Tape is one of those products that most of us don’t think about until we need it. Thankfully, as we usually won’t use a whole roll of tape on any single project, there is usually a partially used roll sitting around somewhere, at which point we know that it is time to buy more tape.
Although it is very common today and used in tens of thousands of applications, adhesive tape is a relatively new product, and really didn’t come into common use until after the First World War when practical cellophane and masking tapes began to be mass produced by the 3M Corporation under the brand name Scotch Tape. This brand name is still widely (and incorrectly) used to identify all brands of ‘invisible’ plastic tapes.
In the simplest terms, most tapes are designed to repair things that have broken or torn, protect surfaces from damage, or bond things together without the use of glues or other water-based adhesives. Most tapes are comprised of an adhesive surface (the sticky part) and a non-adhesive backing material.
Adhesives commonly used for tape include rubbers, silicon, epoxy resin, and polyurethane. Backing materials may include plastic film, cloth, polyester, rubber, paper – the list goes on. The type and width of the backing material will usually determine the overall strength of the tape, while the adhesive will determine its bonding (sticking) capabilities.
Most commonly used adhesive tapes are pressure activated, simply meaning that the person using it presses down on it to stick the adhesive to what is being taped and form a seal. Some specialty tapes are water or heat activated; these are mostly used in very specialized commercial and industrial applications and are not discussed here.
Tape is usually sold in rolls and comes in a variety of widths based on what it will be most commonly used for. Generally speaking, the backing of a tape will allow the tape to ‘roll out’ without damaging the adhesive. When this is not the case, a divider made of neutral material to which the adhesive will not stick is placed between the strips in the roll.
So let’s look at the most common types of tape, and what they are used for.
General Purpose Tapes
General purpose tape is any tape that is widely used by … well, pretty much everybody. It is sold in hardware and home supply stores; stationary stores and supermarkets; convenience and mom-and-pop stores, and bodegas. For our purposes, it is any tape not used exclusively by particular professions or industries and often utilized by the general public (although it should be mentioned that many of the types of tape in this category will be used by a wide variety of professionals as part of their work).
Often incorrectly referred to as ‘duck’ tape (and there is a Duck Corporation that markets this type of tape under that name), duct tape is a pressure activated product that has a fabric/polyethylene mesh backing and is sometimes coated with other synthetic materials to provide increased strength and waterproofing. Normally sold in rolls about two inches wide, duct tape is designed to be torn (as opposed to cut) into strips and is most commonly a silver color, although in recent years a number of other colors (and a clear variety) have become available.
Duct tape has a very strong adhesive and is known for sticking to a wide variety of dry surfaces – almost anything, in fact – and is most often used for general household repairs or to strengthen and seal things like pipes, hoses, and vents. It is widely used in many industrial applications including HVAC, plumbing, construction, etc. It is one of the strongest general purpose tapes on the market.
Because of its adhesive strength, duct tape is not appropriate for use on some surfaces. For example, it will usually damage a painted wall or sealed wood floor by taking the covered area’s paint or sealant with it when it is removed. Duct tape is generally not rated as being fireproof, although there are exceptions. Some varieties of duct tape are specifically designed for outdoor use.
Also commonly called painter’s tape (although another specifically designed form of tape used by most professional painters – discussed below – has the same name) masking tape is a pressure activated paper-backed tape that will normally utilize a relatively weak adhesive, allowing it to be easily removed without damaging the surface to which it has been applied.
A lightweight, not particularly durable product, masking tape is often used by ‘amateurs’ in painting and staining projects to temporarily cover (or mask) areas on a surface that are not to be painted and to prevent paint or stain bleeding from one area to another. The surface can usually be written on, and so is convenient for making notes during projects. This tape is designed to be easily torn, and comes in a variety of widths.
Traditionally beige or tan, today masking tape is manufactured in a wide range of colors. Decorative masking tape – called Washi Tape – is available online and in most craft stores and will feature distinctive designs and patterns. Some heavy duty plastic and polyester-backed industrial masking tapes are also manufactured; these are often used in plating, etching, sandblasting and powder coating applications.
Also often called transparent, magic, or Scotch tape (the registered brand named of the 3M corporation) invisible tape usually has a plastic film backing and fairly sturdy adhesive. Originally manufactured with a cellophane backing (and still often referred to as Sello tape in the UK, again after a registered brand name), invisible tape is pressure activated. It is clear and becomes ‘invisible’ when used on paper products, which is its most widely utilized and practical application.
