How to Use Painters Tape Like A Pro

So you want to learn how to use painters tape like a pro?
Here is a short guide to help you out.

Some painting professionals scoff at the idea of using painters tape. Other professionals use it on every job. How good are a “free hand” painters tape for you?

Why Painters Tape?

When you are painting along the edge of a ceiling, corners where two walls have different colors, edging windows and wainscotting, what you are doing is cutting in.

If you have painted a great deal, you have learned how to have a full brush load of paint (good brushes work much better than cheap ones).

Also, you have a steady hand that lets you apply paint right up to, and along, the edge of the part that you don’t want to be painted, without slopping over, then painters tape probably isn’t of interest to you.

Those of us who don’t have a steady hand, or haven’t cut in enough to get good at it, can use painter tape to mask off the part of the wall or edging that we don’t want to be painted.

This is so that when our paintbrush inevitably wanders over the line, it slops onto the tape and not the part we want to leave unpainted.

A Different Tape

So you want to learn how to use painters tape like a pro? Here is a short guide to help you out.

You might ask why would you use a painters tape? Why not regular masking tape, or electrician’s tape for that matter?

It has to do with how the adhesive on the tape works.

Decent quality painters tape has an adhesive that sticks really well, yet can be peeled off easily without leaving bits of adhesive behind.

A regular tape is designed with an adhesive that sticks tight, and might even get bonded to the surface in time, making it difficult to peel off, with adhesive debris left on the job, with bits of tape, quite likely.

Some painter’s tape is designed to be left on for a day, or even a week, and still strip off relatively easily.

Tell The Difference

How can you tell the difference between painters tape and regular tape, and even the various lengths of time the painters masking tape can be left on the surface?

The simple answer is to read the package.

Or, check out the color. Regular tapes aren’t that sexy green or blue, as a norm.

The different colors also indicate the manufacturer, or the time the tape can stay on the surface without sticking permanently.

Various Widths

Depending on what you are painting around, or even more likely, how steady your cut in painting hand is, you can get narrow (1/2″ – 12mm) wide tape (2″ – 50mm) or more in width.

The wider stuff is just the thing for me. I can be a little less careful, and that means I can paint a lot faster.

Removing Tape

And while I think of it, if you have deliberately or accidentally slopped a lot of paint over onto the painter’s tape.

And if you have waited for the paint to dry before peeling it off, you might want to use a very sharp knife and cut along the edge of the tape and the paint to ensure that you don’t pull the paint off with the tape!

Modern, 100% acrylic paints form a tough, elastic film, and if you aren’t careful, when you remove the tape, you’ll remove the film of paint with it.

Not Necessary

Of course, you don’t have to use painters tape! Just cut in your paint job freehand, and that eliminates the tape worries.

Of course, if you are as sloppy a painter as I, that also might mean having to repaint a wall that didn’t need it!

Which of the Painters Tape is the Best? 

One of the most popular brands of painters tape and the one that I’ve trusted for many years is the 3M Scotch Blue Painters Tape.

It is a type of masking tape that removes cleanly without adhesive transfer or surface damage for up to 14 days – even when exposed to direct sunlight.

It is a medium adhesion masking tape that is ideal for painted walls and trim, woodwork, glass and metal (not for use on lacquer or faux finishes).

Use it to mask off areas while applying paint, varnish, stain, and many other finishes. Flexible crepe backing allows for exceptional conformability to semi-smooth surfaces.

If you’ve ever used cheap masking tape on a project and left it for several days or weeks or months, and then tried to remove the dried on adhesive, you’ll really appreciate this tape.

Professionals use 3M tapes for their high quality and consistency from roll to roll. Also known as Long-Mask or Blue Tape. It is available in 4 sizes, 3/4″, 1″, 1 1/2″, and 2″ wide.

Why Should I Use Blue Painters Tape? 

Regular masking tape has a strong adhesive that will pull paint and finish off the masked area when it is removed.

Blue painters tape has a milder adhesive (medium strength) than normal masking tape.

It is suitable for painted surfaces and glass. If you have a fragile finish like lacquer, wallpaper, faux finishes, etc., use a low adhesive strength masking tape.

Always test in an inconspicuous area first.

Application of Tape: 

  1. Surface Preparation – Make sure the surface is clean and dry. Paint seepage under the tape is usually caused by a dirty or wet surface.
  2. Test Adhesion – Always test in an inconspicuous area first. If the tape does not stick well, choose a tape with more adhesion. If the tape pulls some of the paint off, use a tape that has less adhesive.
  3. Smooth Surface – Painters’ Tape should be applied to a smooth surface. If there are any bumps, the paint may seep under the tape.
  4. Don’t Stretch – Avoid stretching the tape. Pull the tape off the roll a few feet at a time and press down a small area without stretching it. The tape backing is designed to conform to curved surfaces. If shrinking should occur during spraying or drying, it is desirable to have as much stretch left in the tape as possible.
  5. Press Smooth – After applying the tape, press along the edges of the tape to establish a flat, smooth contact with the surface (you can use a small squeegee, or putty knife if needed).
  6. Surface Depressions – Lay the tape into surface depressions. If it is stretched or forced down, the tape may lift up, or, in some cases, break.
  7. Delicate Surfaces – Do not use Blue Painters Tape on lacquer, faux, or delicate finishes. Always test in an inconspicuous area first.
  8. Fresh Paint – Do not apply Blue Painters Tape over paint that is less than 30 days old. The paint needs to cure before you place tape on it.

Removal of Tape:

  1. Minimum Time – After painting, you should wait until the paint is dry to the touch, usually at least 1 to 2 hours, before removing Painters’ Tape. If you remove the tape while the paint is still wet, you may smudge the line.
  2. Maximum Time – Remove the tape within 14 days of applying it. After the paint is dry, the sooner you remove it, the better.
  3. Removal Angle – Pull the tape back over itself at a 45° angle. If some of the adhesives remain on the surface, remove the tape at a 90° angle (pull perpendicular to the surface).
  4. Temperature – Tape is best removed between 50°F – 100°F. If the temperature is too low, the tape may become brittle and tear. If the temperature is too high, the adhesive may stick to the surface.
  5. Removal Speed – When removing the tape, moderate speeds are best. Excessive rate of removal may cause tearing. A very slow rate of removal increases the tendency to transfer adhesive.


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