Father and daughter painting a living room

Wallpaper Vs Paint: Costs, Comparisons, Pros And Cons

Andrew Dehan7-minute read
UPDATED: June 14, 2023

When redecorating your home, you’re probably interested in giving your walls a new look. This means choosing either paint or wallpaper. Where paint will give you a solid color to build on, wallpaper can really make a room special.

Read on to find out what factors you should consider when freshening up your walls with wallpaper or paint, including the pros and cons of each.

Wallpaper Or Paint: 5 Key Factors To Consider

If you’re a homeowner or renter, you have a choice between wallpaper or paint when decorating your walls. (Note: if you’re a renter, you may need to clear it with your landlord first, or risk losing your deposit.)

Weigh these five factors before jumping into the decorating project.

1. Cost

Is wallpaper cheaper than paint? The answer is, most often, no. Paint is almost always cheaper to buy and apply than wallpaper. If you choose to pay a professional, the average cost of painting is $1.50 – $3 a square foot. For a 2,000-square-foot house, that’s a range of $3,000 – $6,000. You’ll want to consider hiring professionals if the job expands beyond a couple of rooms and you need it done quickly.

If you DIY, your costs will be considerably less. You’ll need to pay for paint, which is $30 – $60 per gallon. For a 2,000-square-foot house, Pro Paint Corner averages a cost of around $500, which includes paint and supplies like brushes, rollers and caulking for repair work.

Wallpaper is more costly than paint upfront. Rolls of wallpaper run $25 – $50 on average per roll. Installation is pricier too, costing up to $7 per square foot, according to Angi.com. The good news with wallpaper is that you rarely wallpaper a whole house – it may just be a room or two, or an accent wall.

Hiring a professional to hang wallpaper, while expensive, may be worth every penny. Unsure if you want to pay someone? Try doing a few walls yourself and see how it goes.

2. Durability

In general, wallpaper is more durable than a painted wall. Where paint can easily chip and peel, wallpaper can take a little more abuse. Paint requires more maintenance to stay looking fresh. Modern vinyl wallpaper can be cleaned with soap and water without fear of damage.

If your wallpaper is damaged, repairing it means replacing the whole sheet, which is much more time-consuming and expensive than touching up an area with some leftover paint. Still, if kept clean and intact, your wallpaper can last 15 – 20 years. By that time, that same wall will have needed several coats of paint to stay in good condition.

It should be noted that old-fashioned wallpaper made of actual paper should not be placed in highly humid areas, like bathrooms. High humidity causes wallpaper to bubble up and peel, meaning it will need to be replaced sooner rather than later.

3. Selection

There are a lot of choices when it comes to both paint and wallpaper. If you’ve ever visited a paint shop or paint center in your local hardware store, you’ve seen the vast swatches of paint colors to choose from. From fields of Ireland green to periwinkle blue, there are plenty of options whether you decide to go bold with your interior or stay neutral. On top of color, you have finish choices like matte, glossy and semi-gloss.

Wallpaper specializes in patterns. Bright florals, elegant damask prints, fun polka dots – the effect of wallpaper can be chic, formal or subtle. Wallpaper can also come in a variety of textures, from smooth to rough, or with embossed designs that really stand out.

4. Installation

Painting is easy. Clean the walls, sand any damaged spots, tape off areas you want to protect, put down a drop cloth and start painting. Imperfect walls might require more work to caulk and sand before paint is applied so nothing shows through.

If you’re just painting a bedroom or two, it can be an easy DIY job. Just make sure you properly dispose of paint if you don’t need it anymore.

Wallpaper, on the other hand, can be more time-consuming but finished in under one day. You’ll need to do all the prep work you did for painting, but you’ll also need to measure and cut all strips to size, leaving a 4-inch overhang. You’ll also need to cut holes for doors, windows, power outlets and light switches. Then you’ll need to apply glue to each strip and hang them so the patterns match and you don’t notice the seam.

Peel-and-stick wallpaper is a new option that attempts to make the whole gluing process easier and less messy. Each piece of wallpaper is like a giant sticker. Actual results may vary and you may need to use glue anyway to maintain adhesion.

5. Lifestyle

A wall material should not only complement your home decor, but your lifestyle too. Do you have a growing high-energy family with changing tastes? Or maybe you simply prefer to keep up with the latest home decor trends and rotate your design often. Paint is a cheaper way to make corrections and changes whenever you decide it’s time.

