How to paper a ceiling from start to finish

Person standing on raised platform papering a ceiling
Knowing how to paper a ceiling requires a certain type of skill (Image credit: Getty Images)

Learning how to paper a ceiling is an art that every DIYer should try to add to their skill set at some point. 

If you are a first timer or newcomer to wallpapering ceilings you want to start with a plain pattern-free lining paper, something that would be a good platform for a new coat of paint or a burst of colour on the ceiling of a room. 

Those more confident with their ceiling papering skills could tackle a patterned wallpaper but it's worth bearing in mind there will be extra work needed to ensure the pattern lines up. While you might know how to wallpaper walls, ceilings are a whole new ball game and wallpaper with a pattern that doesn't align across the ceiling space can end up looking messy and unprofessional.

Here we look at the reasons why you might want to wallpaper a ceiling and reveal the pro techniques you need to know to get a smooth, smart finish.  

 Paper a ceiling: The tools you'll need

  • Pasting table
  • Paste brush
  • Wallpaper hanging brush
  • Pole sander
  • Paint scraper
  • Wallpaper scissors
  • Tape measure
  • Cloth
  • Long work platform or ladders and planks

Best place to start when wallpapering a ceiling? 

The first consideration is which direction to wallpaper. Ideally choose the direction that involves the least cutting, typically the longest length. This is quicker and produces less waste.

Another option is to hang lengths moving away from a natural light source such as a window as this is less likely to show any overlaps. If using patterned wallpaper hang the first strip in the middle of the ceiling and work outwards towards the wall.

Use a piece of string and a couple of drawing pins to create a straight line across the ceiling where you want your starting point. Create the line three quarters of a roll from the wall. This helps you cut in where the wall and ceiling meet which isn’t always straight. Mark along the string at regular intervals with a pencil and join up with a straight edge like a spirit level. 

Pictured: Hedera wallpaper by Sanderson, which you can buy via Wallpaper Direct 

Six steps to paper a ceiling for a pro finish

To make your life easier you’ll need a platform to walk along. If you don’t have one you find one easily on Amazon like this multipurpose scaffolding platform and ladder or can hire one locally. You can use a step ladder, but this makes the job far more difficult as you'll need to keep going up and down to move it along while also holding the wallpaper. 

1. Prep the ceiling 

If you already have wallpaper on the ceiling you need to make sure that you remove the wallpaper. Adding wallpaper on top of wallpaper can lead to poor adhesion and cause the paper to come away from the ceiling.

If you have a previously painted ceiling, get a paint scraper to remove any flaking or loose paint. Then wash down with sugar soap followed by clean water and leave to dry. Finally, use a fine grade sandpaper on a pole sander like the ProDec 360 Degree Heavy Duty Swivel Pole Sander Head from Amazon to get a smooth and quick finish.   

2. Measure and cut 

Measure the ceiling to get the right length for your wallpaper. Add an extra 6-12 inches for overlap at each end. Unroll your wallpaper, mark with a pencil and cut with a pair of wallpaper scissors like the Coral Endurance Scissors from Amazon. Place the scissors on the end of the wallpaper to stop it rolling up when on the pasting table.  

3. Paste and prep paper 

Mix up your wallpaper paste – follow the manufacturer’s instructions – in a bucket and apply evenly. Start in the middle and work out towards the edges. Now gather the paper into thirds – or quarters for longer rolls. 

Take one end of the paper and fold over without creasing – paste the underside of the paper side to side rather than lengthways – around a third of the way up the strip. Now fold over again so it is in line with the first fold and again if needed to create a concertina effect, taking care not to crease the paper. 

4. Put up the wallpaper 

Hold both ends of the wallpaper and get up on your platform and place the wallpaper on the ceiling at your start point with an overlap onto the wall. Using a wallpaper hanging brush like the Harris Seriously Good Wallpaper Brush from Amazon to smooth the wallpaper onto the ceiling. Start in the middle and work outwards to the edges to eliminate bubbles in wallpaper

Now pull out the first fold and brush this onto the ceiling and repeat until you reach the opposite wall. Now get the back of your wallpaper scissors and mark on the paper where the ceiling meets the wall. Gently peel back the end of the strip, cut along the mark and brush down again. Remove any excess wallpaper paste with a damp cloth. Now repeat for the rest of the ceiling. 

