, I started at the base of the swirl, pulled the first 6" or so up, and peeled its backing off. Press gently from the center of the vinyl area outward to minimize bubbles, and use a hard piece of plastic (like a library card) to scrape against the vinyl, firmly pressing it to the wall.

Move along the swirl, pulling the backing from behind in a 6" segment, scraping the segment down, then repeat to the end of the swirl. If you tried to take teh entire backing off initially, the whole piece would stick to itself and you'd get a wad of vinyl that is difficult to work with.

Trust me: if your piece of vinyl is bigger than a dinner plate, leave the backing on and work from one end to the other.

Step 8: More Swirls and Patching It Together

Your first swirl is up! Woo!

Use the news print to draw more swirls in the areas in the plans, and keep mounting them on your wall. After a while, I stopped using the newsprint, since I had an idea of how large the swirl would be and just drew them freehand on my ConTact paper backing.

Also, don't worry about the middle of the blob while making the swirls. The swirls are essentially the outline of the blob.

I kept working my way around the room, to make the full outline. I then added a layer of smaller swirls, made from scraps, to add interest and scale to the design.

When you're happy with your swirled outline, cut out scraps to patch up the center area, filling in the area you ignored. My seams weren't visible once you were 6" away from the vinyl, so I really just patched it up with whatever pieces were left. The only part to pay special attention to is having the connection points curve smoothly into each other, so a bit of trimming on one side or two of my sloppy patches would have them fit nicely.

Step 9: Bonus! Bamboo From Scraps

I kept a giant pile of the decent-sized scraps, and my male-counterpart Brad suggested "What about something like bamboo in the living room?" We have an antique black with inlay Japanese dining table in our living room, and so I thought it would go perfectly.

He's an idea man, but not one for implementation, so that went to me. I went to work cutting bone-shapes for the bamboo silhouettes and pointed ovals for the leaf shapes. The key is to work like you're making a two-tone illustration with this stuff, and don't get stuck on photo-realism. It might help to look up illustrations of stuff you're thinking about making, to see how other artists have distilled the basic forms.

Another bonus: you can also order chalkboard ConTact paper. Because ConTact paper is much easier to install than using chalkboard paint! (A good friend of mine has been experimenting with the chalkboard roll for a few weeks with excellent results.)

Step 10: Bonus Part 2: Tree Shelf

1/16/2009: Here's another design I've created (now 2 years after creating the original design, and in a new apartment).
Without a headboard yet I wanted to "frame" the bed against the wall. I mounted a cantilevered shelf on the wall far above the bed, and created illustrated vinyl trees like bedposts arc up to the shelf. I put the shelf up first, and simply cut the vinyl around it and tucked the edges in behind the shelf.

I didn't really plan this one out on newsprint, but built the tress freeform. Starting with the trunks and large branches, then the smaller branches, I gradually filled in spaces and created a pleasing but irregular balance. I also found it useful to keep the branching angles within a consistent range, to mimic how a tree grows naturally for a good illustration.

Spooky and Halloweeny or clean and Scandinavian, depending on how you look at it.

Step 11: Update 11/2009 - Removing the Vinyl

I just moved out of this apartment in October 2009 and removed the wall designs which had been in place for 16 months.

I snapped a few images as we pulled it down, and the large swirls pulled down perfectly cleanly, and in about 25 seconds, since my final design was one big wiggly piece.

The bamboo took a few minutes because I had to pull off each piece, but also perfectly clean removal. I used the edge of the library card to scrape under the edges quicker than I could grab with my fingernails but still not hurt the paint underneath.

Final results: clean removal, not sticky, and no paint damage. Success! 

Step 12: Final Thoughts

Here is the full wrap around set of images. My room isn't large enough to stand back and get a panoramic shot or even minimize distortion to stitch a set together, so here are simply the three images, in order.

I did this project two weeks ago, and I noticed a few small edges rolled up from the wall. I promptly card-scraped them back down, and they seem to stay down well. Update: 11/2009 (16 months later): after this first week of scraping down the corners once it settled in to place, I didn't need to do anything to maintain the wall vinyl for the following 16 months it was on the wall. Zero maintenance! 

This project turned out really well, and I hope it inspires you to make something neat :)

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    358 Discussions


    8 years ago on Introduction

    I couldn't find black contact paper at my local hardware store. All they had was this patterned vinyl. I put this up with my roommate and my friend in college on our door. we did the whole thing free form. If I could do it again, I would avoid the grass. It's a pain to peel and stick. Big pieces are easy. Stick with that.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    awesome idea. thanks.

    i got bamboo patterned contact paper and made bamboo shoots in one of the corners of my son's room. it was a little tedious cutting all of the pieces, but i think the effect turned out nice.

    1 reply

    I did this too! I didn't realize there were any other tutorials on this\, I made a much less in-depth one about it on my site :). I'll add a link to think one for other great ideas!

    to my tutorial

    (hope the image and link worked, this is my first post!)


    10 years ago on Introduction

    I found a roll of similar stuff at a Home Depot that they were getting rid of for two dollars or so. So I made this! (Sorry it's so close in concept to yours—I plan to make it grow larger and larger as the year progresses. Also, I took it in a more Lovecraftian/tentacular direction.) Wonderful stuff. Thank you so much!

    2 replies

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Your design is lovely! No worries on similarities - I'm glad you liked mine enough to inspire yours :) Also, do you happen to still have the packaging for the stuff you found at Home Depot? Or a link to it on their website? Suggesting another brand might help other people find materials or even different color options.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    I'm glad you like it! The brand was "Magic Cover" by the Kittrich Corporation. It seems every store here has either it or the ConTac paper by Rubbermaid. I was particularly inspired by their neon orange. Hmmm...


    10 years ago on Introduction

    okay... so the contact paper thing got me thinking and i love the checkered look, so that's what i did. just cut the contact paper into perfect squares and stuck 'em up. took less than an hour. i've only done the stairwell so far. here's a few pics but i'll do more throughout the apartment. :) thanks so much!

    walls 013.JPGwalls 014.JPGwalls 015.JPGwalls 018.JPG
    1 reply

    3 years ago

    Very cool! Do you find that the contact paper stays in place even as temperature changes? Your mention of post-it notes stickiness made me wonder if it would endure the high 80s and 90s we get in southern CA. When summer heat hits it seems to loosen suction cups on glass and things like that.


    3 years ago

    How easy does it come off?


    3 years ago

    I am going to do awesome stuff with this idk why its never occured to me


    3 years ago on Introduction

    It’s hard to find knowledgeable people on this topic, but you sound like you know what you’re talking about! Thanks