Available in a number of widths, invisible tape is most commonly used for repairing tears in paper, sealing envelopes, and binding paper together while wrapping other objects. It is designed to be cut rather than torn, and will usually come in a dispenser with a grooved, tooth-like cutting tool on the front. Due to its transparency, writing or designs are clearly visible beneath the covered areas of paper. It can usually be written on using a pen, pencil, marker or even crayon.
Some invisible tapes are designing to be ‘permanent’ and will have anti-yellowing agents in the backing to allow extended-length use; for example, in scrapbooking. Others intended for more temporary applications are marketed as ‘removable’ as they will usually not (or at least only minimally) damage the paper while being removed; this type will have a less durable adhesive.
Invisible tape is one of the most inexpensive and commonly-used tapes in both the home and business.
Packing (also called box-sealing or parcel) tape is primarily used for sealing boxes and other types of packaging. Packing tape will usually have a strong, pressure activated adhesive and a sturdy polypropylene or polyester backing which will most often be clear or tan.
Normally about two inches wide (although a three-inch width is also manufactured), packing tape usually needs to be cut and is most often used with an applicator featuring a built-in grooved cutting surface, which allows for more precise placement and cutting of the tape.
Most commonly used for sealing corrugated cardboard boxes, the tape is usually applied to the center of the box on the top and bottom where the two side flaps come together in a single, continuous line from one end to the other, overlapping either end by a few inches. It is also often applied to the open outer seams of the box either in strips or a continuous line.
A relatively inexpensive product, packing tape is available in a number of different backing thicknesses and adhesive strengths. In its industrial uses, packing tape is often applied to boxes using purpose-built, high-speed, automated machines.
Strapping – also often called filament – tape is a close relative of packing tape and will often be used in place of the packing variety when added strength and durability is needed. Utilizing a strong adhesive, strapping tape usually has a polyester or polypropylene backing into which fiberglass filaments are embedded to provide extra strength and resistance to tearing.
Strapping tape is almost always used with a dispenser or applicator fitted with a cutting tool of some type, as it is virtually impossible to tear by hand. It is usually used to seal or reinforce boxes and other packaging containing heavy materials as well as bundling (or strapping together, hence the name) multiple boxes or other items. Due to its excellent tensile strength (some grades of strapping tape go up to 600 pounds per square inch), it is also often used – sometimes unwisely – to hang, or repair broken, objects.
In industrial applications, strapping tape is used to secure the wrapping on pallets, machinery or other heavy items prior to shipment.
Double-sided tape, as the name indicates, is pressure activated tape that has a layer of adhesive on both sides of the backing (which is actually in the middle of the adhesive strips). The adhesive can be directly on the backing as with most tapes, or embedded in compacted foam. This tape is primarily used to stick things together securely without the use of nails or screws.
Also sometimes called two-sided mounting tape, it is often used to hang small pictures, artwork or other objects to even or textured walls and cabinets – pretty much any generally flat surface – and is available in a variety of thicknesses. Generally speaking, thinner double-sided tape is used with very flat, even surfaces such as metal or glass while thicker tape is used on uneven surfaces like brick, stucco, or wood.
Double-sided tape is also used in many different arts and crafts. As it will be placed between as opposed to over or across objects, it will provide a strong bond between materials without being visible. Some types of double-sided tape are specifically designed for outdoor use.
Surgical (also called medical or first-aid) tape was first developed for use in the medical industry (where it is still a staple product) but is also found in many household medicine cabinets and first-aid kits. Surgical tape is pressure activated and uses a hypoallergenic adhesive that is designed not to irritate the skin, and come off relatively easily when removed to prevent skin damage. This type of tape will often utilize a paper, latex-free plastic, or fabric mesh backing.
Surgical tape is primarily used to hold bandages on wounds or tubes and other medical appliances in place. Depending on the backing material, surgical tape can be waterproof, breathable (allowing air to pass through it to the skin) or a combination of the two (partly porous). Some surgical tapes will include zinc oxide in the backing material, which helps to minimize the chance of infection.
Specialty tapes are products that are designed for use in particular industries (or fields) and which usually have properties that will address specific issues or concerns in those fields. As is the case with general purpose tapes, specialty tapes will often be used across a number of different industries and some will also be routinely used by the general public.
