How to Lay Contact Paper: A Guide

Kitchen Drawers

Contact paper is a versatile material for changing the appearance of multiple surfaces in the home. It comes in a broad range of designs, colors, textures, and styles. It’s a popular choice for lining drawers and shelves, but it’s also attractive as an accent. There are many uses for contact paper but it can also become an eyesore if not properly installed. Laying contact paper isn’t as simple as it may seem, but if you follow a few simple guidelines, you can apply the versatile covering without the dreaded bubbles that destroy its finish. Here is a complete guide to help you lay contact paper like an expert.

What can go wrong when laying contact paper?

The first thing to understand about contact paper is that applying it properly can be tricky. It’s a material that is prone to developing bubbles and wrinkles. Just one small air pocket can cause the spot to tear and come loose shortly, ruining the visual appeal. The goal when laying contact paper is to achieve a flawless finish with zero wrinkles and bubbles and no creases. We preface the steps in laying contact paper with a warning about the things that can and do frequently go awry so you’ll be on your guard and avoid the pitfalls. By following each step in the process without cutting corners, you can enjoy your work for years ahead. If not, you may need to repeat the entire process in a few short months.

Common issues with contact paper

Contact paper that is creased or wrinkled on the roll can be difficult to flatten for a smooth finish. It’s best to use new paper rolled up without damage. Some contact paper is more pliable and can tolerate bending, while others tend to crease and wrinkle easily. Start with a high-quality contact paper that is easy to work with. Choose the most durable brand possible so it will hold up longer. Remember to handle it with care when unrolling, cutting, and removing the backing from the adhesive. Keep the contact paper straight so it doesn’t adhere to itself and keep the area clear of all dust and debris. A few small grains of sand can cause unsightly bumps that you can’t smooth out.

Steps for laying contact paper

Before beginning the application process, you will need to gather a few supplies. You may need fine-grit sandpaper to level and smooth the surface. You will also need cleaning supplies to ensure the surface is clean and dry. You will need a ruler or tape measure, a pencil for marking the dimensions of the cuts, sharp scissors, and a damp sponge and squeegee for finishing the project.

Step 1: Prep the surface

Hunker advises you must start with a clean surface. If necessary, sand the surface until it is smooth and even. Remove all debris, and wash it. It must be free of all oily and greasy substances or the adhesive will not stick. Allow the surface to dry completely before applying contact paper.

Step 2: Measure and cut the contact paper

The contact paper must be measured to fit the space you plan to cover. Start by measuring the width and length of the surface. You may need to apply the contact paper in multiple strips to cover the entire surface. Start this phase of the process by sketching the outline with the measurements for each part of the outline on your initial sketch. This will help guide you for complicated surface shapes. Take your time and make sure your measurements are accurate.

Step 3: Carefully unroll the contact paper on a clean surface with ample workspace.

The decorative side should face down so you are looking at the paper backing. Measure the contact paper and trace the outline on the backing paper with a ruler or tape measure and a pencil Most contact paper comes with squares on the back as guides for marking, but some do not. Make sure the lines are straight and each dimension is measured accurately. Allow a one-half-inch margin on the outline of the shape you marked on the backing paper to compensate for any possible measurement errors. Cut out the design of the piece you wish to lay first., leaving the backing paper attached. Make sure that the contact paper is smooth and flat with no wrinkles or creases on the front side. Chic Shelf Paper recommends making a test fit with the backing still intact before going for a live run. It helps to identify any issues before you begin the application process. If the piece fits over the entire surface (even if there’s a little extra), it’s ready to install.

Step 4: Remove the contact paper

It’s best to slowly peel back the contact paper, exposing small amounts of adhesive. Use a fingernail to gently free the backing paper from one corner of the contact paper. Pull the backing paper slowly back to expose 1/4 inch of the adhesive backing. Ford the backing into a flap on the underside. Lay the freed adhesive paper section against the surface you’re covering. Take your time and use your fingertips to press the edges down starting at the back and working your way forward until the entire exposed area of the adhesive is secured to the surface. Work from one corner to the other, pressing the contact paper and smoothing it down as you go to get out all the air bubbles and wrinkles. Hold the contact paper tight with one hand while you work with the other. If wrinkles or bubbles form during this process, gently lift the contact paper and repeat the process, smoothing them out as you go. It’s best to address wrinkles and bubbles as you go because it may be impossible to remove them later. When the entire area of the 1/4 inch of exposed adhesive is applied, it’s time to reveal more adhesive.

