How to Tape Before Painting

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Painter's tape plays a key role in how a paint job looks once the paint dries, whether you're painting a wall, a piece of furniture or even a picture frame. If applied incorrectly, the edges of painted areas may look wavy or blotchy, which is especially obvious on stripes or distinctive straight lines between one color and another. The extra time spent applying and smoothing the tape into place before painting helps make the paint job look professional, even if it's your first time painting.

The Ceiling and Corner Conundrum

  • One area that's easy to botch due to inexperience is the space where wall and ceiling meet. Whether you're painting the wall or the ceiling, failure to protect the adjacent surface practically guarantees the brush or roller will touch it, resulting in paint where it doesn't belong. Apply a line of painter's tape along the surface you wish to protect so the tape reaches the very edge where wall and ceiling meet. In the corner, use separate pieces of tape along each wall or the ceiling above them. There's a good chance the wall or ceiling isn't perfectly straight, so you may need to apply several tiny strips of tape over each long strip to cover any gaps. Once you've protected an inch or so of space along the entire wall or ceiling span, apply a strip of wide painter's tape, partially overlapping the first to protect at least 3 inches of the wall or ceiling from errant brush and roller marks. To avoid using a separate strip of wide tape, adhere sheets or strips of newspaper to the wall or ceiling instead, using your usual painter's tape. Smooth down all the tape edges with your finger or the tip of a plastic scraper or putty knife to ensure no paint sneaks beneath the tape. Address corners where one wall meets the next -- if only one wall is being painted -- in the same fashion.

Tackling Trim and Molding

  • Whether you're painting a wall or the trim around a window or door, a fine line is between the trim and wall space that requires extra care when taping. Work with manageable strips of tape less than 2 feet long, applying them to either the edge of the trim or molding, or the wall up against the trim. If a gap is between the trim and wall, use a putty knife or craft knife to tuck the tape under the trim to create a clean tape edge. You may need to trim the tape along the intersection of the trim and wall so the tape doesn't cover some of the areas you wish to paint. If so, use a utility knife or craft knife and carefully score the tape along the edge of the trim, peeling away the excess tape with your fingers. Smooth down all the tape edges with your hands and a putty knife to ensure the tape is secure. Both crown moldings and baseboards can be treated like any other trim; cover baseboards completely with newspaper beneath the tape to protect it from drips. Attach a second piece of painter's tape, sticking out and overlapping the first, to create a barrier between the crown molding and wall when painting a wall.

Stripes or Straight Lines

  • If painting stripes or a straight line contrasting with the background color, a perfectly straight tape line is the key to a professional paint finish. A laser level that projects a straight horizontal or vertical line on a wall provides a simple guide for applying tape on a wall. For other projects, or to tape without a laser level, determine where you want the stripe in relation to an edge, such as a vertical stripe 5 inches from the left edge of a desk. Measure 5 inches or the desired distance from one edge near the top and bottom of the project, as well as several places in between, for a large surface. Mark each measurement with a pencil; then use a straightedge to draw a pencil line to connect the dots. If you'd rather not apply pencil to the project surface, ask a friend to hold the straightedge as you apply tape up against its edge.

Other Secrets to Success

  • Always use a quality painter's tape to ensure the tape sticks well and peels away from the project when you want it. Inexpensive tape from a bargain outlet or tape that may be decades old often results in serious taping problems -- the tape may be so sticky it doesn't peel from the roll well, or it may be difficult to peel off the project after painting. Some old tape may not stick at all. Even with excellent tape, removing it too soon or too long after painting may cause the paint to peel up with the tape. For best results, peel the tape up as soon as the paint is dry to the touch. If the paint feels gooey or gummy, wait several hours or until it feels dry. If necessary, score the line along the tape edge gently with a craft knife to work through blobs of paint. If painting several coats, leave the tape up until the final coat dries. Some tapes are designed to peel up even after they've been on the wall for weeks; select a tape that best suits your painting needs.

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