First Attempt: Designing Custom Mural Wallpaper

First Attempt: Designing Custom Mural Wallpaper featured by popular lifestyle blogger Design Mom

In May of 2014, our family (and our exchange student from France, and dear family friend, Charles) visited Sequoia National Park. It was our first time at the park and I just ate it up. Sequoias are the biggest trees in the world (though not the tallest — those are redwoods), and they were more magnificent than I imagined. The Sequoias have such a presence. The idea of trees talking, or having a personality, or coming to life a la Lord of the Rings, seems like a perfectly reasonable thing when you are there.

But that’s not actually what this post is about. While we were at the park, we stopped into one of the visitor centers and I saw a massive mural that took up the full wall space in one room. It was filled with illustrations of dozens of flora and fauna native to California. By massive, I mean one stretch of the mural was maybe 6 feet high by 16 feet wide, and the other stretch was 6 ft wide by 12 feet wide. The sections covered the walls in a big room.

First Attempt: Designing Custom Mural Wallpaper featured by popular lifestyle blogger Design Mom

I Instagrammed this snapshot of the mural that very day, and wondered aloud in the caption, how I might make something like this into wallpaper for my own home.

Well, it’s four years later, and I’m happy to say I’m finally making it happen!

After the visit to the park, I couldn’t get this custom mural wallpaper out of my head. I emailed the staff there and asked if they had any digital scans of the mural. I didn’t hear back from them for quite awhile, but eventually I did, and they sent me digital files. Since then, the files have been sitting in my inbox, waiting for attention. I knew they weren’t big enough to print at full size, but figured I might find a use for them in the future.

The future has arrived. This month, I’m working on preparing the boys’ bedroom for Ralph’s arrival home from Colombia (we haven’t seen him in two years!). The room has gone through some transitions since I last shared it, and it currently only has one bed. So we need to make some changes. I have several goals for this space, and I’ll tell you more about them in another post, but as I thought about what I wanted to put on the walls, I remembered those digital custom mural wallpaper files.

I opened them again, and started playing around with the tracing tool in Adobe Illustrator. Not to get too technical, but Adobe Illustrator is drawing software that uses vectors instead of pixels. And the nice thing about vectors is that they can be resized — even really big — without losing quality or becoming pixelated. My thinking was that if I could turn the too-low-resolution-to-print illustrations into vectors, I would be able to up-size them and print them as a custom mural wallpaper.

The original mural is titled Web of Life, and has arrows indicating the relationships between the plants and animals. It also includes written descriptions of each living thing pictured. I knew I didn’t want the arrows in the version I was creating for the boys room, so I edited those out. I also knew that on the digital files, the smaller type on the written descriptions was too fuzzy to read. So I took those descriptions out too, but made notes of the names (which were readable).

The boys’ room is not big, and I didn’t want to overwhelm it by covering all four walls. Instead, I decided to make the wallpaper/mural for the one blank full wall in the room (blank meaning no doors or windows). I measured the wall, then made a file that was 25% of the full wall measurements in Illustrator.

Next, I would choose a specific illustration from the digital files, isolate it, and bring it into Illustrator to recreate it with vectors. Once it was vectorized, I would place it in the new mural file I was creating (the one that was sized at 25%). As I added more plants and animals, I moved things around, and resized them, until they fit together like a puzzle. As you can imagine, there were a ton of different versions as I worked.

Since he’ll be sleeping in this room, I involved Oscar in helping me choose which animals and which plants from the original mural he wanted in his new bedroom mural. We have a pretty clear idea of how furniture will fit on the mural wall as well, so we were trying to be mindful of that as we placed animals and plants in the allotted space. For example, we wanted to make sure the California Black Bear wouldn’t be blocked.

Once we had the final floral and fauna in place, I went in and added the names. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to add them at all, but I remembered a huge World Map I grew up with, and how me and my siblings memorized certain parts of it just because it was there. So then I thought, why not add in another layer of knowledge? : ) I also designed the whole thing with a 3 inch bleed (1.5 inches on each side), so that I can trim edges once it’s installed. Here’s how the design turned out:

Custom Mural Wallpaper

First Attempt: Designing Custom Mural Wallpaper featured by popular lifestyle blogger Design Mom

Is it okay to tell you I LOVE it? The finish size (with the bleed) is 10 feet 6 inches wide by 7 feet 11 inches tall. I love the colors. I love the Giant Sequoia tree. I love how California it is. The National Parks mean a ton to me personally, so I love that this mural originated in a National Park. I’m so into this project!

