Using Masking Tape When Painting

Get clean edges when painting rooms by applying masking tape correctly and removing it cleanly.

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Pull from the roll to get the tape perfectly straight

Masking off baseboard and other trim is a great way to get a professional-looking paint job. You'll get a crisp, clean paint line where the walls meet the trim. And the job will go quicker because you'll avoid the time-consuming “cutting in” with the paintbrush and cleaning up paint spatters from your woodwork. Of course, masking itself requires a little patience and skill. Wavy tape will result in a wavy paint line. Poor adhesion will allow “paint creep. ” And ragged tape in corners will leave blotches. In this article, we'll show you techniques that will solve these problems and make your masking job go quickly and smoothly. One of the trickiest parts of masking is getting the tape on straight and tight against the wall. There are many techniques, but here's one that works great. Strip 8 to 10 in. of tape from the roll and use the roll itself, held tightly against the wall, to pull the tape straight (Photos 1 and 2). It's a little awkward at first, and may seem slow, but the results are nearly perfect every time. Use this technique wherever you're masking at a right angle to another surface.

Seal the edge to prevent bleeding paint

Seal the tape to the surface by pressing it down firmly with the edge of a flexible putty knife as shown. This is the most important step in good masking and it only takes a few moments. If you skip it, you risk a loose seal that will allow paint to seep underneath. You'll have to scrape off the seeped paint later and touch up the trim.

Keep in mind that you don't have to press down the entire width of the tape. Sealing about 1/32 in. along the edge is all that's needed. Hold the putty knife at an angle as shown. This puts pressure along the critical wall edge of the tape.

Use extra tape to make perfect inside corners

Getting two long pieces of tape to meet exactly in the corner is difficult, so don't try. First of all, don't worry about getting the long pieces of tape to meet in the corner. Start about 3/4 in. from the corner and run them using the method shown on p. 28. Then go back and finish the corners with small lengths of tape using the technique shown in Photos 1 and 2.

Use flaps to protect trim from roller spatter

Extending the masking tape with a piece of 3-in. masking paper is all that's needed to protect the woodwork from most roller spatter and drips. Three-inch paper is ideal because it'll stand straight out. Wider paper may seem like a better idea, but it'll sag and won't provide as much protection. And since the 3-in. paper doesn't sag, you'll still be able to close doors without the paper getting in the way. Apply 3-in. paper along the top trim of windows and doors and along the baseboard. Don't bother to fit the paper tight into corners along the baseboard; you don't need much spatter protection there.

Editor's Note:

I'm all for saving money, and there are times when a cheaper product will do the job. But cheap masking tape is no bargain. If you're going to all the trouble of masking, you want tape that will seal tightly to the surface and come off easily. But there's no single type of tape that will work in every circumstance. For general masking, I like the Scotch-Blue No. 2090. There are two versions: one for standard masking, and one with less adhesion for masking over delicate surfaces. You can leave these on for up to 14 days. You can also use the blue tape on window glass. The adhesive will withstand ultraviolet light without baking onto the glass. Scotch No. 2060 is extra sticky and works well for textured surfaces like stucco and brick. If you're only going to buy one width, get 1-1/2-in.-wide tape. It's about perfect for most tasks.

Choose the right tape for the job

Tips for removing masking tape

Several things can go wrong when it comes time to remove masking tape. If you wait too long, the adhesive on the tape will harden and remain stuck to the woodwork. Or if the paint sets but isn't completely dry, some of the wall paint may peel off along with the tape. Here are solutions to these problems. If you're a procrastinator or slow painter, choose tape that's designed to be left on for several days. Scotch No. 2090 is one brand that uses a slow-hardening adhesive so it can be safely left on for about 14 days.

To avoid peeling paint, pull the tape off immediately or wait at least overnight for the paint to dry completely. Beware of paint that feels dry to the touch but hasn't hardened and fully bonded to the wall. It may come off along with the masking tape. Remove tape at about a 45-degree angle to the painted surface as shown to minimize the tendency for paint to peel. And if despite waiting overnight and using a good technique, you notice the paint still peels with the tape, use the edge of your putty knife or a utility knife to cut the seal between the wall and tape before you remove the tape.