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Hanging Pictures - a beginners guide!

What is there to know about hanging pictures up on your wall?  This can be fairly easy.  You just mark a spot, bang in a nail, and then hang the said picture, end of story.  This can often be fine but in some situations there are other things that are worth considering.

I find in many of my friend’s houses that there are pictures randomly covering the walls.  It is easy to see that these have been put up haphazardly over a period of time and hence the end result.  Does this really matter?  Not really.  Some of my very best friends are a bit random and haphazard and there you have it!  Their home is their castle and there is no reason why they cannot set it out as they want it. 

If your requirement is to create an interior that looks the best, then it will be worth putting in a bit of thought and some careful planning.  This will hopefully lead to a much better result.

Displaying Family Portraits
Displaying Family Portraits

The first thing to consider is the wall.  Most walls are made of plaster board and do not have much strength in them.  Before you start, check that you have some of the original paint.  This will probably be in an old paint can, buried somewhere in your garage or possibly in your loft.  You will need this old paint so you can touch up any damage or marks that you make on the wall.

On plaster board it should be fine to hammer in some small nails, or use some small screws, but if you are going to hang anything heavy, you will need to consider putting up a backing board that can be fixed firmly to the wall studs. 

Assuming you are going to use nails then consider buying a packet of picture hangers or hooks.  These are small hooks, usually made of brass and they have either one or two small nails to fix them to the wall.  In is best to use the two nail version as this will help to spread the load and hence will be less likely to damage the wall.

Never try putting large nails or large screws into a plaster board wall.  It is easy to cause a lot of damage, in which case you will just end up with a mess.

For very large heavy pictures you will need to make a suitable backing board.  There is no set way to make a backing board and you can keep it fairly basic.  Keep in mind that it will be hidden behind the picture and so will not be visible.  The key thing is to make sure that the board will not be larger than the picture that will cover it.  It could be a lot smaller but it will need to be large enough to take two fixing points.  Preferably it should be a horizontal board fixed securely between two wall studs.  If only one wall stud is available, make a backing board with some extra height and then fix it in two places (vertically) onto the single stud.

Hanging pictures
Hanging pictures

Locating the positions of the vertical studs behind the plaster board can be quite difficult.  If you move across the wall gently tapping the surface with your knuckles, you will notice a change in the sound.  This will give you an initial indication of where the stud timbers are.  The next thing is to look very carefully at the surface and you might find that you can just make out the nails or screws that are holding the plaster board to the stud.  Once you have found one screw, look directly above and below to see if you can see any more.  The next step is to drill a small exploratory hole through the plaster board and then poke a bit of wire through and move it around inside the void to get a more accurate idea of where the stud is located.  Then with a pencil, mark the location of the stud. 

Afterwards you will need to repair the exploratory hole by filling it with filler.  Let it dry and then sand it off and brush some of the original paint over it.

Generally pictures should be hung with the centre of the image at average eye height (approx 5ft or 157cm).  Before putting in a nail, always use a ruler to check that you have marked the right position. 

Once the picture is up, use a level to make sure that it is not on a lean.  Sometimes it can also be useful to chop up a wine bottle cork and glue small pieces onto the corners at the back.  This will hold the picture out from the wall and provide an air gap.  At the same time it will stop the picture sliding around and it will also help protect the wall.

Pictures displayed on a wall
Pictures displayed on a wall

Other things to consider

Always consider what might be located in the wall void.  In particular avoid drilling or nailing into a wall where there might be a risk of damaging an electrical cable or a water pipe. 

Avoid hanging pictures on outside walls.  In the winter period you will usually find that these walls have a slightly damp feel to them.  This is because a small amount of moisture is continually seeping through and then evaporating into the interior of the room.  This is not a problem but if you hang a large picture on an outside wall you will find that it inhibits the movement of moisture.  This can lead to a lot of dampness building up behind the picture and sometimes mould will start to grow.

Avoid hanging pictures on walls that are in direct sunlight.  Intense sunlight will cause pictures to fade very quickly.  Alternatively put some blinds up to reduce the light.

Avoid hanging pictures directly above radiators.  During the winter months the continuous heat will slowly cook your picture.  This will probably be ok for modern pictures but an old picture or a photograph could over time become irreversibly damaged.  If you are going to hang a picture above a radiator, consider putting a small shelf unit above the radiator to deflect the heat out into the room and away from the picture.

Have you considered installing a picture rail along the top of your wall?  Picture rail has been out of fashion for a long time and is rarely seen in houses built after 1950.  Despite this, it still remains the most practical system for hanging pictures.  Each picture is suspended by thin wires which connect to moveable hooks hanging from the picture rail.  The great thing is that you have total flexibility to change pictures around whenever you want to.  Removing a picture from the wall is easy and usually does not leave any marks behind it.  If you are hanging a lot of pictures you can keep making small adjustments until each picture is positioned in the perfect place.


Pictures hanging on a wall can add character to a room and help put your personal mark on your home.  A bit of forward planning is needed to get a good arrangement.  Avoid hanging pictures on any walls that will be in direct sunlight and avoid hanging pictures on any outside walls that might be damp in the winter.