Now it’s time to have it printed, but I’ve never created a custom mural of this size, and really don’t know much about what my material options are, or what the costs are like. So last night, I uploaded the file and details to five different sites to get estimates (I just did a Google search to find printing options): MuralsYourWay.com, EazyWallz.com, MagicMurals.com, DesignYourWall.com, and TotallyCustomWallpaper.com.

The first place I tried was actually Spoonflower, but they didn’t seem to have a custom mural option. That said, I think this design would be really fun as a tablecloth too. Or a throw pillow! So maybe I’ll have some fabric printed at Spoonflower.

Once the printing companies have sent price estimates, and I can compare the materials they offer, I’ll make my decision on where to order.

Have you ever had something this big printed for a wall installation? I’d love some advice. I know it will come in panels (like wallpaper), but other than that, I don’t know what questions I should be asking of the printer. Do I want self-adhesive? And if yes, is that sort of thing available in a canvas-feel or matte option? Is re-positionable important? Is it better to go with the type of paper where you have to wet it to activate the adhesive and apply it more like traditional wallpaper? Do you have a favorite company you use for printing this kind of thing? Any other tips I should keep in mind?

Other thoughts on this project? I haven’t ordered yet, so if you have helpful advice — on the design or the printing — I’m all ears. Trying to design at scale is so tricky!

P.S. — I can’t wait to tell you more about my plans for this room!

49 thoughts on “First Attempt: Designing Custom Mural Wallpaper”

  1. This is so beautiful! I can’t wait to see the finished product.

    I would encourage you to make fabric so that the boys can have a memory of this when they’ve moved from the room.

  2. I would love to have a smaller but still large version of this to frame in my boys room! It is so well done. Let us know if you sell any prints.

    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Nicole! I haven’t considered selling it in any form because I’m not clear who owns the original artwork. But if I can find out (and if it’s in the public domain), it might be fun for me to explore something like that. I’ve never sold prints or fabric. Could be fun!

      1. Sierra Eschrich

        Following this because I too would love to purchase! This should be a staple in any California kid’s room :)

      2. I too would buy it for my son’s room! Since I saw your design on Pinterest, I am searching evrywhere for a wall decal similar to this one, but I still ça n’y find anything as stunning.

        1. Sierra Scarlatta

          Hey Gabrielle! I remembered this awesome story from years ago and wondered if you ever decided you’d be up for selling the Adobe file? I’d love to use for a nursery in Oakland – kind of meant to be, right? ;)

  3. Looks great!!!

    For a wall, I would be really tempted to print each image separately as a decal and then arrange them (as already determined) to the wall – that way there would be no seams.

    But I do love the idea a print on a continuous surface (ie table cloth) as well!

  4. This is so cool! I love your willingness to try new things and even share with us before you know how it turns out! I’m sure it’ll turn out really nice in the end!

  5. Oh wow! How fantastic! I love how it looks, I love the memories it’s connected to for you, how it ties into nature & CA & preservation, and all the work you put into. A big wow!

  6. You can save your files as a jpeg and photoshop them into a photo of your room so you get a better sense of how it will work in situ. You may already have done this. I find it’s the best way to test out the final result.

  7. Wow…your FIRST TIME

    I have been at Illustrator more than a year here and there

    I still don’t really get it like would like

    BRAVO

    1. Oh shoot! I didn’t mean to be misleading. I’ve worked with Illustrator since college (my major was Graphic Design), so I’m pretty comfortable using it (though there are still features I have to look up tutorials for even 20 years later). I’ve just never done a personal printing job at this size.

  8. I would recommend to order not only the printout but application the mural to the walls, because it’s tricky.
    More than that you can make a seamless pattern in Adobe Illustrator from this picture.

    1. It would be fun to make an all-over repeating pattern with this! Great idea. The first skillshare class I ever took — maybe a year ago or so — was on pattern making with Illustrator.

  9. I’m super curious about the legal aspects here as well. Did you need to get permission from the original artist or the park to do this? I’m assuming you couldn’t sell prints or anything of your version of it, since the original illustrations aren’t yours, but would you be allowed to distribute the files, or would anyone else interested need to contact the artist/park for similar permission?

    I love the idea of making a smaller version – like a poster – and/or pillows or throw blankets, so that your kids could take this with them when they go out in the world. If I had something like that on my home bedroom, I’d have loved a portable reminder in my college dorm or first apartment.

