If there is one certainty in themed environments, it is the need for wall coverings. Since starting Imagination Atmospheres in 2004, I have yet to work with a theming client who did not want the walls of their space changed in some way. Murals are a large part of what we do at Imagination Atmospheres and when it comes to murals there are two main types: painted murals and wallpaper murals. In this post I would like to discuss both types of murals, highlight the pros and cons of each type and then show why Imagination Atmospheres creates custom, hand-painted murals rather than preprinted, wallpaper sticker murals.

Real damage of a church’s wallpaper murals.

The majority of us at some point have leased or purchased a home or apartment with at least one room covered in wallpaper. In most cases that wallpaper was yellowing, peeling, bubbling, separating, or full of rips and nail holes. Like it or not, when you stick something to the wall it’s eventually going to come off. Which is why most of us at some point have also spent time in our leased or purchased home with chemicals, scrapers, or steamers trying to remove the damaged wallpaper. Real estate professionals will tell you it’s very difficult to sell a house with wallpaper. No one wants the headache of repairing ruined wallpaper or, even worse, removing the whole thing. So we end up painting over it and waiting for the day the wallpaper glue starts releasing from the wall. Major headache.

In the span of one year I dealt with three different clients who initially put vinyl wallpaper murals in their children’s area, only to realize it was a bad idea. It’s becoming an increasingly popular request for us to cover up wallpaper murals. Besides the previously mentioned issues when a kid notices a section of wallpaper starting to peel, they will happily expedite the removal process. I’ve seen kids’ murals featuring characters with toes, legs and heads ripped off. Once the kids realize how much “fun” it can be peeling it off, it’s hard to stop them. What seemed to be a fast and cheap solution to kids room murals turned out for these clients to be an expensive do-over. When your budget is tight who needs that?

Alternatively, hand-painted murals react exactly as the paint on any regular wall because, well, that’s exactly what they are. We use the same latex and acrylic paint for our murals that you find on most walls. The paint is made to be durable, long-lasting and easy to clean. Painted walls can get dirty or damaged and sometimes do but clean-up is easy and repair doesn’t involve peeling off an entire wall or gluing another sticker on top of a damaged sticker. Hand-painted murals can outlast wallpaper murals by decades. The ceiling of the Sistene Chapel was painted in 1508. Can you imagine what it would look like today if it had been wallpapered? When your murals are hand-painted your walls showcase original works of art. Pretty much anyone can glue stickers to a wall but to have skilled artists hand-paint your murals creates a room of much more artistic and even financial value.

As you plan the theming of your environment you will probably want to weigh the positives and negatives of painting or wallpapering your murals. The following points will address the strengths and weaknesses of each method and allow you to make a more informed decision about which type of mural is right for your space. While I make no secret of the fact that I create and prefer hand-painted murals, I also recognize that there are particular cases where a wallpaper mural may work better for certain areas or budgets so I’ll attempt to be as fair as I can in my evaluation.

Small damage but big repairs.


It can seem from a casual glance that wallpaper murals are cheaper than hand-painted murals and sometimes this is the case. I’ve checked with printing companies that say they will print wallpaper for $5-$10 per square foot. Depending upon the quality of the print and vinyl, this sounds like a pretty good deal. But hold on. In addition to the printing costs you must also add costs for the artist to draw your concept sketch, refine the entire design, digitize, color it and prepare it for printout. After that there is the cost for hanging and installation. Often, listed prices only include the cost of the wallpaper itself and you must either install the wallpaper yourself or pay an extra fee for an installer. In the end you can end up with a cost closer to $10-$15 per square foot or more. Muraling costs vary depending upon the muralist but I’ve seen prices listed from $10 per square foot to $50 and up. Imagination Atmospheres currently quotes $20 per square foot as a guide but most of the time our murals end up costing in the $10 per square foot range or lower, especially when combined with theming. In several cases we have been able to completely theme an entire hallway for less cost than the client’s quote for a competitor to only install wallpaper. In the final calculations, our murals usually turn out to be the same price or cheaper than the listed price of many wallpaper companies. Now, if you do not mind hanging the wallpaper yourself, choosing a preprinted design from a catalogue that isn’t customized for your individual space and doesn’t require art production, you may find wallpaper murals to be more cost effective than hand-painted murals. Providing, of course, you don’t have to completely redo it all in six months because it started peeling off.
Conclusion: Wallpaper murals are sometimes more cost-effective if they are not customized or do not become damaged a need replacing.