Step 5: Work slowly and finish the first strip

Continue pressing the surface of the contact paper down from one corner across, moving downward and smoothing the contact paper to a flawless adhesion. Pull the flap of the contact backing paper to expose another quarter inch of the adhesive surface. Fold it over into a neat flap that’s out of the way and repeat the process until the entire piece becomes secured to the surface. Inspect the surface for any wrinkles or bubbles you missed. It’s best to work from side to side when applying contact paper to massage all the imperfections out as you go. You must work out the wrinkles and air bubbles as you go and trim any excess paper with scissors or a boxcutter to achieve perfect coverage.

Step 6: Finish covering the surface

Our instructions tell you how to lay contact paper in workable-sized pieces. Continue to measure and cut the other pieces repeating the steps above until the entire surface is covered. The final step involves rubbing a damp sponge vigorously over the top of the new contact paper to make sure it adheres to the surface in all places. Next, use the squeegee, starting at the center and pulling it firmly across the top of the surface of the new contact paper, pulling it toward the edges. Apply pressure to the squeegee to press down any spots you missed and express out any small trapped air bubbles. Go over the edges with your thumb, applying extreme pressure to seal the edges.

Working with patterns and designs.

If you’re working with contact paper that has designs or patterns, it’s essential to cut the pieces to ensure the continuation of the pattern. It might mean using a little more contact paper, but in the long run, it’s worth it to have consistency in the design.

Preserving the integrity of your contact paper surface

Contact paper is a temporary covering for most surfaces. It’s not intended to be permanent and it will lift over time. You can extend the life of your contact paper by treating it with a sealant around the edges. You should also avoid getting the surfaces excessively moist and don’t set hot objects on the contact paper.

How to remove contact paper

If you wish to apply contact paper but there is already a layer in place, it’s best to remove the old paper before you begin. Wikihow advises that it can be done in a few simple steps. You will need a hairdryer, adhesive remover, cleaning rags, and cleaning supplies.

Step 1: Heat the contact paper

Turn a hair dryer on the hottest setting. Go over the contact paper in its entirety on the surface, covering each square inch evenly. The heat from the dryer will melt the adhesive holding the paper in place for easier removal. Hold the dryer about 3 inches from the paper and move it back across an area focusing on corners or edges to start the peeling process. Repeat the process u until you see the paper start to lift. It usually begins to bubble within a few minutes.

Step 2: Peel the contact paper

Start at an edge or corner where the contact paper is starting to lift. It’s best to start on an outer edge. Use your fingernails to get a firm grip on the paper. Slowly pull the paper upwards. If the paper stops lifting in a spot, use the hairdryer to heat the surface again. It should loosen the adhesive in a minute or two. Continue pulling slowly until you remove all the contact paper. You may also use the hairdryer as you peel the paper up.

Step 3: Remove any remaining contact paper

Use a plastic scraper with a thin edge to remove any of the stubborn contact paper that remains if any is left. This step may not be required, but it is an option when contact paper is stubborn and refuses to lift.

Step 4: Remove the adhesive

A sticky residue will cover the surface from the contact paper. It’s essential to remove the adhesive completely before treating the surface with paint or more contact paper. You may use a commercial adhesive remover. Check the warnings on the label before you purchase. Make sure that it will not damage the surface you’re working on. Also, follow the recommended safety precautions as some adhesive removers can be toxic if it gets on the skin or is breathed in. Wear the appropriate and recommended safety gear including gloves, eye protection, and if recommended, an open window or respirator. A fan and an open window can help dispel harmful fumes. If you do not like the idea of using chemical adhesive removers you may also use rubbing alcohol. It helps break down contact paper adhesives for easy removal. Scrub the adhesive away with the back of a scrubbing sponge.

Step 5: Cleaning

Wash the surface with warm water and mild detergent, and rinse. Allow the surface to dry completely. if any adhesive remains, repeat the process.

Final thoughts

Contact Paper is a fun and exciting medium to work with. It’s available in many different colors and patterns. You can transform most old and ugly surfaces with this versatile covering. Contact paper can be difficult to lay, especially if you’ve never done it before. Once you complete your first project successfully, you’ll know how to achieve perfection every time. It’s not difficult when you know what you’re doing and you follow the tried and true methods. Start your next home improvement project with the best possible quality contact paper. Take your time, move slowly and do it the correct way and it will last far longer. You can even treat the surface of freshly laid contact paper with a sealant around the edges.

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