Painting the town red, within the blue lines
September 19, 2010 9:22 AM   Subscribe

How do I use painter's tape successfully?

If I put down blue painter's tape, if I'm lucky the adhesive will stick the tape to the wall. If not, a gap between the tape and wall results and I get paint in that gap.

Even if the tape is stuck to the wall nicely, some paint will invariably creep underneath the tape and I have to spend quite some time doing painfully careful touch-up work to try to mask the uneven spots. (I have shaky hands and am uncoordinated to begin with, and so this is additional work is difficult for me to complete without messing up the paint job even further.)

I have been using foam rollers for covering large areas, and a small brush for corners and other tight spots. I am using interior latex paint.

How can I use this tape with greater success, or change my painting techniques with the rollers and brushes, so that I can put down the requisite two or three coats whilst minimizing bleed-through? Thanks for your advice.
posted by Blazecock Pileon to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Clean that wall first, son!

If there's any dust/schmutz on the wall, the tape will stick to THAT, not your wall. A damp paper towel or sponge gently rubbed along the wall will be sufficient to remove any residue. Let it fully dry, THEN tape 'er up.
posted by julthumbscrew at 9:27 AM on September 19, 2010

Response by poster: Just to note, I have been washing the wall with TSP before any painting.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:28 AM on September 19, 2010

Take a nearly dry brush and pass over the tape edge to seal it off. When it's dry, you can paint over it with a more fully loaded brush.

You might want to experiment with another brand of tape because they sell different stickinesses, depending if you're just using it to protect trim from blobs or if you're masking off areas to create patterns.
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:29 AM on September 19, 2010

Are you putting the painter's tape on the edges of baseboards or just on walls and the ceiling? I know that if I don't wipe the dust off of baseboards the tape doesn't adhere as well. Also, if you're using an old roll of tape, try a fresh roll. The adhesive may have dried up and gotten weaker, just like in a roll of regular masking tape. Maybe these tips will help.
posted by Mouse Army at 9:31 AM on September 19, 2010

You should not be taking the roller all the way up to the edge of the tape. You should do what's called "edging" first - use a brush, preferably one of those sponge-brush-thingies, to paint a few inches out from the tape. (Not sure I am describing this well?) Then you use the roller to cover the rest of the wall.

Also adhere the tape correctly, and use high quality tape. If the tape is not adhering to the wall consistently, and you cleaned the wall, you might be using crappy tape.
posted by Sara C. at 9:34 AM on September 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ugh, hit Post too soon... When I say adhere the tape correctly, I should have added that this means you should run a finger (or a paintbrush or whatever works for you) over the tape edges to make sure they are completely adhered to the wall. Sorry.
posted by Sara C. at 9:35 AM on September 19, 2010

Best answer: Are you painting the trim, as well? I've always had the best luck by taking the following steps:

1. Paint trim
2. Mask off trim
3. Paint over edge of tape with trim color. this way, any paint that oozes under the tape matches the trim underneath the tape. and paint will ooze under the tape, no matter how well you adhere it or how great a tape you buy or how clean you make sure the wall is underneath the tape. Paint will ooze.
4. Paint walls. Now you can paint all over the tape without worrying about your wall color oozing under the tape onto your trim, because the gaps are already fully sealed with trim color paint.

I've painted my entire house this way, some rooms multiple times, and have never had to do any correcting of those uneven spots.
posted by amelioration at 9:38 AM on September 19, 2010 [33 favorites]

Check out Frog Tape. I've had great success using it for stripes!
posted by PorcineWithMe at 9:59 AM on September 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

and paint will ooze under the tape, no matter how well you adhere it or how great a tape you buy or how clean you make sure the wall is underneath the tape. Paint will ooze.

This is not true. At all. If you do this correctly and conscientiously, the paint will not ooze.

Also, amelioration's whole technique seems backwards and strange to me. Which doesn't mean it's wrong. But I don't know that I'd do it this way.

I've worked with scenic artists before (i.e. people who paint TV, film, and theatre sets for a living) and this is how I've learned to do it:

1. Clean walls. Consider trim part of that, if it's not obvious.

2. Apply tape. Use good quality blue tape, preferably a fresh roll if there is any question of the old roll losing its adhesiveness. Make sure the tape COMPLETELY adheres to the surface. Including the edges. Which are obviously the most important part here.

3. Start with the walls, not the trim. Unless the trim is going to be painted the same color, in which case it should all be done at the same time.

4. EDGE. As described above. Paint away from the tape by a few inches so that you're not running the roller right up to the tape. This is key. This is what is going to prevent oozing and splotches and all that. Use a light hand, but get good coverage. Paint any trim that is going to be the same color as the walls at this time, as well. Basically you want to do the detail work FIRST.

