I'll admit it: I used to scoff at painter's tape. Sure, I used it to stick things to my wall in college to as the adhesive for many a DIY project, but when it came to actually painting my walls—well, I was always more of a "give me a paint roller and a glass of wine, and I'll get this job done" gal than a careful measurer. Painting was work enough—did I really have to spend precious hours outlining EVERY wall in a thin strip of masking tape? It just seemed so tedious. But then, the longer I lived in my spaces, the more those little baseboard drips and ceiling scuffs began to bother me. And when you reach the point of needing to painstakingly touch up your moldings with white paint, you really began to wish you'd just sucked it up and used painter's tape in the first place—trust me. So, to save you all a similar fate, here's all you need to know about the tape and how best to use it.
What is painter's tape?
Well, pretty much what it sounds like: the term is used to refer, generally, to any tape used by painters to ensure clean lines and zero spill. Yes, it's the same as masking type, though the masking tape we usually see in craft projects has a lower adhesion than most painter's tape (more on that below). But there are several different types of painter's tape. Here are the two main discrepancies:
- Size: Painter's tape comes in a variety of sizes; a narrower roll will be more adept at getting into corners or taping off small areas, while a wider one will give more protection, even acting as a barrier over a baseboard, for example, or covering up window panes when you're painting muntins (those are the wood or metal strips between the panes of glass in a window—the more you know).
- Stickiness: Painter's tape also comes in a wide range of stickiness. You'll want to use an extra-sticky one on especially grainy surfaces, like brick or stone, and a less-adhesive version if you're covering anything delicate.
What kind should I use?
As stated above, it all depends on what kind of project you're doing. Opt for more adhesive for hard-to-stick-to surfaces and less for anything delicate or where paint might chip or peel. A good go-to (which falls in the middle of the spectrum on both width and adhesion) is Scotch Blue .94-inch tape.
How do I use it when painting a wall?
Think of yourself as essentially creating a border around what you want to paint. If you're painting one wall, cordon it off with tape. If you're painting an entire room, cordon off the bottom and top of the wall, around any door or window frames, A/C units or other built-in electric items (but take off your switch and electric plates pre-paint job), or any other molding.
First things first: You'll want to clean off the molding, baseboard, frames, or other places you're affixing the tape (much like you'll clean the wall before priming) to ensure it will stick.
Now, time for the tape. Securing painter's tape isn't as difficult as it might seem: If you secure one edge evenly in the direction you want to tape, then unroll 6- to 8-inch sections at a time and press them straight against the wall before securing, you should be fine (just make sure you press the tape all the way down onto the molding or wall you're affixing it to). If you want an extra dose of certainty, though, you can align the tape with a ruler, wallpaper applicator, or other straight-edged tool against the wall. Use an X-acto knife for precise corners. For extra protection above windowsills, door frames, or wider baseboards, you can tape on masking paper to act as a shield (though most projects—and careful application—won't really require this).
How do I use it when painting a ceiling?
For a ceiling, you can simply flip the same process, but for added protection, you may want to tape paper or plastic up to protect walls from stray drips—especially if you're using a roller. (Reminder: Here's how best to paint a ceiling).
How do I remove it?
The most important thing to know about removing tape is when to do it. It's best to wait until the paint is completely dry—that way, you avoid any late-in-the-game drips from still-wet walls AND avoid the possibility of smudging unpainted surfaces with wet paint stuck to the tape. For extra precision (and especially if you have a thick later of paint abutting the edge of the tape), use a knife to gently score the edge of the tape to ensure a clean peel.
Anything else I can do with it?
Besides its simplest use of ensuring neatly-painted walls, painter's tape can also be used in more decorative pursuits: Use it to create a pattern for a pretty painted floor, a graphic mural, or any other linear design throughout the home. One of my personal favorite inventive uses? The mock paneling in this black-and-white room by Yorgos Scarpidis of Scarpidis Design (yes, that black trim is TAPE!). It's the perfect design detail for a temporary space.
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