Fun, affordable and an easy way to brighten a space – it’s simple to see why wall decals are so popular at the moment. From a designer’s point of view, taking your artwork from Adobe Illustrator into a room or other space is hugely exciting. In this tutorial, Ben the Illustrator shows how to go from an initial idea to installing a printed vinyl decal on the wall of your choice.
You’ll learn how to design for a specific wall and how to make sure that your finished piece works beautifully in its environment. There’s also advice on how to get your artwork printed, and everything you need to know to make sure your hard work doesn’t go to waste when it comes to installing your new design.
To follow this tutorial all the way through, you’ll need a little help from a vinyl printing and cutting service. There are plenty out there: Ben the Illustrator highly recommends
Colourlab for creating vinyl wall art.
Even if you choose not to create a final piece for installation, you’ll pick up great tips for creating dynamic, feelgood vector art in Ben the Illustrator’s trademark style.
Time to complete
Two hours for artwork, two hours for installation once printed
Click here to download this tutorial's project files
It can be costly to make custom vinyl wall graphics, so plan your design well. Whether creating a one-off or something to make and sell in large quantities, consider the theme and colours, and especially the interior design of the location for your graphics.
Limited colour palettes work best – as the cost of production rises with each colour you add.
The most successful wall graphics play with the space they’re placed in, entertain with their concept, and create a mood. Try photographing your space first and then doodle over the photo.
There will be restrictions on the size you can print to, but you can get round this by breaking your artwork into sections.
With your concept secure and your design set out on paper, fire up Illustrator. Once you’ve got a rough sketch of the design you’d like, scan it and trace it in Illustrator. If you’d prefer to work from my sketch, open
Mural original drawing.jpg from the download and trace it.
There’s no limit to the styles that will work on walls – just be sure to understand how big the finished article will actually be and the level of detail and precision required.
If using outlines, don’t make them too heavy. This will prevent your artwork from sitting comfortably on the wall. Instead, use a more natural paintbrush stroke.
For a simple inkpen-style stroke, create a long thin circle (fill only), then drag it into your Brushes palette. Click New Art Brush, then click on the Stroke Options icon at the bottom of the palette and choose Hue Shift from the Colorization Method menu – this allows you to choose colours for this brush later.
Select the Pen or Pencil tool and use your new brush for outlines.
To add depth and interest to your wall art, add textures to larger areas of flat colour. For the grass- style texture here, create the shape first, then draw pen lines where you want your texture to flow. Create the top and bottom lines, then use the Blend tool (
Object > Blend) to create the in-between lines.
Create a solid circle and drag it into your Brushes palette again. Click New Pattern Brush, then Hue Shift in the Colorization Method menu. Apply this brush to your lines – you may need to make the lines into overlapping solid objects to fill spaces.
You can adjust the brush size in the Brush Options menu. For easier colouring, select your new shapes and click
Object > Expand Appearance, to make everything into grouped, solid shapes.
Once your artwork is complete, you’ll need to prepare your file for the vinyl printing and cutting process. Change all strokes to filled objects by selecting everything (
Cmd/Ctrl + A) and click Object > Path > Outline Stroke, then select all again and click Object > Expand Appearance.
Now resize your artwork to the exact size for print production.
For the vinyl cutting, you will need to create an outline around your entire artwork – this is the line that the vinyl machine will cut. For larger pieces you may want to have around 3mm of bleed allowance. Select your outline, click New Swatch in the drop-down menu on your Swatch palette as shown above.
Name the swatch ‘Cutcontour’, click Spot Color in the Color Type menu and then make the line 100% magenta.
With your .ai file all set, take it to the printers. To ensure there are no mistakes (which can prove expensive as well as annoying) check that every element of your artwork is perfect, including the linework, colours and cutting lines.
Working closely with your chosen vinyl cutter and printer can be priceless; they can give advice specific to your needs and your design.
The artwork will be printed and the outlines cut all in one go. What you will get will be the vinyl sticker with protective papers on both sides. When you receive it, don’t peel either side off until you’re ready to install.
Cut out each element with around an inch of space all the way around.
How to apply wall stickers
When you’re ready to install the sticker – onto a clean, dry wall – make sure the protective sheets, especially the front sheet, are perfectly stuck to the sticker by rubbing it all over with a plastic card on a hard, flat surface. Be sure to maintain a consistent, firm pressure.
Depending on your design and the number of pieces, you may want to use masking tape to tape the elements in place on the wall.
When installing, it helps to have more than one pair of hands. It is also ultra-important to take your time.
To stick, peel off the backing paper slightly in one corner – the top right is normally a good place to start. On top of the front protective sheet, rub the sticker firmly against the wall as you slowly peel away the backing paper.
Ensure you constantly press the sticker against the wall as you go to make sure there aren’t any creases. Press all the delicate edges firmly so they don’t peel off.
Once the sticker is completely on the wall, with the backing paper separated, use the plastic cards to press the sticker, especially the edges, against the wall. Be sure to push any bubbles out to the edges.
Again, starting in a corner, peel away the front protective sheet, pressing the sticker flat onto the wall as you go.
It can even help to wear a glove on your pressing hand.
Once the front sheet is removed, check every edge is firm on the wall and then sit back to enjoy your handiwork.