5. Then, and only then, should you take out your roller and roll paint over the wide expanses of walls. Don't use a roller on small areas where it doesn't fit properly. Use the right tools for the job, even if it means slightly more tedious work with a brush.

6. If you are going to paint the trim a contrasting color, NOW is the time to start on that. If that's going to require re-taping, you should wait until that first coat is dry, or even until the rest of the wall is finished.

BTW, in general you should not tape with the expectation that you are going to be painting over the tape. That's another thing that might cause oozing - try as hard as you can to go right up to the edge and no more. This is part of why edging is so great - it's much easier to be precise about this when your hand is holding a brush and you're looking at the situation up close.
posted by Sara C. at 10:00 AM on September 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

I've never had success with that blue tape by itself--it's nearly worthless for a clean line if you try to paint over it on a wall has any texture at all. I did what amelioration describes above and it worked flawlessly. That was for painting an accent wall whose edge stops at an outside bullnose corner of a textured wall, and I have unsteady hands and tend to be impatient. I wound up with a line straighter and cleaner than I could ever have gotten otherwise. Be sure to remove the tape very slowly to make sure no paint is being stripped. Frog Tape works pretty well. I think it works by a chemical in the adhesive being activated (expanding, filling in the voids between the tape and the wall) when it comes into contact with the water in latex paint. What Sara C. describes could work, but the OP says he has unsteady hands and I've found that that doesn't bode well for edging like that. For any tiny little mistakes, a tiny little artist's brush works well for touch ups.
posted by jroybal at 10:18 AM on September 19, 2010

I don't have steady hands either, and edging has helped tremendously. It does not require a steady hand, at all. Unless you have Parkinson's or some other medical problem where your hands shake so bad that you can't hold a paintbrush. In which case you should hire a professional to paint your walls.
posted by Sara C. at 10:20 AM on September 19, 2010

The best way if you want to generate a razor sharp line with tape is what amelioration said. I used this technique all the time at a modern art museum to paint white projection screens onto walls. First you paint over the edge of the tape with the background color allowing intentional bleed, then fill in with the foreground. In the case of unpainted trim I guess you could go over it with some water-based clear finish first. It works like a dream. Use good name brand (i.e. 3M) tape.
posted by werkzeuger at 10:33 AM on September 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Paint over edge of tape with trim color. this way, any paint that oozes under the tape matches the trim underneath the tape. and paint will ooze under the tape, no matter how well you adhere it or how great a tape you buy or how clean you make sure the wall is underneath the tape. Paint will ooze.

That's clever. Cheers.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:38 AM on September 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

My wife and I paint over the tape with the base color also. Never have problems with touch up.

My wife did stenciling work on all of our old school kitchen cabinets this way and it turned out really really good.
posted by Gravitus at 10:52 AM on September 19, 2010

I've given up on tape for trim. If I'm painting walls in a room with standard trim, I first paint the trim being fairly careful around the edges. I then paint around all the edges of the walls (including ceiling) with a small paintbrush. If you start with a decent amount of paint about a 1/2" away from the trim, you can then stroke closer to the trim and do a nice edge with just the paint. Have a damp sponge or paper towel handy in case you screw up, but generally you'll be fine - a small brush (1.5 inch) works really well for this. Once you've finished all the trim, then use the roller on the walls.
posted by Sukey Says at 12:25 PM on September 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

If your walls are in any way textured, then tape won't work very well. the only way around this is to use the painting over technique described above.
posted by anansi at 12:29 PM on September 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Amelioration is correct -- I've used that method, and it works great.

Another tip: apply the tape. and then run your thumbnail along the edge to make it flat against the surface. Painter's tape has little wrinkles that allow paint to seep if you don't burnish the edge.

Also, use "real" 3M tape, not a different brand.

(I've done more painting than I want to think about.)
posted by wryly at 3:49 PM on September 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

If your paint is oozing, you're trying to put too much paint on in one coat. bonobothegreat's method + Sara C.'s method is the way it's done. Although amelioration's method is clever, I can see the shapes of painting over sloppy paint (especially if it was put on too thickly) vs. paint over a properly smooth primed surface and it drives me nuts.
posted by ctmf at 7:46 PM on September 19, 2010

My ex, a once-pro painter, was of the opinion that the best way to avoid this was to learn to "cut" with a high-quality, 4" brush properly - avoiding tape altogether.

She would tell you this is why pro's don't use tape (in her opinion). I learned from her, and now I don't, either.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:01 PM on September 20, 2010

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