Electrical tape (also called insulating tape) is used to insulate electrical wiring (and other parts of an electrical system) that conducts – not surprisingly – electricity. Electrical tape uses a non-conductive adhesive and backing materials (usually vinyl or rubber), and is wrapped around exposed wires to prevent them touching other wires or parts of a system and causing a fire or short.
Electrical tape comes in a number of different grades, depending on the voltage it is being used with. Acceptable tape for use on voltage ranges will usually carry specific rating from Underwriters Laboratories.
In the past, electrical tape was almost exclusively black. Today, however, an assortment of colors are available and are often used by electricians to mark differing voltage levels in specific areas (or phases) of an electrical system. These colored varieties are often called phase tape.
Drywall tape is used to cover and seal the joints (accounting for the fact that it is also called joint tape) between sheets of drywall during construction and renovation projects. Drywall tape will usually have a light adhesive coating and a paper, cloth or fiberglass mesh backing. After being applied over the drywall joint, it is covered with joint compound or spackle to ensure that the joints in the wall or ceiling are indistinguishable from the rest of the surface after painting.
Drywall tape is usually about two inches wide, and is designed to be either torn or cut. In most cases a mesh variety is preferred for the majority of drywall joints as it is easier to work with and allows for slight movement of the wall in specific areas– for example, around doors or windows – without cracking the surface of the wall. Paper tape is generally stronger (and more difficult to work with), and is used in places where a more durable bond is needed; for example, butt joints.
Similar to masking tape in many ways, painter’s tape is specifically designed for use during painting projects to protect woodwork and other areas next to those being painted; cleanly define lines between different colors; cover electrical outlets, faceplates and switches; and help catch drips on floors. Usually backed with a coated paper (often blue) to eliminate bleed-through, painter’s tape can be torn and utilizes a very weak adhesive designed to allow it to be easily removed without leaving a residue, or damaging surfaces.
Different grades of painter’s tape are determined by the relative strength of the adhesive and what they are designed to stick to; not all painter’s tapes will stick well to all surfaces, and a stronger adhesive will usually be required for outdoor work. More durable vinyl or plastic backings with a stronger adhesive are often used for spray and automotive painting jobs.
This can be a somewhat deceptive term, as there are actually three different types of tape specifically designed to be used on rugs and carpets: one used to attach rugs and carpets to the floor, one to bind two pieces of carpeting together, and one to strengthen and bind the rough edges of carpets.
The carpet tape used for attaching the product to the floor is a thin kind of double-sided tape utilizing a very strong adhesive. This tape usually has a neutral divider between strips in the roll to keep them from sticking together. It is generally applied to edges and throughout the under-surface of the carpet or rug to hold it firmly in place, and prevent bunching. Types designed for indoor or outdoor use are available, and some brands are marketed as indoor / outdoor tape products.
The tapes used to bind carpets together (sometimes called carpet seam tape) and strengthen the edges are single-sided pressure tapes and will usually have a very strong, durable adhesive and a vinyl or rubber backing. They are designed to provide a ‘permanent’ bond that will last the life of the carpet.
Friction (also sometimes called grip) tape is a multi-use product originally designed (and still sometimes utilized) as an electrical tape used to insulate splices in cables and wires, although electrical tape with a PVC backing has largely replaced it. Friction tape is made with a cloth backing which is infused with mild adhesive, making both sides of the tape sticky.
Today, friction tape is widely used in sports applications. It is often wrapped around the handles of baseball and softball bats; bicycle and motorcycle hand-grips; tennis and racket ball rackets to improve and enhance the user’s gripping ability; as well as the blades of hockey sticks for greater control of the puck during play. Friction tape is also commonly wrapped around the handles of hand tools such as hammers, screwdrivers, and mallets to provide a better grip.
Sharing some qualities (and sometimes confused with) duct tape, gaffer tape is pressure activated and features a very strong adhesive and heavy cloth backing. Gaffer tape is widely used in the film and television industries, and in theatrical productions, for securing or bundling cables, attaching props to floors or walls, or when a quick fixture or equipment repair is necessary. Offering excellent heat resistance, gaffer tape is also widely used by general and HVAC contractors.
Gaffer tape is available in a variety of colors, although black matte is the most popular as it will not reflect light. Most often used as a temporary tape, it is specifically designed not to leave any adhesive residue behind when it is removed, and has an excellent tensile strength (usually stronger than standard ducts tapes). Sold in a variety of sizes, gaffer tape can torn by hand, and easily torn into strips.