No one wants to spend a lot of money decorating an environment only to have to completely redo it in a few months. If you are producing a play, you make the scenery temporary. It only has to last as long as the production. Themed environments are intended to last much longer, many years in most cases. It doesn’t make sense to put materials into your space that are going to quickly deteriorate or need replacing before the life of the entire space is up. It’s just a fact that wallpaper is eventually going to come down. We’ve all seen it happen. On the other hand, a painted mural can last until the day the entire building has to be knocked down. Murals created centuries ago are still in great condition today. Obviously, any wall covering will need care and attention, whether it be mural or even bare wall paint. All murals need to be wiped down occasionally and both wallpaper and painted murals allow for that. Still, when it comes to endurance, wallpaper murals don’t even come close to the sturdy hand-painted mural. The painted mural will still be glowing centuries after the wallpaper has peeled away.
Conclusion: Your hand-painted mural may outlast you.


When it comes to flexibility the hand-painted mural wins easily. The wallpaper mural is preprinted and it exists at an exact size. Nothing in the design, layout or the size can be altered once it is printed out. You have what you have. Want to make a few changes? Too bad. This is where the strength of the hand-painted murals really come through. Almost every mural I’ve ever painted has involved some sort of last minute adjustment by the client. Construction crews have added light fixtures, fire extinguisher boxes and in some cases entire walls. In those situations it’s no big deal to adjust the painting by moving elements around so the mural fits the new additions. If I was hanging wallpaper it would involve cutting additional holes in the design which might remove some important areas of the picture. The alternative to cutting would be to completely redesign and reprint the wallpaper, an additional time and expense that no one wants. With painted murals almost any element can be changed at the last minute. You can alter a character’s hair, eyes or clothing colors. You can make a squirrel a bear or a Latino kid an Asian kid! Nothing is final until the paint is put on the wall so the flexibility for change is tremendous. It’s not even a big deal to make changes after the paint is put on the wall! Just suppose, for some reason, a mural needs to be moved to a different wall. No problem with hand painted murals. BIG problem with wallpaper! In many kid’s rooms I’ve muraled, I end up creating an on-the-spot mural for an area that initially wasn’t included in the concept. That’s impossible to do with your roll of wallpaper. Hand-painted murals also have unmatched opportunity for customization. Suppose you see a wallpaper mural catalog online that features a Noah’s Ark design. Maybe you would like your Noah to have darker skin. Or whiter hair. Or a bushier beard. To accommodate that order a wallpaper company would have to get an artist to completely alter the original catalog design, hire a printer to make a special printout and then charge you for the additional expenses. In fact, I’d be willing to bet they would just refuse to change it. As a mural painter, for me to accommodate you, all I have to do is show up on time. I make the changes on the spot. No extra cost. It couldn’t be more simple with hand-painted murals.
Conclusion: The flexibility of a hand-painted mural can’t be matched.

Artistic value

When you purchase a wallpaper mural you are purchasing a product. When you purchase a hand-painted mural you purchase a service and that service is art. It is the difference between hanging a Picasso or hanging a print of a Picasso. You must ask yourself if you prefer art or a copy of art. The decision is really yours and it depends upon your own particular needs. If you prefer something quick and temporary then a wallpaper mural may be the best choice for you. If you desire something that can be customized to your specific theme and something that is going to last longer than a year or two, you should consider having an artist paint your murals. In a day when anyone can run to the computer, Google some images, print them out and stick them on a wall, it becomes obvious how much more valuable it is to have real art in your environment.
Conclusion: A hand-painted mural is art. Real art.

Whether hand-painted or wallpaper, the purpose of a mural is to cover a wall and make a more pleasing decor.  Each method brings with it its own strengths and weaknesses and those strengths and weaknesses are the things you must deal with on a daily, monthly and yearly basis when you choose the type of mural that is right for you. At Imagination Atmospheres we make art so we naturally prefer real, hand-painted, art murals. We’re also a business and we like to make money doing what we do. I’ve personally examined the possibility of offering wallpaper murals to our clients. I’ve weighed all of the pros and cons and in the end I decided wallpaper murals are not a product I can stand behind the way I can with our hand-painted murals. Believe me, sometimes it would be easier for us to put up wallpaper instead of paint a wall. Recently, one of our clients had to demolish one of our muraled walls in order to create a hallway entrance into their new sanctuary. We offered to repaint the mural on a different wall at no cost. It certainly would have been much easier to slap some glue and wallpaper up and be on our way. But when it comes to art, Imagination Atmospheres doesn’t believe the “easy” way is always the “best” way.

Ultimately, it is your choice. You must decide what is right for you and your space. I highly recommend as part of your decision that you interview other venue owners who have installed each type of mural and take their experience into consideration. How are their murals holding up? Is the wallpaper still hanging? Is the paint chipping off? In addition, make sure you hire a reputable company to create your murals. Demand that the company service what they sell and can guarantee that you will have a fantastic mural in your atmosphere for years to come!

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