The Pros and Cons of Painters Tape

The Pros and Cons of Painters Tape

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Painters tape can be a valuable tool to help do-it-yourselfers and pros with various home improvement projects.

The debate for most pros is whether it is worth the time and money to use painter’s tape in the preparation process.

Certainly, for the average homeowner, a roll of blue tape can go a long way to help finish most medium to low level of challenging paint projects.

The answer to this debate depends on several factors, which I will try to explain from my personal and professional points of view.

A Bit About Me

I am a professional painter with 30 years of experience in all facets of the industry. I grew up in the Northeast and started my career with Historical Restoration and residential repaints. From there, I honed my skills in areas of the trade, including interior, exterior, commercial and residential painting.

I have done it all. I have owned a business, managed a crew of 22 employees, prepped exteriors in 20-degree weather, and baked in the afternoon heat over 100 degrees.

From the beginning of my training to the present day, the most important thing I have learned is that time is a valuable asset. Most professionals live by the rule that “time is money.” It’s not always a rule that DIYers adhere to firmly when the renovations are significant, and the funds are low.

Simply put, time is always a factor when trying to complete a project cleanly and professionally, and using painter’s tape can help achieve these goals in several ways.

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The Pros

For the homeowner, painter’s tape provides a variety of uses.

Painter’s tape is used as a guide for achieving a clean, straight “cut” line for ceilings, walls, and trim. Also, to mask off areas and surfaces for protection from dust and debris during prep and sanding.

You can use painter’s tape to protect surfaces from spattering brushes and rollers. And it’s a valuable tool when trying to achieve “pattern,” “block,” or “stenciling” when some faux finish or custom styles are applied.

For the professional, these are true as well. The tape is also essential for masking and prep if any spraying occurs.

The Cons

Painter’s tape can be a dangerous tool for the inexperienced painter or homeowner.

The wrong tape on a surface can turn a simple and low-level weekend paint project into a nightmare that could cost hundreds, even thousands of dollars to repair!

I have taken over projects from clients that have made the mistake of using yellow masking tape on trim and walls, but when attempting to remove it after a few days, they find the tape has destroyed the surface they were trying to protect.

In most cases, the tape had to be sanded or scraped off with scraper blades or palm sanders, and the ensuing patching and sanding of the damaged areas turned those clients into “never DIYers”!!

Another example would be applying painter’s tape to make a straight line where the wall paint meets the ceiling. If the surface has not been tested for adhesion, the tape can also pull off the adjacent finish and chunks of the drywall. That creates more damage to repair and a never-ending cycle.

A Crash Course in Painter’s Tape

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Most pros know, and very few do-it-yourselfers, that there are several types of tape for different uses. Not all ‘blue’ tape is the same.

Always read the label inside the roll of tape to understand what you’re buying and what purpose the tape was designed for.

Painters’ tape has many adhesion strengths or “release” times. Some have as little as a 7-day “release” to a 60-day “release” times. Simply put, the “release” time indicates the time a tape can adhere to a surface without causing damage or pulling off the finish it sits on.

There are a variety of tapes on the market to choose from, such as “green,” “yellow,” and “blue.” The colors represent different adhesion strengths, and you should always check the label to identify the release time.

The longer the release time, the lower the adhesion strength. Some tapes are marked as “delicate surface” and are safer to use ut may not be suitable for surfaces that need a stronger adhesion.

The rule of thumb is always to test the tape on the surface you are using before completing the application.

Place a five or 6-inch strip of tape on an area that is hidden or inconspicuous. Allow the tape to sit on the surface for several hours while you prep other project areas.

When ready, pull the tape back slowly. Do not pull the tape up or down but rather “back on itself.” Remember, you are trying not to cause damage. You want to see if the tape is safe enough for the surface.

Inspect the surface and the adhesive backing of the tape. Look for residue on the tape and any changes to the surface it was on.

If you applied tape to a stained baseboard or floor, the tape might have pulled off the polyurethane or clear finish. Check the tape to see if the clear finish is present. Then check the taped surfaces for damage or changes.

How to Apply Painters Tape

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If you’re unsure how long the project will last or how long the tape will remain in place, go for a “medium” release. This product will give you the safest results.

Whatever surface you are taping, you should always apply it in the same manner.

