Masking and painter’s tapes are two of the most commonly confused types of tape because they are similar in look and feel. However, when you are doing a professional paint job – or any project that requires precision – using a tape that is designed for painting makes all the difference between getting the job done right the first time and having to touch up or repair damaged surfaces.
Many masking and painter’s tapes are made with a crepe paper backing, which makes them easy to tear by hand and able to be written on for labeling purposes. Some painter’s tapes are made with a slightly more robust backing than general purpose masking tapes to prevent splintering and to make it easier to remove the tape in a single strip after painting.
Perhaps the most significant difference between masking and painter’s tapes is that painter’s tapes remove cleanly after the job is done – up to a certain amount of time – while masking tapes tend to leave residue behind if left up for the duration of a paint project. Most painter’s tapes are packaged in some kind of label with a clean removal claim that lets users know how long the tape can be left up and still remove cleanly. The amount of clean removal time can be anywhere from a few days to several weeks – depending on the tape’s quality and construction. If you know that your project will last for a week or more, it is always a good best practice to use a tape that is designed to remove cleanly for the duration of your job.
Masking tapes, on the other hand, may not be designed to remove cleanly. The adhesive used in these tapes is formulated to maintain an adequate hold but not necessarily remove cleanly when left adhered for a prolonged period of time. If you have ever used colored masking tape to label something and tried to remove it after it has been sitting for a long period of time, chances are that you had to clean up some adhesive that was left behind. While this might not seem like a big deal to some, having to clean up residue after an interior paint job can be a major setback that costs valuable time and money.
Another distinction between masking and painter’s tape is that painter’s tapes are designed to be used with paint – and to prevent paint from bleeding into masked off areas. Some general-purpose masking tapes can pucker or wrinkle when they come in contact with latex paints, which can allow paint to seep under the tape. On the opposite side of the spectrum, there are some painter’s tapes that go through an extra step in the manufacturing process which treats the edges with an absorbent polymer that acts as a barrier to keep paint out. These tapes deliver extra sharp paint lines and are particularly useful for painting stripes, shapes, or decorative patterns on walls or other surfaces.
Ultimately, all painter’s tapes are masking tapes, but not all masking tapes are painter’s tapes. Professional painters should also use a tape that is made specifically with painting in mind, while a general-purpose masking tape may be sufficient for some hobbyists and DIYers doing smaller projects.