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We’ve all seen the normal wall mural project. Client preps a wall for you, gives you artwork, you print it, stick it down to the wall and send a bill. It’s a quick in-and-out job, easy-peasey, and everybody’s happy.

But what about those wall projects from hell-the ones that make you pull out your hair and hit the bottle? Well calm down, because there is a cure that doesn’t involve follicle or liver damage.

Surfacing

The condition of the walls is the single most important aspect of any mural project. Every lump, every divot, every roller mark or brush hair will conspire to make your graphics look bad. Inexpensive or inappropriate types of paint can cause the mural to release from the wall after a short period of time.

Before you even start a project, make sure that your client is aware of what wall-prep finishing requirements they are expected to meet on their walls. Have a specification sheet prepared and get them to sign off on it. That way you are protected if you arrive on site to find a disaster waiting. If the client is daunted by the specs, offer to do the wall-prep finishing for them (at an additional cost, of course).

Plan B

Some walls are in such terrible shape that no amount work can save them. In those cases it’s often best to mount the graphics in the shop to a substrate such as ABS or PVC. The mural can be completed in the hygienic environment of your shop, greatly simplifying the installation. It can later be mounted on site using construction adhesive or D-tape.

Obstructions

There’s nothing worse than arriving at the install site and finding a big cabinet obstructing the wall; or a giant pipe sticking out of the middle of it. Here’s where vehicle-wrapping skills come into play. Don’t try to cut it into pieces that are pasted around the obstruction, this will look terrible. Careful measuring of the wall will determine where to place slits in the graphic that it will allow it to be applied onto the wall while avoiding the obstruction. Trim around the obstruction while you are applying the graphic.

Cabinets that cannot be moved provide a different dilemma, especially if people can see behind them. Most wall graphics are applied dry, but this will need fluid assistance. Start the install by spraying everything, including behind the cabinet, with water or application fluid. Then apply the mural to the top of the wall and let the remainder hang down, leaving the backing sheet on the unapplied portion. Slowly remove the backing sheet and apply the mural, moving down the wall. When you get to the cabinet, remove the rest of the backing and spray the adhesive side with water. Drop it down behind the cabinet so it hangs against the wall. If it’s possible to reach an arm into the space, a very flexible installer can usually manage to position a graphic manually. If you can’t get an arm in there, try using a long screen-printing squeegee instead.

Quadrilaterals

Most buildings are not constructed in a completely square manner. This brings us to the familiar problem of deciding what constitutes “straight and level” for the graphics. A line measured from floor to ceiling on one side of the room will probably be different than the same measurement on the other side of the room. “Straight,” as measured with a spirit or digital level, might not appear to be straight to the viewer because of strong visual cues indicating “straight” to be the floor line, the ceiling line, the window mullions or perhaps even a strong vertical divider.

The best solution here is to tape the graphics in place in several different positions and see which one looks the best. Getting the client involved in the decision-making process pretty much guarantees success.

Quick Tips

  • Protect yourself-inspect site conditions before quoting. Check accessibility and do some adhesion tests on the wall surface to make sure that the graphic will stick.
  • Train for the bad stuff, not the easy stuff. That way, when you run into the bad stuff, it will seem normal.
  • Know when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em. Most project problems have a solution, but solutions are often pricey. Some projects are best turned down when the dollars aren’t there.

Duane Fast

Duane Fast is a Vancouver, Canada-based Interpretive Graphics Consultant with 30 years experience as GM of Artcraft Display Graphics Inc., an international manufacturer of interpretive graphics and exhibits. He retired in 2015.

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