Whether you’re wrapping a gift, preparing to paint or adhering a broken taillight to your car, you can find a tape made for the job — and the various types are not interchangeable. The same principle applies to masking tapes: Among the rainbow of varieties available today, each has a talent for certain tasks — and inabilities in others. Here’s how to choose the tape with the right characteristics for any sticky situation.
Masking Tape traits
When shopping for masking tape, you see a range of colors, widths and prices. These clues help to distinguish tapes' less obvious features, which are the most important considerations in choosing the best tape for your project.
Paper backing – General-use tan tapes (as well as some painter's tapes) are made with crepe, a tissue paper with wrinkles. The wrinkles give the tape its flex to help it conform to textured surfaces. The finer-caliper painter's tapes typically are manufactured on a base of washi paper, making them ideal for creating sharp paint lines on smooth surfaces. All masking tape papers are treated with polymer or sizing to make them durable yet tearable.
Adhesive – Rubber-base adhesives give tan masking tape sticking power for applications on rough surfaces such as brick, stucco, concrete and siding or for narrow spaces such as the top edges of baseboards. Acrylic-base adhesives used on painter's tapes make some of the easy-release formulas practically powerless on rough, hard-to-stick areas but very effective on smooth, delicate surfaces such as unpainted wallboard, wallpaper or fresh paint.
Bleed preventers – To stop paint from seeping under the edges of masking tape, manufacturers such as ShurTech Brands LLC, 3M and IPG offer products (FrogTape, ScotchBlue With Edge-Lock and Bloc-it Painters Tape, respectively) made with various edge treatments. These are typically thinner-caliper tapes designed to yield sharp paint lines and are especially effective for applying faux finishes or for creating stripe patterns with paint.
rolls of FrogTape contain 60 yards of tape and have the same size core,
but the Delicate Surface (yellow) is a smaller roll because it is made
of a thinner-caliper paper. Thinner tapes are less prone to leaving a
ridge along the paint line.
Temperature and chemical tolerances – Auto-care tapes (sold at auto-parts stores) are specially formulated to handle the extreme temperatures of bake cycles, which general masking tapes would not survive. You also need to consider the finishes that you're applying. Lacquer, for example, requires a solvent-resistant tape.
16 Tape Tips and Techniques
Manufacturers offer instructions, guidelines, tricks and ideas to help in your masking endeavors. Visit their Web sites (see Sources Online), read the packaging (including the inside of the core, where you'll find recommended removal periods), ask the paint retailer for advice and follow these 16 tips:
1. Buy a tape that is recommended for the surface and the conditions where you're working.
2. Consider surface vulnerability, and always use tape with the lowest adhesion on delicate wall surfaces.
3. For textured surfaces, conformability is important; choose a tape that sticks and bends to the topography of the surface.
4. Temperatures affect adhesives. The ideal storage conditions to preserve tape are 70 degrees, 50 percent humidity and shade. If tape is cold, bring it to room temperature (or at least 50 degrees) before you apply it.
5. Even under the best circumstances, tape has a shelf life. After 12 to 18 months, the tape may lose its effectiveness and may even become difficult to unwind. Don't use an old roll you found around the house, especially if it has been stored in a garage or shed.
6. After cleaning the surface to be taped, apply tape in the sequence that you'll follow as you paint.
7. The extra tacking time allows the tape to cling better to surface contours.
8. Unroll the tape in short sections as you gently lay the tape onto the surface. Never stretch the tape as you work with it; when it relaxes, it can span surface depressions.
8. Hand-smooth the tape; then press along the edges with a five-in-one tool or putty knife.
To apply tape, first smooth it by hand; then press the edges by
burnishing them with a five-in-one tool or putty knife. If you’re
planning to paint along just one side of the tape, burnish only that
edge of the tape so it’s easier to remove.
9. Brush away from the tape edge, not into it.
you’re applying paint along a masked edge, do not stroke into the tape
with a loaded brush (top photo). Rather, pull the (lightly dipped) brush
over the tape and toward the surface you’re painting (bottom photo).
This prevents bleed-through and a heavy film buildup.
