Who was that Masking Taped Man?

Masking tape is amazingly simple stuff, but there are a few secrets to getting the best results.

It is hard to imagine a time when there wasn’t masking tape. In 1924 a young engineer named Richard Drew went to work for the 3M company. One of his first assignments was testing the company’s new Wetordry sand paper that was marketed to car painters. While working with the car painters Drew became intrigued by the Two-Tone paint schemes that were becoming very popular. The work required a high degree of skill to achieve the sharp line where the two colors came together. Some painters used an adhesive tape with butcher paper to mask the line, but the adhesive was so strong that it would pull up the paint, ruining the job. Drew went back to the lab and came up with a tape with a gentler adhesive. (Success wasn’t immediate; in an early trial of the product, adhesive was only applied to the edges of the tape and not the middle of the strip. When the tape fell off the cars being painted shop owners told Drew to “take this tape back to your stingy Scotch bosses and tell them to shove it!” The “Scotch” epithet didn’t attach itself to masking tape, but did stick to Richard Drew’s next big invention: Cellophane Tape.)

Masking tape is produced in a variety of grades for different purposes and applications. The most versatile and cheapest to use is the plain beige colored manila tape that has been around since the 20’s. The newer blue “Painter’s Tape” is superior in many ways; its adhesive has been developed to allow it to be left in place for a longer period with out becoming permanent. Probably the nicest feature of the blue tape is that its color makes it easier to see so it is easier to work with when you’re painting, and you are less likely to miss a piece when removing it. The disadvantage to the blue tape is its price. If you have an application where its properties are worth while, such as a painting project that will last several days before the tape can be taken up, the specialty tapes are probably worth the extra investment. But for general use consider regular tape for its cost savings.

Applying masking tape is pretty simple, but there are a few things to consider. First of all it is important not to over stretch the tape. Stretched tape is liable to break, may not adhere properly and may allow paint to seep under. Pull a few inches of tape from the roll to begin. To ensure the straightest possible line, hold the roll flat against the wall you will be painting, sticky side of the tape strip towards the surface you want to protect. Gently press the free strip against the protected surface then smooth with your fingers. Hold the tape where it is stuck to the surface, pull a comfortable amount away from the roll while holding the roll against the wall, and repeat the gentle pressing and smoothing process. To further prevent paint seepage under the tape, “burnish” the tape strip with a putty knife or a 5-in-1 tool; be sure to slightly twist the tool to be sure the pressure is on the paint side of the tape strip.

For best results, paint “as if the tape wasn’t there”. This takes a little longer, but you will be rewarded by a neater job with more distinct, sharper lines. Best of all, it will make removing the tape easier if there is less paint on it.

There is some debate about when to remove the tape, but the general consensus is the sooner the better. Ideally you should be able to remove the tape after the paint has dried enough that you know it won’t run, but before the paint is dry and a solid film is formed. It is still not too late to pull the tape in most cases, but it may be beneficial to gently score the paint along the edge of the tape so you don’t take up paint with the tape.

Some experts recommend pulling the tape directly away from the wall at a 90 degree angle. Others say 45 degrees, either towards or away from the new paint. Our recommendation it to not rush and find the way that works best for you in a given situation.


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