5. Paper around obstructions 

Every ceiling will have at the very least a light fitting, so you will need to take precautions before you start to paper as Olivia Hunter, decorating specialist at Wallpaper It explains. “To wallpaper around obstructions such as light fittings or ceilings roses, start by switching off the mains power in your home. Don’t switch it back on until after you’ve finished and the paste is dry. Next, unscrew the fitting and any cover plates and pull them away from the ceiling.

“Where the wallpaper meets the fitting, hang the paper over it. Using the protruding fitting as a guideline, take a sharp blade and begin creating a series of diagonal cuts from the centre point to the boundaries of the fitting, creating a small hole.

“Pull the fitting through the hole and trim off any excess paper before smoothing the remaining paper down. When the fitting is screwed back into place, the cut edges should fit neatly, leaving a seamless finish.

“Ceiling roses can be approached with the same method - just remember to remove any excess paper for a professional result.”

6. Dealing with tall ceilings 

Older properties often have higher ceilings so you need to approach the job slightly differently as Hunter reveals. “If you live in a period property, you might find your ceiling exceeds 3m. If this is the case, you’ll likely struggle to reach it with standard ladders. We recommend renting scaffolding as a safer alternative.” 

Hunter goes on to suggest using a different type of wallpaper. “To make wallpapering a tall ceiling easier, it’s important to choose a wallpaper that is easy to apply. We recommend using peel-and-stick wallpaper for tall ceilings to help reposition the paper as you work.”

Pictured: Colefax and Fowler Bowood wallpaper, available via Wallpaper Direct

How to paper a ceiling that has just been plastered? 

If you have a newly plastered ceiling there are a couple of points you need to think about before you start putting up your wallpaper. The first is to make sure that the new plaster is dry. 

It will depend on the type of plaster and the environment where the new plaster has been applied. But, as a general rule finishing plaster in a warm room will typically be touch dry in 2-4 hours. But it needs to be fully cured before you can start thinking about wallpapering, which takes anywhere from three days to two weeks. Check our How long does plaster take to dry? guide for more info.

Once the plaster is fully dry you need to seal it before you start. If you try wallpapering new plaster without sealing the wallpaper will stick and be difficult to move into position. A simple cost effective solution is to use watered down wallpaper paste. 

Why paper a ceiling?  

If you’re painting a ceiling that is covered in cracks you will want to hide them before you get started.  Adding wallpaper is a quick and cost effective alternative to reskimmimg a ceiling as well as a way to avoid spending too much time filing and prepping the ceiling. Choose a thick lining paper like Erfurt Smooth 1700 grade Lining paper from B&Q to hide those cracks.

Decorating trends like colour/pattern blocking will often see bold blocks of colour across a ceiling. If you decide it's time to redecorate it can be difficult to cover dark colours easily. Adding wallpaper immediately hides the colour and gives you a clean, easy to paint surface to work with.  

How much for a professional to paper a ceiling? 

The cost will depend on the size of the ceiling and how much work is involved. A straightforward ceiling will take less time and effort than a ceiling in an odd shaped room with intricate mouldings and multiple light fittings.

Labour costs for a professional decorator is around £150 a day and a small to medium sized ceiling will take 1-2 days. A large ceiling – 20m2 – will take around 2-3 days. It's also a good time to think about how much to wallpaper a room. If you can afford it, get the whole room done in one go. 

Steve Jenkins

Steve is Homebuilding & Renovating's DIY content editor, and has been a writer and editor for two decades. He is an avid DIYer with over 20 years of experience in transforming and renovating homes. He specialises in painting and decorating, but has strong all-round building skills, having previously worked in the industry for 10 years.