10. Although water-base paints dry in a few hours, they need a month to fully cure. If you need to apply tape over new paint, wait at least 24 hours after painting and use a delicate surface painter's tape; then remove the tape promptly and slowly.
11.When to remove painter's tape is a point of debate. I prefer to remove the tape while the paint is still wet. If you choose to wait until the paint dries, lightly score the edge with a utility knife before you slowly pull off the tape.
12. If you’re painting an accent wall and want to achieve a straight, clean edge in the corner, apply the base color past the corner and onto the accent wall. After the paint dries, apply tape along the corner; then paint over the accent wall edge of the tape with your base color. This allows any seepage to match the base wall color. Let that dry; then paint the accent color on the accent wall and onto the tape. Remove the tape immediately.
13. The "ripples" of crepe paper allow you to more easily mask a curved
edge. A tape made with washi paper does not flex laterally, but that
also means that it offers better control in creating a straight line.
To mask a tight curve around a doorknob or light fixture base, use
narrow tape and shorter pieces.
14. To tape off the narrow edges of wood trim, use a higher-adhesion tape
and plan for a shorter working time. For a tight hold and a good seal,
always clean surfaces before applying tape. (Do not rely on the tape to
do your dusting.)
15. Masking caulk.
thin-caliper painter's tape along both sides of a corner to control
caulk flow. Smooth the caulk and immediately remove the tape. (A thicker
tape would leave ridge lines along the edges of the bead.)
16. Preventing chipping.
a strip of masking tape to a board (before marking your cut line) helps
to protect the wood from chipping during a crosscut.
Indoor and outdoor masking tape applications
Although most masking tapes can be used indoors and outdoors, the ideal choice of tape depends on sun exposure. Tan masking tapes adhere best to the textured surfaces often found on home exteriors, but their rubber-base adhesive has less UV stability than painter's tapes' acrylic-base adhesive. The more UV exposure, the less time you will have for clean removal.
Some professional painters find that a general-use tan tape can work in various applications as long as they tweak the timing: They'll use it in sunny conditions only if they plan to remove it within a few hours of application. If they're working outdoors in a dry, shaded area, they can leave the tape in place for a day or two. When used inside, away from sun and extreme temperatures, tape will remove cleanly after four or five days. If your project requires more than four days, stick with painter's tape and follow guidelines printed on the roll's core.
Everyone has encountered tape that sticks to itself or tears off the roll in pieces. The tape might be poor quality, or age and climate conditions may have taken their toll. You're investing time, effort and money in a painting project, so it makes sense to pay a few dollars more for a fresh roll of the proper tape. "For $7 instead of $4, you gain extra working time and better removability,” says Jeff Malmer, masking tape specialist for 3M. “It's worth spending a few extra dollars to help achieve professional results on your painting project."
The History of Masking Tape
Masking tape started out as a monotone tan material, invented to help create two-tone patterns on automobiles. In 1925, 3M inventor Richard Drew applied adhesive to paper so it that would stick and release without absorbing paints and finishes. His idea worked, and for more than 60 years, masking tape was a tan and terrifically tacky coated crepe paper.
In 1988, 3M introduced a safe-release painter's tape and colored it blue to distinguish it from the super-sticky masking tapes. The tape’s new acrylic-base adhesive allowed it to be left in place for up to 14 days yet still remove cleanly This was great for DIYers and busy painters seeking flexibility in timing their work. And it was the beginning of a colorful era of specialty tapes made to accommodate various needs and conditions. Besides paint projects, masking tapes are used for labeling, bundling, wrapping, shipping, crafting and numerous other tasks. To keep up, tape manufacturers consult consumers and work with painting contractors to explore ideas and improve their backing papers and adhesives. Even the evolving paint technologies and environmental expectations keep today’s tape makers on their toes. — CB
3M (ScotchBlue and Scotch Masking Tapes), 800-494-3552, www.3M.com,
IPG (Pro-Mask Blue and Bloc-it Painters Tape), 800-474-8273,
ShurTech Brands LLC (FrogTape, Painter's Mate Green, Duck Tape, Shurtape), 877-376-4827