How to Use Blue Painter’s Tape

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Blue tape is a critical part of any painter’s arsenal. In certain situations it is THE product you need to make straight lines and protect surfaces. However, it’s not always needed–or even ideal–for all painting situations. In my experience, sometimes white tape gives equal or even better results. So the key to using blue tape effectively and saving yourself a little cash is knowing when to use what.


First, I don’t want to come off as a blue tape hater because I use the stuff all the time. On any job I will always bring at least one roll apiece of 1-inch and 1.5-inch blue tape and high quality white tape in the same sizes. (And of course a roll of duct tape for concrete, rooflines, etc.). Depending on the job, I will bring more or less of one kind or another. Here are a couple of scenarios where I might carry more blue tape because I think it’s critical to achieving the best results:

  1. Masking window frames, door frames, glass, or anything else on the sunny sides of an exterior, usually in preparation for spraying. Anybody who’s made the mistake of having white tape get baked onto vinyl, metal, wood, or even glass and then had to painstakingly scrape and clean the adhesive off knows what I’m talking about here. It can really break your spirit. Always use blue tape when masking exterior areas that get direct sun. (I use 1 1/2-in tape along with .31 mil painter’s plastic to mask windows and doors before spraying.)
  2. Taping off natural-wood trim on an interior. Natural-wood windows, door jams, baseboard, cabinets, and crown molding need to be taped off with blue tape before painting the walls in a room. This is where blue tape really excels: it will give you a cleaner release and less ragged line. Does this mean absolutely zero paint is going to bleed underneath the blue tape? No–you will have some ragged edges. To put the odds in your favor: 1) be proactive and make sure you press the blue tape down firmly immediately before painting next to it, using your fingernail on the edge of the tape to really press it down hard; and 2) after you remove the tape, use a damp rag wrapped tightly around the blade of a putty knife or 5-way tool to clean any spots where the paint leaked under the tape. This can be done effectively even a day or two later.
  3. Taping off hardwood or tile floors on an interior. I always used blue tape on hardwood or tile floors before painting baseboard due to the cleaner release and less bleeding. Again, use a damp rag wrapped around the blade of a putty knife to clean any paint that creeps underneath.

Here are a couple of scenarios where I think white tape is equal or even preferable to blue tape, if for no other reason than it costs less:

  1. Taping window frames, door frames and anything else EXCEPT glass on the shady sides of an exterior, usually in preparation for spraying. As long as it’s not baking in the direct sun, the white tape doesn’t seem to cause any problems when masking off vinyl, wood, or metal windows and doors on an exterior in preparation for spraying (although you should always use blue tape on glass). I even find white tape to be stickier in certain situations, better able to grip vinyl windows. and will usually use white tape on any sides that aren’t going to get direct sun. (That said, I always remove the masking as soon as possible and never let it be up there more than a couple days.)
  2. A lot of interior masking does not require blue tape. For example, when I mask off carpeting beneath baseboard trim, I use white tape on the hand masker. I push the tape and paper up against the baseboard and then work it down underneath the trim, pushing it back underneath as far as I can, using a 5-way tool to assist. It’s this technique that keeps the paint off the carpet, not the tape per se, so no need to use blue tape. The can account for many feet of masking, i.e. money spent on tape. A second instance where blue tape is not necessary is when masking baseboard before painting walls. I usually paint the trim last in a room, so I’ll be coming back to this baseboard and painting it later–this means there’s no need for a perfect line and cleaner release on top of it. Again, this can account for a lot of feet of masking. A third instance (and this doesn’t apply to most DIYers) is masking interior vinyl windows in preparation for texturing and/or spraying and backrolling the walls. White tape seems to work fine, and you’re going to have to clean up the windows later anyway after texturing, priming, and painting all on the same masking.

Finally, here are a couple scenarios where people sometimes use blue tape but in my opinion should NOT:

  1. Taping off a freshly painted ceiling in preparation for painting the walls, thinking this is the way to get a clean line between the wall and the ceiling paint. Tape, be it blue or white, just doesn’t stick well to fresh paint, especially on drywall. There remains a slightly oily residue on the surface of the paint until it’s had a few weeks to cure. Usually the drywall is bumpy too. The best way to cut this line is freehand, in my opinion, by allowing the tips of the bristles to run the paint 1/32 of an inch up onto the ceiling. Step back a few feet and this line looks very straight, especially compared to a line that wavers down onto the wall, something that’s easily visible from the main areas of a room. I believe this is a good method for DIYers because it’s easier than trying to cut precisely into the corner, which is often slightly irregular anyway.
  2. Taping off a freshly painted wall in order to paint the trim. A lot of people paint the walls, then use blue tape on the wall when painting the trim. Aside from the fact that fresh, uncured paint doesn’t usually accept tape very well­–not to mention the risk of pulling the fresh paint off when pulling the tape, even if it is blue tape–there is also the fact that most walls are irregular and bumpy because of texture or whatever. The result is often a ragged line. I prefer to cut against the wall freehand when painting the trim. If I get any out onto the wall, I have better luck coming back later and taping off the trim with blue tape (it sticks better to the smooth wood, even if it is freshly painted), then running a dry brush down the wall next to the tape, and then pulling the tape immediately. This results in a very crisp, straight line.

Exceptions prove the rule: A few times, for reasons I can’t explain, I’ve encountered exterior windows that accepted one tape but not the other. Assuming I’ve already wiped all the windows with a clean rag to remove any water, dust, or unidentifiable residue, I’ll just make do with whichever tape works better. This might force me to use white tape to mask windows on a sunny side if the blue won’t stick. The best way to handle that situation is to mask immediately before painting and pull the masking very soon afterward. On high windows this isn’t always possible because you can’t put a ladder against the fresh paint, but that’s the way it goes sometimes. Get it off as soon as you can.

These days there are many different colors of painting tape on the market, and to be honest I haven’t used any of them, I just use good old blue tape. They probably work fine. What matters most is knowing when to use specialty tape and when white tape will work just as well or better–and knowing how to properly apply blue tape when it’s needed.

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