by Jeff Malmer

Jeff Malmer is an Advanced Application Engineering Specialist for 3M. He has 39 years of experience in developing and improving adhesives and tape products for a variety of applications. He also trains 3M customers, end-users, and sales and marketing professionals on the many tape products the company produces.

Q: I work on a wide range of surfaces. What tips can you offer for consistent clean, crisp lines regardless of surface type?

A: Taping is a pretty simple practice, but working on a lot of different surface types lends itself to some slight shifts in technique. Regardless of the surface, as a pro, you want to have a reputation for consistent clean, crisp lines. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you adjust to working on different surfaces.

Get the right tape for each surface. Painters are creatures of habit, and may resist trying new products. When it comes to tapes, certain ones are designed with gentler adhesives for delicate surfaces, and there are a host of others that are very sticky and can even adhere to stucco and brick. Contrary to some views, you shouldn’t take a one-size-fits-all approach with tape. Make sure you understand the needs for each project and have the right tape(s) ready before the job starts.

The Scotch® Painter’s Tape online product selector tool can help you select the right tape for the job. The tool weighs valuable information that’s pertinent to your situation. It asks whether you’re working on an interior or exterior, and about surface types such as baseboards, trim, walls, ceilings or floors. It also asks about different materials the tape may touch (i.e., wood, vinyl or aluminum) and even inquires about surface texture as well. After culling that information, it suggests the right tape for the job. Learn more at

Clean the right way. Once you know you have the right tape, it’s time to clean. The surface should be clean, dry and dust-free so that tape can stick properly. Too often, cleaning is rushed and done simply with a damp rag. I recommend lukewarm water and trisodium phosphate (TSP). Then, most importantly, allow enough time for the surface to dry adequately. This is a small detail that goes a long way for adhesion. Some will even use a hair dryer to ensure a dry surface.

Apply the tape correctly. Press down as you go. And make sure not to stretch it, otherwise it may lift or break. Then use a putty knife to ensure that it adheres to the surface. The flat surface of the blade provides a better opportunity to press on all areas of the tape, especially along baseboards or challenging areas where a finger may have difficulty accessing.

A note about textured surfaces. For these surfaces, after applying the tape, also use a thin strip of paintable caulk to seal the tape. Apply only a small amount (less than 1/8″) to the edge of the tape. Smooth it out with a rag or your finger, then allow the caulk to dry before painting. For tape alone, it’s ideal to wait 30 to 60 minutes before you start painting. If you do use caulk, adhere to the manufacturer’s dry-time guidelines.

Score when possible to remove properly. Some think that removing the tape while the paint is still wet produces a clean line. I think it’s a messy approach that doesn’t always work. I prefer scoring the tape edge whenever possible. When scoring, check the paint can for manufacturer dry times and allow the paint to dry to the touch. Run a putty knife or razor blade along the edge of the tape where it meets the painted surface. Scoring is best done where trim and the wall come together; other situations don’t always allow for it. It’s important to recognize if you’re dealing with a situation where it’s not possible. Remove tape slowly at a 45˚ angle, but if adhesive sticks to the surface, try a 90˚ angle.

Consider your environment. Tape can be effectively applied in a wide temperature range, but 50˚–100˚ F is ideal. Cold weather and extreme heat (over 100˚) or high humidity can negatively affect adhesion. Pay close attention to how your tape performs early on; if you’re running into problems, you may need to switch to a different product.

In closing, if you’re still having trouble getting those crisp lines, slow down. Rushing only leads to bad habits—and callbacks.

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