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Masking Tape Types and Tips

By on Jul 25, 2014
Masking Tape Types and Tips

The painting season is upon us, so we'll make our annual contribution to the topic with a painting article of a different nature. Most painting articles tell you all about putting paint on a surface. On rare occasions, you might learn how to take paint off a surface, but no article (at least none that we know of) has addressed the subject of keeping paint off a surface that you don't want it on. Well, here it is. When you talk to people about why they hate to paint, one of their chief complaints is that it's messy. Paint always seems to find its way onto surfaces where it shouldn't be: carpet, cabinets, floors, furniture. It's nerve-wracking, but it shouldn't be, and it's easy to prevent. Let's cover the basics first.

Dropcloths 101

First, do those jobs that don't raise dust, or require cleaning or repair. For example, remove cover plates from switches and outlets, remove blinds and drapes. On the outside, that means tying back bushes, setting up ladders and sawhorses.

On the other hand, if painting preparation requires repairs that will raise dust or if you need to do a lot of cleaning, spread dropcloths first to prevent dust or dirty splatters from landing on surfaces where such messes will cause a problem. Spread canvas dropcloths on the floor. Use plastic tarps anywhere where their slippery nature will not cause you to lose your footing. Once surfaces are protected, have at it with repairs and cleaning. If you don't need to clean or repair, begin applying painting tape where necessary. The tapes we show in this article are commonly available at paint stores, hardware stores, home centers and discount retailers. And while professional painters use tape dispensers and other specialized products to protect customers' homes, we tend to show basic materials here that are readily available to homeowners.

Tape 101

The rule of thumb is to apply tape on, along or over any surface that would be harmed by drips, runs or splatters. There is a tape for any surface, so there's no excuse for not having a properly protected surface before beginning the job. Your goal should be to complete your painting project and be left with crisp, clean surfaces—those that are freshly painted and those that have been protected. You'll paint with far greater peace of mind if you are working with properly protected surfaces: A falling glob of paint won't be of concern. So, resist the temptation to start painting right away. Remember, the actual application of paint is always the smallest part of a painting project. The preparation and the cleanup comprise the bulk of the work and they are as important as the paint itself. "If you cut corners on the prep work, you'll regret it," says Mike Sedlak, senior category manager for tape manufacturer Manco Inc.

When you paint you'll work from the top down, but you want to apply tape from the bottom up. That is, first start at the floor, and then tape vertical surfaces. Even if you apply tape along a vertical surface using a downward motion, remember to overlap the piece of tape at floor level. That way, paint running down along the tape will not be able to run under a poorly bonded joint and onto an unprotected surface. Finally, it's worth the money to use a professional-quality painter's tape. These tapes are easier to apply and remove more cleanly than the general-purpose masking tape you use for odds and ends around the house.

Working Your Way Up

Apply a piece of professional-grade painting tape along the top edge of baseboard trim. We show two types. The first is 1-in.-wide crepe paper masking tape that costs about $1.50 for a 60-yard roll This tape conforms well to curved or bumpy surfaces, but its rubber-based adhesive means that it will be difficult to remove if left on the surface for several days. It should be removed as soon as the paint is dry. The ultraviolet rays in sunlight weld the tape's adhesive to the surface. Next is a kraft paper masking tape. A 2-in. x 60-yard roll costs about $4, and it excels at protecting long, straight edges. It does not conform to surface irregularities as readily as masking tape. However, its acrylic adhesive resists sunlight, so you won't have a problem removing it later if you use it in a sunny room or outside.

For protecting tall baseboard trim, chair rails and wainscoting, you have several options. You can apply a wide piece of painter's tape so it juts out horizontally, forming a paint-catching shelf, or you can apply a pre-taped dropcloth and let it hang over the trim. These dropcloths cost $6 to $7.50 and vary in widths from 22 to 104 in.

When you are trying to protect carpet from the paint applied to baseboard trim, one option is to apply a 2-in.-wide crepe paper tape or a 3-in.-wide kraft paper tape along the edge of the carpet. Tuck the tape into the joint between the carpet and the baseboard trim using a flat knife, but do not press the entire width of the tape onto the carpet. Next, lap the edge of the tape over the dropcloth. Be sure the dropcloth does not get pulled back and leave an exposed section of carpet beyond the masking tape. You can eliminate this problem by using a pre-taped dropcloth at the edge of the carpet instead of tape. Apply the adhesive band on the dropcloth in the same manner as you would masking tape and then run the plastic portion of the dropcloth over the canvas dropcloth on the floor.

Finally, apply painting tape along vertical trim. Protect bay windows, shelves, fireplace surrounds or appliances using a pre-taped dropcloth.

Special Situations

There are a variety of tapes available to deal with specialized situations. All the tapes here cost about $3 a roll.

To protect wallpaper, surfaces that have recently been painted, or that have a clear finish (or any delicate surface, for that matter), use KleenEdge Easy Release tape. On the other hand, rough surfaces or surfaces that cannot be adequately cleaned require high-tack tape. This product has an extra-sticky adhesive to help it bond to difficult surfaces. Yet it removes cleanly. It's ideal for protecting landscape timbers, concrete and foundation walls when painting outside or applying driveway sealer. Speaking of which, don't apply driveway sealer along any vertical surface, such as a foundation or landscape timbers, without protecting the surface with a hanging dropcloth or masking paper. Driveway sealer splatters easily and is nearly impossible to clean up.

And one last word about painting tape: In most cases, you should remove tape and taped dropcloths as soon as the paint is dry. To do this, gently and steadily pull the tape up at a 90-degree angle to the protected surface.

For vertical surfaces that require complete protection, use Duo-Stick. This tape has a light-tack adhesive that bonds it to a wall and a more aggressive adhesive protected by a peel-away strip that is used to suspend a plastic dropcloth. The adhesive is strong enough to hold a 3-mil-thick plastic sheet vertically, according to Sedlak. It can also be used to fix a canvas dropcloth in place on the floor. 

Copyright © Popular Mechanics 2001. Reprinted by permission

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