Monday, August 27, 2012

Painter's Tape Review

Under the blog tab "Front Hall Closet," (go ahead and read the whole thing over there if you want, I'll wait.....) the first two general statements read:

1. I am not a professional.
2. Sometimes I swear. 

Just these two declarations pretty well cover the description of me painting, and especially me painting using painter's tape. Over the years I've used quite a bit of it. Not because I want to, but because with my love of bright or dark colors, living through the 1990's stenciling craze, and feeling obsessive-compulsive about doing things neatly, I feel like I have to. 

In the past, I've gotten frustrated enough with the results from painter's tape to just go at it free-hand, especially in the line between ceiling and wall. I have a pretty steady hand, I've learned to push a "bead" of wet paint ahead of the brushstroke, and I figure that most people can't scrutinize your work standing on the floor looking to the 8-foot ceiling level. 

Fast forward through many, many paint chips and projects to the kitchen renovation currently under way, and once again I'm faced with the dilemma of a clean line between a pretty intense color, the avocado green, and the ivory ceiling, and between the avocado green and the neutral buff color on adjoining walls.

I thought I'd give painter's tape another chance, this time with a brand I'd never tried before:

I've heard good things about it from people in the 'hood, and there are other blogs (like Young House Love, and they are paintin' fools over there), who've said it was the real deal. So I taped up the soffits at the ceiling line and at the lower edge too, because I wanted to keep the ivory ceiling color under the soffit to reflect light onto the workspaces. So, an inside corner and an outside corner. 

On the soffit over the sink side of the kitchen I taped up before I got out the paint, and in a previous post I gave you a quick and dirty on the process with the cell phone camera: 

What happened when I took the tape down?

The ceiling line (inside corner) looked better than the soffit line (outside corner). But even then, there were still tiny glitches here and there that annoyed me. It annoyed me enough that I went back to my usual way of thinking, "I could paint it by HAND better than that tape, pffffft!"

So, in the spirit of rebellion, getting the hell on with the job, and comparison, I did the soffit over the stove/microwave on the other side of the kitchen free-handed. And then I took a close look at them both. While I've been pretty confident in the past with my free-hand painting, it wasn't "as good as" the painter's tape. It was very close to the same on the inside corner, but definitely not better on the outside corner. 

Because I was less satisfied with my free-hand painting compared to the Frog Tape, I decided that I would paint over the edges with the ceiling color and start over on that side of the kitchen 

Slapping the ceiling paint on over the edges: 

Now it's taped up for another try (yes, the green paint is thin in areas): 

This time I tried a tip that you find various places around the internet, which is to paint along the edge of the tape with the existing color FIRST. It's supposed to seal what little glitches or uneven places are in the tape seal. 

Another layer of ceiling paint: 

And then layers of the darker color go on: 


The second try with the Frog Tape, using the advice to paint the edge with the existing color first, was significantly better than just free hand, AND better than just taping and painting with the new color. 

Was it perfect? Still, no. There are places with tiny bleed-outs and a couple of other places where the tape failed to ride a small bump perfectly. Here's one view of the outside corner. Keep in mind this is a close up, and these bleeds are 1/8" or less in length: 

While it was bugging my inner perfectionist, my inner common sense gal (who's been known to smack me when I need it) was saying in no uncertain terms "NO ONE is going to look at this THAT closely. QUIT WHILE YOU'RE AHEAD." 

So I did. I am also not going back to redo the soffit over the sink except for a few small lengths, to touch up. Now that the soffits are done, I have to repair some cracks in the other walls before I can continue painting. 

Ta-DAH! (pay no attention to the missing light coverplate)
In all my previous projects, the painter's tape I used was 3M Scotch, aka "the blue stuff." I never liked it, and the product was to blame for many of my past acts of blasphemy. It stuck to itself, fell off the wall if the humidity was too high, and bled or wicked too much to really make a clean line. That's where I got in the habit of painting free-handed in the first place.

If you gave me a choice between using the 3M brand blue tape and painting edges by hand, I would pick doing it by hand. It you gave me the choice of free-hand and Frog Tape, I would give Frog Tape the (slightly) better edge. Haaaaaaa, see what I did there? Sorry. I couldn't stop myself. 

Checking my experience through online research, it looks as though Frog Tape does rate better than others in comparisons (like in this Good Housekeeping test here). It also appears common that professional painters with years of practice forgo painter's tape entirely and paint free-hand around ceilings, baseboards, trim, and moulding. I've also had some luck for short lengths, especially along baseboards, using the edge of a wide putty knife (very clean and rust free) to get a straight edge against the wood trim. I also use a small artist's brush with short bristles and a flat head to fix tiny errors. That's probably how I'll go back to those tiny errors that are still visible from standing on the floor. Outside edges are really hard to get sharp, and the tape did a better job on the inside (ceiling) line.

My big caveat? 
Surface is everything. Even if you have good-quality painter's tape adhered properly to the wall, if the wall is textured even a little bit or has little bumps or hiccups, you're not going to get a perfect line. And if you live in an older house, you're a lot less likely to have perfect, smooth drywall. Heck, you might not even have drywall. For that reason, I truly believe that painter's tape, no matter what the brand, has its limitations in the older home. I wish it weren't so but I think that's why, in the end, there is no "perfect" painter's tape, and no single answer on how to get crisp paint edges. 


Disclaimer: I bought the Frog Tape with my own cash. I didn't accept any compensation, payment, or promotion from the company that manufactures the product, and the views here are solely my own.


  1. YAY! For the soffit being done!!! Congrats!!!

    I'm glad to know your review on the Frog Tape, but you are SO's the surface that is the key to the entire situation. Mom's condo is old too and I had problems all over the place with bleed fun at all. And yes, I will admit to fixing it all up with a tiny brush because it drove me THAT insane!!!!!

  2. The people who remodeled this kitchen in the late 1960s-early 1970s were NOT skilled drywallers. Ugh. So yes, the last task of the kitchen painting project will be me up a latter with my little artist's brush. So glad to know I'm not the only one! :)

    1. LADDER. Oh for pete's sake. Time for bed!