Artists on Tape

When you consider how many ways artists depend on it, it’s incredible to think what a short time adhesive tape has been around. Introduced in 1845 as a medical supply, adhesive tape went from a new invention to the solution for a million problems. But if you’re using it on artwork, it pays to choose carefully.

Common cellophane and masking tape can permanently bond with paper, and when they break down over time, they release damaging residues that cause destructive changes in some materials. These types of tape aren’t good for use on artwork, but there are much better choices.

Tapes are made up of several parts: The “carrier” is the solid paper, plastic, or cloth ribbon that gives strength and structure. The “adhesive” is the glue. There may also be an impermeable barrier layer to isolate unstable or destructive materials under or over the tape, and there can be a release backing coated to allow easy removal, like the throwaway paper on the back of a sticker.

Unlike common utility tapes, Artist’s Tapes are designed for safe contact with artwork, with specially selected carrier materials and highly stable adhesives to facilitate important tasks like crisp masking, resistance to paint vehicles, and clean removal. Common tapes, by comparison, can loosen and leak when painted over, and they typically become progressively more difficult to remove, leaving the surface underneath stained with an altered texture.

There are tapes made for a whole range of applications, from holding paper in place to making hard edges with paint. When used for their suggested purpose they give great results and remove cleanly, leaving surfaces looking good with their original working properties intact.

Tape used for fixing watercolor paper to a board needs to be wide and strong enough to resist loosening. When extra-heavy paper needs to be held down as firmly as possible, many watercolorists use an older type of tape with a water-activated adhesive: gummed kraft tape. The starch-based adhesive used on gummed tape is not harmful to paper like the rubber and synthetic adhesives on cellophane and common masking tape. However, it’s really difficult to re-wet and remove kraft tape from paper, so many artists just trim away the taped portion. Kraft tape had an important role to play during the World Wars, when it was used on windows to prevent flying glass. Storefront windows were often taped in elaborate, decorative designs.

Use conservation-grade, archival tapes for permanent contact with artwork. These products are designed for mounting, repair, and storage of art and important documents. Some have a barrier layer to prevent acids from migrating. Products with a fabric carrier are great for applications where a flexible hinge is needed, like handmade portfolio or folder.

Document Repair Tape is an archival treatment product made for durable mending of important paper objects, that can be reversed if necessary. It comes in water-activated and pressure sensitive varieties. It’s important to understand, however, that in this case, “reversible” doesn’t necessarily mean you can just peel them off. Safe removal might require special training and the use of heat or solvents.

Adhesive tape with printed carrier material has been in use for practically the entire product category history. Printed tape is often used as a seal, and provides a way to apply decoration or a brand identity to packages and other items. Washi Tape lets you combine a little fun with functional tasks. New, repositionable measuring tape is like a roll of rulers, letting you put measuring marks anywhere you need them.

Knowing the properties of the tapes you use will help you get great results in your art while preserving the best appearance and working properties of your materials. Keep an assortment of different kinds of tape handy so you can be ready for any project!

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