DIY Painting & Finishing

Masking Tape vs. Painter’s Tape: Selecting the Right Supply for Your Painting Project

Quality brushes and rollers are just some of the supplies that help create a professional paint finish. The wrong tape could ruin the look of your room.
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masking tape vs painter's tape

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Most DIY enthusiasts know that getting a high-quality paint finish frequently involves masking some areas so that paint doesn’t splatter or drip onto them. Leaving a crisp, professional-looking paint edge is the goal with tape.

The trouble starts with the phrase ‘masking,’ because it’s natural to assume a roll of masking tape is the correct product for the job. In most painting cases, it isn’t. What’s needed is painter’s tape.

Whether you’re updating the inside or outside of your home, knowing why one tape is better for paint will help make sure you can achieve the best possible finish. Keep reading to learn the differences between masking tape and painter’s tape.

Both masking tape and painter’s tape feature crepe paper backing. 

At a glance, it’s easy to see how people get confused about the masking tape vs painter’s tape question. Masking tape and painter’s tape are both made from crepe paper so they look very similar. They also are often close to each other in the store, and frequently on the same page online.

Maybe the painter’s tape is colored blue or yellow whereas masking tape is often cream, but labeling is not always clear so it’s easy to pick one rather than the other. It’s also common to think there’s nothing wrong with using either. After all, if painter’s tape is used for masking, what harm can it do to use masking tape instead?

Masking tape is designed to stick—and stay stuck. 

The main difference between masking tape and painter’s tape is the adhesive. The former is much stronger. It can be useful for all kinds of household and workshop tasks like repairing a torn vacuum bag, making quick labels, or marking a line on laminate boards so they don’t split when being sawed. Sticking a piece of masking tape on tile not only allows you to easily mark where to drill but can also help prevent the tile from cracking.

Masking tape’s advantage is the strong adhesive layer that will stick to all kinds of objects and stay stuck. Unfortunately, when used for painting, that extra adhesion can cause a number of problems which we’ll look at in a moment.

masking tape vs painter's tape

Painter’s tape is designed to be removed easily.

Painter’s tape has a much lower ‘tack’ (adhesive strength). It’s designed to stick where it’s needed—on drywall, wood, and glass, for example—but it also comes off easily. Whether you leave it on for a day or a week, it comes away cleanly, leaving a sharply defined line that is the mark of a well-painted room.

Whereas all masking tape is pretty much the same, there are distinct types of painter’s tape designed for indoor or outdoor use. Exterior versions might have features like UV resistance. The packaging frequently states the amount of time to leave painter’s tape on a surface before it should be safely removed.

Masking tape is more susceptible to paint bleed. 

In spite of the strong adhesive used for masking tape, it doesn’t necessarily form a neat seal with the surface. This can cause paint to ‘bleed’ under the tape, making the paint edge fuzzy rather than sharp.

There also can be problems when lifting the masking tape from a painted surface. If the adhesive is too strong or the tape has been left on too long, removing masking tape can take not only the new paint layer with it, but there’s also a danger that it could crack and lift an older layer of paint, too. The result is a real mess and rectifying the problem can take a long time and be frustrating.

Some painter’s tapes feature paint-blocking technology. 

In addition to low tack, some painter’s tape makers have developed adhesive technology that creates a precise seal along the edge, thus preventing the problems associated with paint bleed. Helping to create clean paint lines that look professionally cut-in, Frog Tape (available on Amazon) is perhaps the best-known brand with this feature, though other brands offer similar properties.

It might seem strange talking about different technologies with something as simple as tape, but considerable research has gone into developing various types that allow the painter to choose the optimum product for a particular surface or paint type.

masking tape vs painter's tape

Masking tape costs less than painter’s tape. 

Masking tape is generally cheaper than painter’s tape, though even the best painter’s tape is not expensive. As with everything else associated with a quality finish, it is usually false economy to try to save a few cents buying budget painter’s tape.

Masking tape and painter’s tape both come in various widths. The aim is to have enough width so that the brush or roller can run over the edge without encroaching into the trim or other adjoining surface. However, the wider it is, the more difficult it can be to apply the tape in a straight line. Bunching and overlapping can be a problem, too. In general, between 1 and 2 inches is the optimal size for most tasks.

Related: 5 Things to Do with… Painter’s Tape

Final Thoughts

Masking tape is a versatile product. It is easy to use and the low cost means it’s always worth having a roll or two in a drawer or toolbox. However, it’s not the right product for neat, professional-looking paint finishes. It’s too sticky and when it comes time to remove it, it can end up ruining hours of careful painting.

Painter’s tape costs a little more, but it’s just like investing in a high-quality paint brush or roller. The right tools can help you do a better job, and a quality paint finish is a very satisfying thing to achieve.

masking tape vs painter's tape