How To Hang Pictures on Drywall (With or Without a Stud)

Decorating is one of the more exciting aspects of moving into a new apartment home. Before you begin unpacking, you've mentally already placed your various pieces of wall art or are thinking about what you'd like to buy.

Better Homes & Gardens suggests you tackle empty wall space by, “infusing it with warmth and personality," using creative artwork, mixed media and vintage pieces that bring out who you are.

Of course, hanging pictures on drywall is tricky. You'll need to know if you're hanging pictures on drywall or studs, for starters, and you'll need the right equipment — such as drywall nails and drywall anchors.

Check out these apartment decorating tips for creating a space you love while working with the materials you have.

Hanging pictures on drywall or studs

The most secure way to hang a coat hook, wine rack, picture or any piece of wall art is to attach a screw to a stud.

What is a stud?

Not exactly sure what a wall stud is? Let us clarify — its beams of wood beneath the drywall that act as the wall's frame. In most homes or mixed-use buildings, studs find themselves typically spaced 16 inches apart. They can run vertically, horizontally or diagonally. Although most home builders follow these guidelines, it isn't a guarantee — so your first step in finding a place to hang pictures on drywall is to find the studs.

stud finder

How to find a stud

The easiest way to find a stud in your wall is to look for electrical outlets and light switches. Standard electrical outlets and light switches typically attach to studs.

All you have to do is remove the cover plate of the electrical outlet or light switch and confirm there's a vertical wooden support beam — stud — behind it. Once you've found one stud, begin measuring outward, marking off every 16 or 24 inches based on the spacing between studs in your home.

You can also buy a stud finder. They let you find studs under the drywall without having to measure. Residential stud finders are fairly inexpensive, with prices ranging between $10 and $50. Don't go buy yourself an industrial deep-scanning stud finder, though — you won't need all the bells and whistles and a residential stud finder will do fine. The studs in your drywall are shallow enough for detection via a stud finder sensor.

When you don't have any other options, you can sometimes tell where a stud is by knocking on the drywall. A dense, muffled knock means there's a stud behind the section of drywall you're knocking on, whereas a more hollow sound probably means that there's no stud behind the drywall.

Hanging pictures on drywall with a stud

Once you find the stud, it's time to break out the tools and start hanging. Make sure you've reviewed your lease first and you have the green light to put holes in your walls. Drilling into a stud will create an obvious hole you will need to fill before you move out.

power drill

Drilling into a stud

  1. Use the drill bit to slowly drill into the drywall and then the stud — creating a hole in the location you marked. Always look out for plumbing and electrical cords when drilling into a stud.
  2. Apply gentle pressure while you're drilling to know when you've hit the stud. Trust us, you'll feel it.
  3. Keep your drill at low speed, and make sure to choose the right bit for the job. A large bit isn't necessary when drilling into a stud.
  4. Insert the drill and pull it out slowly once you've drilled your hole into the stud.

Hanging your picture

If your electric drill has a screwdriver bit, swap it in. Otherwise, a manual screwdriver will work. Place your screw into the small hole you created, and use the screwdriver to screw it in. Then, you can hang your picture.

When you don't have a stud

Because drywall isn't very sturdy, be careful about hanging pictures and art from a spot that doesn't have a stud. If you're able to make holes in your walls, here are some options to consider for hanging pictures on drywall without a stud.

1. Drywall anchors

Drywall anchors look like hollow plastic screws. They're a great ally when working with drywall since they're designed to lodge directly into it. It's like a one-way valve. The anchor slides into the wall, then the hook deploys and you can't pull it back out. The design of drywall anchors ensures that your art remains on your wall. This is especially important if you're hanging a heavy framed print or painting.

2. Expanding plastic sleeves

These drywall anchors have a design complete with wings that spread out to help keep it — and what you hang from it — in place. It should fit snugly into the hole you drill, to the point that you might need to tap it with a hammer to get it all the way into the drywall. Intended for hanging lightweight and medium-weight items, expanding plastic sleeves work best for securing heavy picture frames, bulletin boards, lightweight framed mirrors, lightweight shelving and wall-mounted mirrors to the drywall.

When shopping for expanding plastic sleeves, check the packaging since only ones intended for drywall will let you put a screw into them. If you don't know the composition of your walls, ask your leasing office or landlord. Definitely check because you may not even have drywall and other expanding plastic sleeves for different materials exist.

using nails for hanging pictures on drywall

3. Drywall nails

Drywall hangers and nails work in two different ways. The nails drive into drywall and plaster walls at an angle, which allows them to use the wall surface as leverage and support. These are perfect for hanging items up to about 20 pounds. If you have a picture that is heavier than that, use a flat-mounted hook and anchor.

Drywall hangers and nails come in a variety of sizes, sold separately and in kits. Grabbing a simple picture hanging kit from your local hardware store is always a good idea too. You'll then have all sizes of drywall nails and hooks you may need on hand.

4. Tap-in expanding anchors

For hanging loads less than 10 pounds, use a handy little tap-in expanding anchor. Tap the pointed end and flat shank into the drywall until it's flush. Once your shank is flush with the wall, expand the anchor by driving a #6 screw into the hole.

5. Toggle bolts

Toggle bolts work for super heavy loads, like a coat rack. They're a little more difficult to install, as they require a larger hole, proper insertion into the drywall and careful screwing to expand the toggle and bring it flush to the inside of your drywall.

To use toggle bolts, drill a hole large enough for both the screw and toggle to fit into your drywall. Fit the item you wish to anchor over the bolt, insert the toggle and tighten. This will anchor the toggle to the inside of your drywall, creating a very sturdy place to hang heavy loads.

6. Anchor wire/monkey hooks

Anchor wire, a.k.a. “monkey hooks," are curved pieces of metal that look similar to the hook on a dry-cleaning hanger. The big difference is that they're very sharp and pointed at one end. On the other, anchor wires have a divot and this is where your picture goes. These are great for mirrors or artwork hung with a wire that runs across the back of the framed item.

To use an anchor wire, press the sharp end into the wall at a downward angle, rotate the anchor wire 180 degrees and gently pull it back out until it doesn't move. Once situated, you're ready to hang your object.

hanging pictures on drywall

7. Adhesive strip or hooks

Hanging pictures without nails is possible too — you don't always need to make holes in your walls. If you're not allowed to use drywall nails and don't have the equipment you need to make a lot of holes in the wall, you can still hang your wall decor using adhesive strips or hooks.

These products stick to the wall without damaging the paint (as long as you follow the instructions properly). Adhesive strips also stick to the art for even more security. Products come in different sizes and use different glue strengths. Make sure to check the packaging before purchasing to ensure a sturdy hang.

Get the right décor up no matter what

The types of walls you have and the rules within your lease for hanging pictures on drywall need not limit what you can do. With the right tools and accessories, you can fill your walls with items that reflect your personality and passions — creating a space that's truly yours.

Lesly GregoryLesly Gregory has over 15 years of marketing experience, ranging from community management to blogging to creating marketing collateral for a variety of industries. A graduate of Boston University, Lesly holds a B.S. in Journalism. She currently lives in Atlanta with her husband, two young children, three cats and assorted fish.

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