This article was crafted with the help of Chris Camp of The Painting Company.

If you’re like most people planning a painting project, the way you use painter’s tape is probably the last thing on your mind.

After all, it’s just tape—right?

Believe it or not, painting with tape incorrectly can turn a well-executed painting project into a mess. On the other hand, a creative and patient do-it-yourselfer can use tape to add a little pizzazz to a boring, bare wall.

We spoke with Chris Camp from The Painting Company, an Atlanta Best Pick, to learn what the pros know about using tape to keep a project together and avoid sticky situations.

1. Bring the Right Painter’s Tape

Blue tape is the best kind for sticking to walls and creating designsThere are three main types of tape that are used for painting:

  1. Masking tape
  2. Blue tape
  3. Yellow tape

All three kinds of painter’s tape are best suited to different situations. Before you start painting, do a little research and decide which tape is best for each part of your project. Don’t use a tape that’s too strong for a place you’ll be keeping covered for a long time.

Not sure how long to leave your tape up? The label on your roll of tape will let you know how long to leave it up before it will pull up the underlying surface.

Masking tape

Masking tape is the cheapest type of tape—and the most likely to pull off the underlying surface if it’s left on too long. “This is the type of tape that we use when we’re going to tape off baseboards if we’re painting walls,” says Chris.

Blue tape

Of all three kinds, blue tape sticks to walls the best.

“Blue tape would be what we’re going to put down on any type of sensitive surface,” Chris says. “Along baseboards, we paper down to the floor if it’s going to be there for a little while.”

However, blue tape may pull off the surface underneath if left up for too long, so remember to remove it before it adheres too strongly and causes damage to your wall.

Yellow tape

Yellow tape, Chris says, will never pull up any of the underlying surface—the downside is that it doesn’t stick as well as the other types of tape.

“If you’re doing stripes, or if you have to paint up against wallpaper,” he advises using yellow tape. “It’s a really, really sensitive tape, so it pulls off real quick. It will never pull off the surface.” Yellow tape is perfect for painting stripes or painting up against wallpaper, since it will never damage the surface it sticks to.

2. Avoid Mismatching Tape with Surfaces

Not only do different types of tape have different properties, but using the wrong type of tape on the wrong surface can cause an unexpected hitch in your project. It’s worth taking a few minutes to do a little research on the surface you’ll be taping and find out if you’re using the right tape.

Avoid taping hardwood floors. Instead, while you tape your baseboards, tape a floor covering (such as canvas or plastic) over the bottom of the wall. Blue tape that’s been left on too long can pull up an improperly cured polymer finish from even a ten-year-old hardwood floor.

Chris warns that taping directly to a hardwood floor can turn a simple dining room painting project into an unnecessary floor refinishing hassle.

Skip the yellow tape for wall coverings. If you need to cover your walls while applying a coat to your ceiling, it’s better to use a longer-lasting tape—yellow tape simply won’t hold any wall covering in place for too long, so if you’re planning a popcorn ceiling, stick to blue or masking tape.

3. Create Wall Designs with Tape

According to Chris, crafty do-it-yourselfers can use painter’s tape to create patterns and designs. “We’ve seen people using blue tape to do designs on the wall, and you can get pretty crazy with that. I’ve had people tape it off to look like a ray of sunshine.”

If you’re thinking of adding stripes to your wall, blue painter’s tape is the best kind to use to section off each stripe. Since it sticks to walls so well, blue tape will stay in place long enough for you to finish a project that might take a few days.

As with every other step in the painting process, patience is key.

Removing or retouching paint can end up being more time-consuming than painting in the first place, so before you start taping off the wall for your design, make sure everything looks right. Chris’s advice:

  • Draw a diagram of what you want before you begin.
  • Before you paint, make sure the tape is on the way you want it.
  • The more time you spend getting your tape just right, the more time you’ll save in the long run.
  • Wait 24 hours between applying coats of paint and taping again.

4. Use a Laser Level

If you aren’t absolutely sure that your tape is running in a straight line, think about adding a laser level to your tool kit.

Laser levels are fairly inexpensive and can be found at home improvement stores. A laser level will give you a straight edge to follow along the wall while you tape, which Chris has found very useful.

“People will try to do stripes on their own, and then it looks like a blob on the wall—or they don’t use a laser level, and so there are wavy stripes all over the place.”

5. Double Check Your Baseboards

Don't tape your baseboards too high or too lowWhen applying tape to your baseboards before you paint, Chris cautions against taping too high or too low.

“Make sure that it’s covering the baseboards, but not covering the wall. People who don’t tape every day won’t tape like that, and then they have a bit of the previous wall color showing along the edge of the baseboard or they’ve gotten paint on the baseboard. Then, you’re having to go through and touch up stuff, and it doesn’t look right. It’s a bit of a mess”

Just like knowing which tape to use and checking your tape before you paint, taking a little extra time to check your baseboards is a small decision that can save you time down the line.

Remember: When you’re painting, the details make all the difference.

6. Tape Lightly and Take Your Time

Professional painters know how important it is to take it slow, and many pros rely on careful preparation and meticulous handiwork rather than taping extensively. If you’ve painted a few times before and you know what you’re doing, taping fewer areas can save you preparation time—as long as you pay attention and work carefully.

“We generally just tape around baseboards. We don’t tape off the ceilings; we don’t tape around windows—that stuff is all going to be done by hand,” Chris explains.

“If you really focus on just going slow, you’re going to save yourself time instead of trying to tape the ceiling and all that. You save time freehanding the areas where the brush is above you, or if you’re cutting right in front of you.”

This painting hack may not be up your alley if you’re a first-time painter, but with experience and patience, freehanding meticulously can help you cut down on prep time without sacrificing quality.

The Best Painting Hacks: Preparation, Patience, and Paying Attention

Careful, meticulous use of painter's tape can make or break your painting projectEach one of these painting hacks comes down to one of three things:

  1. Come prepared. Make sure you buy the right tape, find out if you’re taping to the right surface, and stock up on helpful tools like laser levels. The right tools can make the difference between a polished job and a sloppy one.
  2. Be patient. Taking a minute to get your tape just right before you create a wall design and freehanding some areas very carefully to cut down on prep time will save you the time and money it would cost to touch things up.
  3. Pay attention to details. Make sure you cover your baseboards correctly, lay your tape straight, and remove your tape in time.

With these expert taping tips and careful planning, you can tackle your next painting project like a professional—and get professional results.