Headliner fabric is different than regular material used for upholstery. Headliner fabric has a special foam backing on it that will mold to the contours of the vehicles roof. A headliner is the “ceiling” of a vehicle, it is used to give a nice finished look to the vehicle interior area overhead and to help hide wiring and lighting that is run through the top. In most vehicles wiring for the sound system and interior lighting in run through the top and hidden under the headliner panel. There are also weather and sound proofing elements installed underneath the headliner. The headliner fabric pulls it all together and gives it a nice finished look.
A long time ago when cars were bigger headliners were made using tension rods or bows that ran through the headliner material to hold the headliner fabric in place in an arc against the roof panel. These rods were made of wood or metal depending on the make of the car. The headliner fabric could be made of almost any kind of material from regular upholstery material to heavier fabrics like vinyl. Upholstery leather is never recommended for headliners as it is heavy and will sag much sooner than other headliner fabric. Since a lot of people interested in installing a headliner are car enthusiasts and restorers it is important to understand both new and old methods of headliner installation and types.
In newer vehicles the bow system described above was changed to a panel system using form-fitted lightweight panels that closely follow the interior roof lines. This type of system is held in place with clips, trim pieces or other accessories. In older vehicles weather and sound insulation and wiring were not factored in when hanging the headliner so the bow system worked well.
The panel system that uses headliner board finished with ultra lightweight foam backed headliner fabric has become the standard for newer vehicles. The benefits of the newer system Headliner fabric can also come in suede, vinyl material and other synthetics but the ideal material is lightweight and will not promote premature sagging. The foam comes pre-attached to the material making it much easier to work with. If you are re-upholstering your own headliner, make sure the scrub off any foam backing left from the old headliner before you put on the new one. It is very important to have a clean surface for the new headliner fabric to adhere to. This will not only look better in general but it will also last so much longer, that’s what the goal is.
Using non-traditional headliner fabric
If you want a complete custom look you don’t even have to use headliner fabric. You can
use anything you want from designer upholstery fabric or other special luxury fabric to vinyl and even light leathers. All you have to do is find the fabric you want to use and attach it to 1/8” foam rubber sheeting to it with spray adhesive. This requires extra supplies and you need to be careful not to create air pockets but you will get a nice custom look that nobody else has.