Floor Marking Tape
Floor marking tape is, not surprisingly, designed to be applied to floors. It is widely used in place of paint in warehousing and industrial complexes to mark off danger zones and to indicate where certain types of materials or products should be stored. It is also used to provide easy to follow directions (follow the orange tape road) in large buildings, airports and hospitals.
Floor marking tape utilizes an extremely strong adhesive and a very durable vinyl or PVC backing designed to stand up to heavy foot and vehicle (forklifts, etc.) traffic without peeling, breaking or tearing. Floor marking tapes come in a variety of colors and patterns (often to comply with US Occupational Safety and Health Administration – OSHA – guidelines) and will sometimes have reflective or ‘glow-in-the-dark’ properties.
Security (also called tamper-resistant) tape is designed in a way that indicates whether a sealed box or container has been opened or tampered with during shipment or storage. Usually manufactured with a mid-strength adhesive and a plastic or coated-paper backing, security tapes will often feature intricate designs which, when broken, are virtually impossible to match up again. Some recent innovations in security tape include the use of continuous barcodes, RFID chips, raised embossing and holographic technology.
While some security tapes are designed to actually seal the boxes or containers they are used on, most are applied over another type of stronger tape used to do the actual sealing. It is also often applied in a crossing or ladder-type pattern across the entire surface of a box or container. Some security tapes are specifically designed for use on envelopes.
Self-amalgamating (or self-fusing) tape is a rubber-silicone tape that does not utilize an adhesive of any type; the tape is wrapped tightly around an object (pipe, cable, hose, etc.) and, in essence, sticks to itself creating a very strong and durable bond. It is widely used in electrical and plumbing applications, as well as in the aviation and aerospace industries.
Self-amalgamating tape is water and weather proof, highly resistant to sunlight and heat, fireproof, and provides excellent electrical insulation. While providing a very strong seal, this tape is designed to be easily removed, and is often re-useable.
Also called k or kt, kinesio, and elastic therapeutic, kinesiology tape is a medical therapeutic tape used to help treat (and in some cases prevent) muscle pain and injuries. Usually manufactured using a hypoallergenic acrylic adhesive and a waterproof elastic-cotton ‘breathable’ backing, the tape is designed to be stretched (sometimes to over 100% of its original length) and placed over and around the areas of – or most susceptible to – pain or injury.
Kinesiology tape was invented by a chiropractor in the 1970s and became popular following its use by some athletes in the 2008 and 2012 Summer Olympics. There is considerable debate within the medical world as to the actual effectiveness of this tape, with some medical professionals claiming that it is more of a placebo than effective therapeutic solution.
Also called fashion, cleavage, dress (and a couple of other possibly offensive names), lingerie tape is usually a thin, double-sided tape with a plastic interior backing and a medium strength, usually hypoallergenic adhesive that adheres to both garments and skin. This tape is often used to help secure strapless or particularly low-cut dresses to help keep them in place and avoid slippage. It is also used for quick, temporary repairs of rips and tears.
A separate but similar and related product called wig or toupee tape is used to secure men’s and women’s hairpieces, and keep them from slipping.
Speed tape is widely used in the aviation / aerospace industries and in auto racing for making repairs to aircraft and racecars. Normally utilizing an extremely strong acrylic adhesive and an aluminum or aluminum / cloth laminate backing, speed tape will often be resistant to fire, water and some solvents, and is designed to reflect ultraviolet light and heat.
Named for its ability to stay in place even when aircraft are flying at high speeds, speed tape is normally used to make temporary repairs to the wings and fuselage of airplanes, the body of racing cars, and sometimes to repair bullet or fragmentation device holes in military vehicles and aircraft.
Magnetic Recording Tape
Magnetic recording tape is a non-adhesive type of tape used for recording audio and video, and more recently for high capacity and speed data storage and transfer. First manufactured in the late 1920s, magnetic recording tape has an oxidized ‘face’ and plastic backing and is normally mounted on circular, moveable reels which allow it travel over a magnetized recording or playing head at a predetermined speed to ensure sound, video and data consistency and quality.
Magnetic recording tape is often encased in plastic packaging called cassettes, although some is specifically designed for use on reel-to-reel machines. While this type of tape has been largely replaced in consumer applications by recordable CDs and DVDs, it is still widely used in the entertainment and computer industries.
Lisa has a Bachelor’s of Science in Communication Arts. She is an experienced blogger who enjoys researching interesting facts, ideas, products, and other compelling concepts. In addition to writing, she likes photography and Photoshop.