If you start putting paper on the wall with an off-the-wall attitude, you will probably find yourself up the wall before you're through.

Wallpaper is hot now.Hot enough that Kip Keplinger left his job as a computer programmer to take up wallpapering and painting 14 years ago and has made it into a "lucrative" profession. He also teaches a course for do-it-yourselfers in Memphis State University's continuing education program.

With good wallpaper now costing anywhere from $30 to $200 a roll, he says, it is wise to be forewarned: "When you start making mistakes with the high-end papers, it can be very expensive."

The good news is that wallpaper today is stronger, more colorfast and easier to hang. And most of the paper marketed for do-it-yourselfers is pre-pasted and pre-trimmed.

"Compared to paint, wallpaper offers more color, more style, flair. If it is done right, wallpaper can last as long or longer than painting," Keplinger says.

"For beginners, it takes a little bit longer than painting. But overall I'd say it is about the same. In a bathroom or kitchen, with a lot of cabinets and corners, it can take longer."

Among Keplinger's tips for beginners:

- Think small. A small pattern is easier to work with than a large pattern. It makes it easier to match up the sides of each strip when pasting them on the wall. Striped, textured and speckled papers also can be easier to match.

- Measure well. Make sure you know how much paper you need. There are several different methods for measuring a room. The most basic is estimating square footage and allowing for doors, windows, cabinets, etc. If you need assistance, find a wallpaper store that offers it.

- Buy enough. It's better to buy a little extra paper than not enough. If you run short and have to buy more, you may not be able to get the same lot number. Every time the manufacturer makes a new lot, the color will be slightly different, Keplinger says. Also, an extra roll can come in handy to repair places that may get torn later.

- Think vinyl. In kitchens, bathrooms, high-traffic areas or anywhere small children may play and run, Keplinger recommends a vinyl-coated paper.

- Tool up. The job will go smoother with all the right tools. As with your paper, you do not want to have to go back to the store in the middle of the job for more tools. Keplinger suggests buying a wallpapering tool kit, available at many stores that sell wallpaper. It will contain such tools as a smoothing brush, a seam roller, a utility blade of some sort, a joint knife (also called a putty knife) and a long straight-edge for cutting the paper.

- Clear the walls. Remove all the wall plates, towel bars, shower curtains, etc., before you start. Keplinger goes so far as to remove the toilet tank, which is not as difficult as it sounds, he says.

- Prepare the surface. Remove old paper by pulling it off, scraping and using a chemical stripper. Keplinger suggests wearing a mask over the mouth and nose when using a stripper to protect yourself from the fumes. Other wall preparation can include filling cracks, removing mildew and painting trim. Some walls may require liner paper before the wallpaper is applied.

- Start with care. The first piece is the most important. Keplinger uses a long level to make sure the paper is hung straight. "You need to really take your time and get that first strip as level as possible. If it's off, by the time you get to the sixth or seventh piece, you are going to be really off."

- Blades are better. Keplinger never uses scissors, preferring to use a razor blade or a utility blade, depending on the situation.

- Go slow. Even though he is a veteran, Keplinger still cuts only one strip at a time. It means wasting less paper if you make a mistake.

- Stop and think. When facing a tricky wall with cabinets, windows or other obstacles to be trimmed around, Keplinger suggests, "Sit down on the floor and study the wall a while. Think about what you are going to need to do."

(A detailed instruction booklet on wallpapering is available from National Decorating Products Association at 314-991-3470.)