learning and research glossary of wallpaper terms

Glossary – a selected list of terms

Embossed wallpaper made by feeding paper through a pair of profiled male and female rollers giving a relatively deep ‘hollow’ back, often designed to be painted over once hung. This type of wallpaper became common after the product was launched, under the trade name Anaglypta, 1887. The term is now broadly applied to all embossed wallpapers of this type.
Arsenic green
Typically a strong green pigment developed in the late 1770’s and used in the wallpaper industry until the end of the 19th century. This pigment could be harmful to health in damp conditions, where mould growing on the wallpaper releases a toxic gas.
A ‘narrow’ strip of paper pasted around the edges of the main wallpaper. Borders not only provided a visual frame but served to cover the uneven edges of cut wallpaper, and could help prevent the underlying wallpaper from peeling away from the wall.
Block printing
A method of relief printing, by hand, from flat blocks, traditionally made from wood. These blocks are typically constructed with a thin facing layer of fruitwood supported by layers of softwood. The pattern is carved in the fruitwood and can be supplemented by the use of pins. Printing of larger flat areas of designs was often be improved by inlaying felt which acts as a reservoir for the colour. Separate blocks are normally used for each colour.
Cylinder printing
A term used in the early days of machine printing, see roller printing.
Distemper colour
A traditional paint typically made with pigments, chalk, and water based glue or size, used for printing most wallpaper until oil based colours were used for Sanitary wallpapers from c.1880. Distemper colours of differing consistencies were commonly used for both hand and machine relief printing. See sanitary wallpaper, relief printing.
Chinese wallpaper
Wallpaper produced in China only for the export market. The earliest papers were first block printed before being handpainted, but this quickly gave way to hand painting alone. They reached a peak in popularity in the second half of the eighteenth century.
Domino paper
French term for single-sheet block printed decorative paper, uses included bookbinding, a pre-curser of wallpaper proper.
A technique that produces a relief surface, usually by pressing paper between pairs of male and female rollers or plates. This technique can be very shallow, forming a background to a pattern, e.g. giving a watered silk effect, or it can provide the main element of a pattern. In the 18th century flocked wallpaper was described as embossed. See Anaglypta, leather paper, duplex, Lincrusta.
A technique for achieving a raised pattern and fabric-like effect. The design is printed in adhesive which is then covered in short dyed fibres. Until the mid 20th century this was mostly by using woollen fibres, since then synthetic fibres have been more commonly used via an electrostatic flocking process. See mock flock, embossing.
Printing process where the image is transferred from incised etched designs. An intaglio process especially used for big production runs of wallpaper since the mid 20C. Separate rollers, are used for each colour, and are engraved in a pattern of small square shaped recesses of different depths which determine the strength of colour. This process allows for very fine detail.
The background, or colour applied over the complete paper surface before wallpaper is printed proper. Some wallpapers, usually associated with the cheaper end of the market, have no overall applied ground. These groundless papers may rely on the natural colour of the paper fibres, or be made from fibres that have been dyed.
Hand block printing
See Block printing
India paper
See Chinese wallpaper.
Intaglio printing
Printing process where the image is transferred from incised engraved or etched designs, as in copper plate printing, this is usually from rollers in the wallpaper industry. Used for printing Sanitary wallpapers. See block printing, relief printing, gravure, Sanitary paper.
Laid paper
When applied to hand made paper it is paper with a characteristic wire mark resulting from the paper making surface. Closely spaced ‘laid’ lines at approximately 1mm intervals are crossed by ‘chain’ lines at 90 degrees, spaced at approximately 25mm. Most wallpaper made before 1800 was made using laid paper. See wove paper.
Machine made paper
Continuously made endless paper was commercially available from 1810 but was not allowed to be used, other than in cut sheets, until about 1830. See pre-joined paper.
Machine printing
Includes various mechanical printing methods, the first of which was commercially viable for printing wallpapers from 1840.
Mock flock
An imitation of true flock, where either a cheaper dry powdered pigment was used instead of fibres, or where the image was printed in such a way as to imitate the appearance of flock. See flocking.
Panoramic wallpaper
A non repeat wallpaper where individual drops make a continuous wider pattern. A term mainly applied to French wallpapers of the first few decades of the 19th century, where scenes could be in excess of 30 metres wide.
Paper hangings
Term describing wallpaper. ‘Wallpaper’ increasingly became the common term after the mid 19th century.
Paper stainer
The common term to describe a wallpaper manufacturer, before the introduction of machine printed wallpapers.
A roll of wallpaper.
Pre-joined paper
Rolls or panels made by pasting individual sheets of paper together edge to edge. Before 1830 all wallpaper rolls were made in this way.
Pulp paper
In the wallpaper industry this term applies to low quality paper that has been made from unpurified woodpulp.
Relief printing
Printing process where the image is transferred from the raised parts of a block or roller.
Roller printing
Printing from a roller. See block printing, intaglio.
Satin ground
A shiny finish to a ground usually produced by polishing a distemper ground with stiff bristles using talc. See ground.
Sanitary wallpaper
A term applied to intaglio roller printed wallpapers from circa 1880. The thin oil colours and frequent use of varnish coating meant that once hung they could be very carefully wiped clean with a damp cloth and were therefore marketed as sanitary. This term was still in popular use in the 1920’s.
Screen printing
Printing process where the image is formed by squeezing ink/ colour through a stencil made from an open weave fabric. Used for shorter production runs of wallpaper from the 1950’s. A process that has been successfully used to replicate the appearance of hand blocked wallpapers. The screen can be flat or formed into a roll.
See panoramic wallpaper.
Silk screen
See screen printing
Process for making patterns by designs cut in a sheet material, such as leather, card or metal. Colour is brushed or sprayed through the cutaways. Commonly used for applying hand painted areas of colour, and adhesive for flock, in the early 18th century, and also for the sprayed application of colour in the 20th century.
Surface Printing
Traditional wallpaper and calico printing term for machine printing using relief printing rollers. This process became commercially viable in 1840. See roller printing, relief printing.
Patterned or plain paper specifically produced to decorate walls, also used to describe ceiling papers.
Wallpaper tax
A UK tax applied to most wallpaper produced in the UK between 1712 and 1836. Ink stamps were applied to the reverse of wallpaper to help ensure duties were collected. From 1786 one of the stamps, the Frame Mark, included the date of manufacture.
Paper consisting of wood chips sandwiched between two thin sheets of paper. Very popular in the third quarter of the 20th century. Often hung and then painted.
Wove paper
A paper with a characteristic wire mark resulting from the paper making surface, when visible the mark resembles the appearance of woven fabric. Most wallpaper made after 1800 has been made from wove paper. See laid paper.

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