  • Make sure the temperature in the room you are working in is not too cold or hot, as the temperature will affect the quality of the adhesion.
  • Dust and vacuum all surfaces to be taped. You may need to clean baseboards before taping because dusting does not always remove dirt and debris.
  • When taping the baseboard, tear off a piece of tape that’s long enough to reach arm’s length in both directions. There is no such thing as a perfectly straight wall, and applying the tape in this manner will give you better control to manipulate the tape to follow the contour of the trim.
  • When applying the next length, overlap the first piece by 2 or 3 inches to continue the straight line.
  • Do not tape in short lengths and with the tape still attached to the roll.
  • Always run your finger slowly over the top edge of the tape to ensure it properly adheres to the surface.
  • Repeat this process on all surfaces you are taping.

How to Properly Remove Painter’s Tape

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After you have finished the painting and want to remove the tape, keep this in mind. Just because the tape test did not cause damage does not mean you should rip the tape off rapidly!

  • Always remove the tape slowly and back towards itself.
  • Use a thin utility or “snap-off blade” razor knife to score the edge between the tape and the surface lightly.
  • If you notice the tape pulling off the wall paint, stop, score with the utility knife, and gently remove the tape.
  • If the tape is not coming off easily, remove what you can first. Then go back with a painter’s rag and a putty knife or painter’s tool. Dampen the rag and wrap it once around the blade of the putty knife. Carefully use the rag to rub the tape off of the surface. Use small forward motions making sure not to touch the painted surface.
  • Touch up paint lines with a smaller, stiffer paint brush lightly dipped in the paint.

Additional Tips

Some important things to keep in mind when taping walls and ceilings:

  • Unless you were the original painter of these surfaces and you know how they were coated, it may not be suitable to tape.
  • All walls and ceilings should be primed before finish coat applications. This process should happen during the original construction of the home.
  • However, some contractors skip the priming process to finish the job faster and save time, money, and resources. If that’s the case, then it isn’t good for you! Taping surfaces not primed initially will remove the top coat and chunks of drywall with it!
  • If you’re unsure if your walls and ceilings were primed, then it’s best to assume they were not, and you should avoid taping.
  • When painting new additions or drywall, remember that freshly applied paints have a “cure” time. The curing process is the time it takes for the paint to fully dry and “adhere” to the primed or previously painted surface. Applying tape to surfaces where the paint has not properly cured will result in the removal of the finish. Average cure times are 21–30 days.
  • No “straight” walls exist, and ceilings and cut lines are never perfect. Sometimes it’s best to perform cut lines free hand. The first cut may look uneven, but you can “straighten” it out on the second coat.

The Debate: Should Professional Painters Use Tape?

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Professional painters don’t necessarily need tape to paint a room.

There are scenarios where taping interferes with small projects that need to be completed on the same day they are started.

The process for completing a day project ( a room or 2) would be painting the ceilings first, the walls second, and the trim last. In this scenario, the time used to tape surfaces would slow down the job, and it would not be completed on the same day. Especially if several painters are working on the project.

If a project were to last several days, taping would be an option.

When larger paint projects are started, multiple coats of paint are applied to surfaces. Painters will usually “cut in” ceilings first and allow this “cut” to dry. After the cut is dry, the ceiling is painted with a roller.

While the ceiling is rolled, the “cut” lines have already dried, allowing the painter to “cut in” the wall surface to the ceiling. After the wall cut has dried, the walls are rolled with the finish. During the rolling of the walls, the cut line will have dried, and the second cut for the ceiling can begin.

When painters take on larger projects, the process is different. In this scenario, the ceilings are painted first, then the trim and the walls. And because the trim is the most time-consuming, it would save time if the tape is utilized.

It takes time to paint a straight line on the baseboard and trim. By painting the trim second, you can apply the tape the following day, which allows the walls to be painted much faster because it was taped. In my experience on large projects, a painter can save 30% less time when applying the second coat on the walls.

You can easily touch up the trim after removing the tape, but the process goes much faster. When painters complete a project more quickly, they make more money by moving on to the next client. The client saves money because the project is completed faster.

One Last Thing

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Painters tape is a tool, just like a brush and a roller. It was designed for painters and DIYers to make their jobs easier.

Now that you know the Pros and Cons of Painters Tape, you know how to choose the right tape and apply it.

Whether a seasoned professional or a beginner, painter’s tape can help you save time and money on your projects and allow you to focus on other jobs.

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