How to Hang Pictures on Your Wall: A Step-by-Step Guide

Couple hanging a picture

Hanging pictures on a wall is easy when you follow a step-by-step process. Collect your tools before starting and determine the method you'll use for hanging the pictures properly in the space allotted.

Supplies and Tools Needed

You'll need to collect a few simple tools/supplies to ensure your project is successful. These include:

  • Measuring tape: Retractable metal measuring tape is a good choice.
  • Pencil: Use a Number 2 lead pencil or a mechanical pencil to mark nail points.
  • Hammer: A regular carpenter's hammer will work, although you can use a tack hammer (upholstery hammer).
  • Screwdriver: An electric screwdriver is easier to use than a manual one.
  • Picture hangers: Some pictures have sawtooth hangers, while others have a D-ring hanger or wire hanger.
  • Painter's tape: Use for double picture hangers.
  • Marker: Use for double picture hangers.
  • Scissors: To cut painter's tape.
  • Level: Use with pictures featuring two or more hangers.

Steps for Symmetrical Layouts

A symmetrical layout relies on knowing where the center of the wall space you're using. This approach will ensure that your picture layout is in perfect balance. This is especially helpful whether you're using the entire wall for a gallery or just part of a wall to build your picture arrangement. If your layout is less traditional and won't be symmetrical, then skip this step.

Step One: Find Center of Wall

The wall space you use will be either a rectangle or square. The correct measurement terms used are the height and the width of the wall space you are using. Measure the height and width of the wall space you're using. If you're using the entire wall space, you'll want to find the center of the wall and begin there. If your space is limited to a certain area of the wall, then you'll measure the height and width of that available space.

To find the width:

  1. Measuring wall
    Start at one end of the wall. Position the measuring tape along the baseboard to measure the wall width. For example, you may get 12 feet.
  2. Once you know the width of the wall space you're using, divide the number by two. So, 12 ÷ 2 = 6 feet.
  3. Measure once more from the end of the wall until you reach the new number of 6 feet.
  4. Mark this halfway point with a pencil somewhere along the wall just above the baseboard or round molding.
  5. You'll need to pencil mark this center-point at the top of the wall width, too.

To find the height:

  1. Measure the wall height from the floor to the ceiling, keeping a straight vertical line all the way to the ceiling. For example, you may get 8 feet.
  2. Divide the height measurement of the wall by two. So, 8 ÷ 2 = 4 feet.

Step Two: Intersect Width and Height Measurement

Now that you have both the width and height halfway points marked, use the measuring tape to pinpoint the precise center of the wall.

  1. Match up the two width marks (top and bottom) by holding the tape measure from floor to ceiling.
  2. Mark the wall with a pencil at the 4-foot mark.

This is the absolute center of your wall space. It's the point you'll use to determine how to place your picture layout. You will measure for your layout from this center point for each side of your picture arrangement is symmetrical.

Partial Wall Spaces

As mentioned, you may not be using a full wall, but a partial wall space for your pictures. If open wall space is limited, you'll need to follow the same steps to get the center of the area you plan to use; just select ending points for the space you plan to utilize.

How to Hang Gallery Walls and Groupings

One thing to consider when working with any picture arrangement or grouping is the space between the pictures and the picture sizes. When working with uniform picture sizes, you can keep a consistent measurement between your pictures so the grouping has a cohesive look. You can accommodate this space between your pictures:

  1. Decide on space you want between your pictures. The general rule is 2 inches to 4 inches, depending on wall sizes and number of pictures.
  2. Proceed with the measurements above to find the center of the wall.
  3. The first picture you want to hang is the one that will be in the center of your grouping.
  4. Once you have hung the picture, measure four strips of painter's tape the width you desire between your pictures and apply to the wall from the edges of your picture (use level for even placement).
  5. Proceed with the arrangement you pre-planned and repeat the process until all of your pictures have been hung on the wall.
  6. Remove tape and enjoy your wall gallery.

Hanging Pictures at Eye Level

If you've ever been in a home where the home owner chose to suspend all the pictures at a very high level on the wall, you probably found the arrangement awkward. If you aren't creating a multi-sized picture gallery, and/or you have high ceilings, then an arrangement of pictures placed at eye level can also take advantage of the symmetry approach.

Step One: Follow Museum Guidelines

In such cases, you'll want to replace the 4-foot center height mark used in the example above. The general rule for hanging pictures at eye level is between 57 inches to 60 inches. However, museums around the world use a standard eye level height for hanging art at 58 inches. Choose which height best fights your ideal eye level. You can use this guideline if you desire each picture properly placed on the wall.

To achieve this, you want to hang pictures so the 58-inch mark falls exactly in the center of your picture height.

Step Two: Formula for Calculating Eye Level

Start by calculating the center width of the wall as described in the symmetrical directions. Then proceed to figure the eye level instead of the center height. According to Purdue University, the formula you need to use for calculating each picture placement at eye level is 1/2h + 58 - d = nail height.