    1. Great question. For my personal use, I don’t need to get permission. But I wouldn’t be okay with selling the print or providing the digital files (originals or my version) without clear permission from the owner of the artwork. I assume that’s the National Park, but I’m not actually sure. If I end up wanting to do something with the print beyond using it for my boys’ room, I’ll need to go back to my original contact at the Park and start a new conversation.

  10. Try Pixers too! We wallpapered two walls in the kids handout room with the Lenin wall from Prague (after I mixed them spray painting graffiti onnthre wall!). Custom sizes and easy installation. Hey come in rolls but then you peel off the sticker on the back. Tricky at first but totally fun once you get your technique down. This is a fantastic idea!!!!

  11. We purchased a mural from Rebel Walls online. I’m sure they can help with your digital file if you sent it to them. They would then print your custom design.

    We hired a professional hanger to install the mural. It turned out perfect.

    Who knows, you may be able to partner with Rebel Walls!

  12. It is so lovely that you’re redoing the room for Ralph’s return. I remember coming home from my freshman year of college to no place to sleep. I had shared a room with my sister and naturally, with me gone, she wanted more room so my twin was removed. It took my dad a few days to get my bed set back up and in the meantime it felt super awkward and unwelcoming to say the least. The mural is fantastic and would look great in a baby room too! I could see you designing wall papers…

    1. In college, when I was studying graphic design, my ultimate goal was to be a textile and surface designer. But I’ve never actually made that happen. Maybe this will be the kick in the pants I need to finally go after that goal.

  13. such a cool idea! please post more about what options you chose and how they came out. Following eagerly.

  14. What a cool project. As an illustrator user, I appreciate the time-consuming work this represents (not just the vector art, but the colorization also.) Your boys are lucky to have a mom who is willing to put so much time and attention into their space.

    I can see many riffs at Spoonflower for this artwork …. individual animal prints, silhouette and reverse silhouette prints, individual large animal prints to make pillows. With its vintage style and California themes, this would probably be a very popular fabric to put into production.

  15. I am thrilled to see this post! I’ve been wanting to do this for a bunk room in a vacation house and haven’t ordered anything yet just because it’s so expensive. I haven’t tried using my own photo because most of the places I’ve looked have an amazing selection of options. I can’t wait to hear about what you decide to do!

    1. Ugh, sorry for all the comments. They weren’t showing up, so I tried with a different email/name in case there was some issue with that. :)

  16. My daughter is a huge NASA/space fan. We are redoing her room this week while she goes to space camp and are doing a mural wall.

    We went with limitless walls which also has a custom option, plus some additional finishes you might like.

    great project!

  17. As someone who works in digital printing and adhesive graphics, I recommend going with a company where you can get a physical test print on the proposed material if possible. You might decide it’s too cost prohibitive for a one-off (or unavailable depending on the company), but its so helpful to see some of the graphic full size on the actual material.
    Love your design and inspiration – it will look great in your home!

  18. Very cool! I have a smaller mural in my kid’s room and re-positionable is one feature that is very handy. We’ve only moved it a few times but it was nice to be able to move it to different walls and rearrange the room once in a while.

    About trees–yes trees can talk! They are amazing. See The Hidden Life of Trees by forester Peter Wohlleben.

  19. This is so cool and beautiful. I love the color, I also love that you redrew and redesigned to make it your own design . Looking forward to reading updates on where you have it printed. I use Spoonflower often for my custom fabric designs , they are so great to work with, beautiful quality fabrics and printing.

  20. Have you tried Rasterbator? https://rasterbator.net/ We did that with my son’s room. I recreated the the illustration from the page “Now it is day, the sun is up” section of Go, Dog Go!. We printed out the pages, and used double stick tape to attach them to the wall. You can also get an image blown up on a banner at a place that does commercial and retail banners I also found a great Hexagam design that I wanted on the side of my house – but didn’t want to go through the trouble of painting it on a 33″ diameter piece of plywood. I got the idea from a local school that had made banners out of several pieces of the kids’ artwork for the front of the school. I asked a banner printing company what resolution and type of file I would need to give them, and created that in Photoshop. They printed it on a type of billboard covering that has an adhesive back that you peel off and attach to a surface that has been painted or primed. It cost about $150. One could also just get an image printed on lightweight interior grade banner material and attach that to a wall.

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