Are you someone who likes to host dinner parties and keep it classy? Considering it can be costly, wallpaper might be your perfect answer to having a home that feels more upscale over the long term. No other home decor can dramatically upgrade a room’s look like wallpaper, and it can make a statement in a real estate listing if you decide to sell your home one day.

The Pros And Cons Of Decorating With Wallpaper

There are many reasons why people love wallpaper. It’s durable and can really make a room unique. Here are some of the major reasons to go with wallpaper, as well as cons to weigh if you’re considering it.

The Pros

  • Easy to clean: Wallpaper is super easy to clean. It doesn’t absorb dirt and grime as much as a painted wall. You can dust it and spot clean it, and if you choose vinyl wallpaper, you can wash it with soap and water.
  • Wide variety of design styles: The biggest draw for wallpaper is its range of styles. Getting these patterns and designs with paint is a much more involved process. Well-placed wallpaper can make your home feel exceptionally special. It can follow any trend or design influence and looks great as an accent wall.
  • Long-lasting value: If you take care of your wallpaper, keeping it clean and free from excess moisture and damage, it can last for decades. If you’re looking for longevity, choose a classic pattern that won’t fall out of fashion in 5 years.

The Cons

  • Difficult to remove: Depending on the type of wallpaper, removing it can be a real pain and can cause damage to the wall underneath. Newer wallpapers can be peeled off more easily than older types. Almost all types require scoring the paper and then either using a steamer or chemicals to loosen the glue used to hang it.
  • Higher cost: Wallpaper has a higher upfront cost than paint. It’s more expensive per square foot, especially for quality, durable wallpaper. Hanging it yourself is a great way to cut costs if you can pull it off.
  • May peel in high-moisture rooms: In rooms with high moisture, such as a bathroom or kitchen, wallpaper may peel off the walls. This may take years to occur but can happen eventually.

The Pros And Cons Of Decorating With Paint

Paint is easily the most popular way to decorate a house’s walls. Here’s why paint is so popular, and a couple of cons to showcase why wallpaper is still the better option for many.

The Pros

  • Lower cost: Paint is cheaper to buy and put up than wallpaper. If you’re doing the job yourself, you can save even more.
  • Easy to change: If you decide you don’t like a color or want to stay current with paint color trends, it’s easy to change. Just paint over with a primer and a couple coats. Both renters and homeowners can take advantage of this.
  • Increases home value: Adding new paint or freshening up paint in a home can be a quick and easy way to increase your home’s value, making it more appealing on the market.

The Cons

  • Frequent maintenance: Painted surfaces in high-traffic areas need to be washed and maintained frequently to keep their fresh look. Dirt can easily accumulate, especially in often-touched areas, like around light switches. Paint can also chip, requiring you to touch up the area.
  • Limited design choices: Unless you’re a skilled painter – or are hiring one – you’re going to be limited to a solid color. Painting patterns or designs like what you can get with wallpaper requires a lot of time and skill.
  • Longer preparation and application time: Bigger paint jobs can be time-consuming, taking upward of a few days to weeks to complete and ensure it looks clean. Application time depends on your schedule, how many rooms you have to paint and how many coats are required.

Wallpaper Vs. Paint: Which Is The Better Choice?

Whether you include paint or wallpaper in your home decor is up to your vision, your budget and your circumstances. If you’re looking for the lowest upfront cost, doing a paint job yourself is your go-to. Then again, if you plan on being in a space for a long time, investing in high-quality wallpaper can really elevate the design of a room.

If you want the best of both worlds, choose wallpaper for one room or an accent wall, and paint the rest of your home. Renters should stick with painting, removable wallpaper or other temporary design ideas.

The Bottom Line: Design For The Long-Term

Both painting and wallpaper can be great for bringing life into your home. If you plan on being there for some time, think about the long-term. Don’t choose flash-in-the-pan decorating trends or too loud or dominant of colors and designs, lest you tire of the choice and change your mind.

Want to explore some ideas to get some inspiration? Explore these popular interior design styles to match your new walls.

Andrew Dehan

Andrew Dehan is a professional writer who writes about real estate and homeownership. He is also a published poet, musician and nature-lover. He lives in metro Detroit with his wife, daughter and dogs.