  1. Measure the height of the picture (h) and divide this number in half. For example, if your picture is 42 inches tall, you'd take 42 ÷ 2 = 21 inches.
  2. You'll then add 58 to this number. So, 21 + 58 = 79 inches.
  3. The picture drop (d) is then subtracted from the 58 inches. The drop is calculated by measuring the distance between the top of the picture and the hanger, such as a sawtooth, D-loop or picture wire. (In the case of picture wire, you'll pull the wire up toward the top as it would be stretch when hung on the wall and measure the distance.) So, if your picture drop is 2 inches, you'd take 79 - 2 = 77 inches.
  4. This is the distance you'll measure from floor up the wall. Mark this with a pencil and install the nail or screw system to hang your picture.

Follow this formula to end up with a wall of pictures neatly hung at eye level.

Step Three: Accommodating Two Hangers

Larger pictures will often have two hangers, one on each end of the picture, to better secure it to the wall. It's easy to accommodate this in your calculations:

  1. Couple hanging picture frame
    Use a strip of painter's tape and place directly underneath the hangers on the backside of your picture.
  2. Take the marker and draw a vertical line on the tape to mark the center of the picture (divide picture width by 2) and then the center of each hanger.
  3. Carefully remove the tape from the picture. Line up the center mark with the centered eye level spot on the wall.
  4. Using a level, stretch the tape across the area.
  5. Hammer the nail or set the anchor/screw wall hanger where you marked the tape on each end.
  6. Peel off the tape and hang your picture.

How to Hang Pictures Over Furniture

The placement of pictures on the walls behind furniture isn't complicated and easy to calculate.

Step One: Furniture Height and Picture Placement

For the walls that feature furniture placements in front of them, a good rule of thumb is to allow 6 inches to 8 inches between the top of the furniture and the bottom of the picture. When measuring furniture height, measure the back of furniture piece (rarely would the front be higher).

  1. Measure the height of the furniture (fh) and add 6" - 8" space between (sb) then add the picture height (ph) minus the picture drop 1" (d) to get your nail height.
  2. An example of the formula when applied with 42 inches as the height of the furniture and 24" as the height of the picture would be: 42" (fh) + 6" (sb) + 24" (ph) - 1" (d) = 71" nail height.

Step Two: Picture Widths and Furniture Widths

You'll want any pictures you hang above furniture to look as though they belong within the space. Pictures should be part of your overall wall design that also includes the space furniture takes up. There should be a natural flow between the furniture, pictures, and empty wall space.

  • Hanging a painting on a wall
    Sofas and beds: The general rule for placing a large picture or group of pictures over large furniture is to center above the furniture. The picture or arrangement should be no more than two-thirds the width of the furniture. If your picture arrangement isn't to be centered, be sure the overall look has symmetry so it doesn't overpower the furniture.
  • Console tables: Most console tables feature a lamp or two anchoring each end, a centerpiece and perhaps other art objects. Picture placement(s) should become part of this vignette with the picture no less that 6" above the table. Eye level placement is an excellent choice for this and other tables.
  • End tables and night stands: These tables typically feature a lamp and/or art objects. You can hang pictures at eye level for this type of furniture since the lamp(s) will compete for the space directly behind the table. Unless using a stacked arrangement, a lone picture would look strange using the 6" - 8" rule. One exception might be a long narrow picture that fills the space behind the table.
  • Bookcases and chests: The wall space above taller pieces of furniture can offer great design opportunities for a picture or grouping of pictures. Follow the 6" to 8" rule for an attractive look.

Hangers and Hardware Considerations

There are two basic types of frame hangers that are used on the back of pictures.

Metal Picture Frame Hanger

If your picture has a metal hanger, then you will want to drive your nail or screw into the wall just below the last pencil mark you made on the wall. This will be the mark that allows for half the length of your picture.

  • Sawtooth picture hangers: This hanger is use mainly for smaller and lightweight pictures.
  • D-ring picture hangers: This steel hanger is used for heavy and large pictures.

Wire Picture Hanger

A wire hanger is attached to the painting with two eyelet screws, one on either side. The wire is suspended from the wall hanger and adjusts so the picture is level.

  • Some wires are strung taut from eyelet to eyelet with no slack and are placed at the halfway point of the picture length.
  • Other wire hangers have enough slack in the wire to hang your picture from a single hook for a period style effect.

Additional Wall Hanger Hardware

The weight of your picture will determine which kind of wall hanger you need. Most wall hanger kits have weight rates listed on the packaging.

  • Sleeve type anchors: This system is good for wire hanging pictures for plaster and concrete walls. You'll drill a hole then hammer the anchor into the hole and then insert a screw.
  • Fastener for hollow walls: This system allows you to hang picture directly on the wall without needing to secure to a wall stud to support the weight. Often used for heavy large pictures.
  • Hooks: This kind of wall hook is safely used on sheetrock walls or wall paneling. They come packaged with the appropriate nails as a kit.
  • Toggle bolts: Spring-loaded toggle bolts are inserted through a drilled hole and used for heavy paintings and pictures.
  • Molly bolts: You'll hammer this bolt into the wall then tighten the bolt to force the casing to extend out.

Pictures That Measure Up

The key to successfully hanging pictures is to follow the appropriate steps for measurements. Armed with these tips, you can tackle any picture hanging project with confidence and ease.

How to Hang Pictures on Your Wall: A Step-by-Step Guide