The Victorians loved intense colours decorating, bold patterns of flowers or arabesque designs. Artists look upon nature for inspiration. Wall coverings were not only used as a decorative medium but as a way of insulating the walls. Wallpaper was a cheaper substitute for panelling and tapestries and became popular in Victorian times.
In the nineteenth century, printing costs were greatly reduced by abandoning labour-intensive block printing in favour of cylinder printing. Wood-block printers applied each colour by hand using a separate block for each colour in the pattern. Thus, each block had to be inked with the right colour, pressed down on the paper, tapped to ensure a quality imprint, lifted up, and reinked as the printer moved down the paper roll—an expensive process. Wood blocks were supplanted by copper cylinders, which carried the design below the surface of the roll, each roll printing a single colour. The cylinders were mounted within one machine and the paper was mechanically fed between cylinders until the wall paper was completely printed—no hand printing involved. Thus, by about 1885 wood pulp paper printed with cylinders so greatly reduced wallpaper costs, that it was cheaper to wallpaper a house in than to paint it.
William Morris (1834-1896) was an English artist, designer, writer and socialist famous for his revolutionary wallpaper and textile designs during the latter half of the Victorian period. He was the founder of the British Arts and Crafts Movement. He is best known as the 19th century’s most celebrated designer. He was especially known for his wallpaper design, based on nature, particularly on the native flowers and plants of Britain. To make his wallpaper, he researched and revived historical printing and dyeing methods. This insistence on establishing a ‘from scratch’ understanding of the process became a hallmark of Morris’s career. His wallpapers and textile designs had a major effect on British interior designs and then upon the subsequent Art Nouveau movement in Europe and the United States. It is ironic that the name William Morris is linked with the notion of Victorian design because Morris championed a principle of handmade production rather than the more industrial production preferred by the Victorians.
More recent advances in wall cover, include the development of additional printing methods, new inks and solvents, and the use of latex and vinyl as coatings or laminates.
The wallpaper consists of a backing, ground coat, applied ink, and sometimes paste on the backing used to adhere the paper to the wall. Non-woven backings can be of ground wood, wood pulp, or wood pulp with synthetic material. Woven backings are those made of sturdy woven textiles such as drill (heavy woven cotton much like jean material). The woven backing is then coated and printed.
The paper is printed with inks composed of pigment and a vehicle which ties the ink to the backing. Solvents can be acetone or water, for example. Printers choose inks carefully as the solvents they include affect the drying time and production time between colour applications of the paper.
There are four possible types of printing techniques.
1. Surface printing. Metal rollers impregnated with a raised rubber pattern are mounted on a single machine. Ink is applied to the surface roller, and the ink lays in the hills or rubber pattern sitting above the surface of the roller. The ink is then pressed onto the paper.
2. Gravure printing. Each colour of the pattern is printed with a single roller. Copper cylinders are laser-etched and then chrome-plated for durability.
3. Silk screen printing. Stencils for each colour present in the pattern are created from a silk mesh screen, using a photographic process.
4. Rotary printing. This type of printing process combines the mechanics of gravure printing with the precision of photographically produced stencils.