A staple of the performing arts is Adhesive Tape. Used for a variety of purposes such as to mark items or the stage, secure guitar pedals to the floor, hang backdrops, make repairs, or to generally hold together anything for a temporary purpose, no roadie or other tech can be without a selection.
This article will present a quick rundown of various tapes that can be used for performance purposes. Included will be typical sizes, lengths and colours. Not every type will be discussed; only the most commonly used.
Afterwards, storage suggestions will be given
THE FOLLOWING MAY NOT BE REPRODUCED
WITHOUT PERMISSION FROM THE AUTHOR ©
This is the lightest of tapes used on stage. It was originally meant to be employed by painters for masking purposes; that is, to keep unwanted paint off surfaces while making a specified line around moulding, or between a wall and a differently-coloured ceiling, and so on. This tape typically does not stick well -- but then, it was never meant to. Workers don't want paint being pulled off when the tape is removed after the job has been completed. (There is a higher quality Painter's Tape now available that does adhere better -- see Spike Tape farther on.)
Uses: Employ this tape for temporary marking purposes. It takes felt-tip marker ink well although the writing will bleed somewhat making for less legible marks. You may also use it in the short term for keeping small coiled cables together. It is fairly inexpensive, rips from the roll easily, and leaves no glue behind (unless you use a poor-quality masking tape or leave it on for a long time, especially in hot conditions). The positive qualities are a plus for cable bundling because no stickiness results and the cables come apart easily during the next setup. (However, a better method is to employ permanent ties on each cable -- see our Adhesive Tape Guide.)
Disadvantages: It does not perform well in the presence of moisture or in locations where the temperature is much outside room levels. If it is too cold, the tape will not stick; if too warm, the tape will leave glue behind when removed. As mentioned, glue residue is a problem if the tape is left on a surface too long. Also, its ease of removal and tear-off from the roll means it may shred too easily at unwanted times.
Sizes: Widths range from about 12 to 100mm, and a variety of colours (including fluorescent) is available from which to choose if you decide to use this type of tape for marking and/or colour-coding purposes. Lengths are usually around 50 metres, but shorter lengths can be as low as 5 metres. Some contractors' rolls can be as wide as 100mm. Because this is such a popular tape, you may find manufacturers that make widths and lengths outside of those ranges, too. As an example, some Painter's Tape comes in a 150mm width.
A clear tape used for securing shipping cartons, this sometimes finds its way to the stage. Some use it as a very cheap alternative to the other tape types discussed on the page. However, the versions most seen in retail stores rarely stick well, or for long times, when used for stage purposes. Exceptions are that even the low quality tapes will stick to very smooth surfaces such as counter tops and metal lockers or shelves, while the better, but still not high quality, products will adhere to paper or cardboard, which is the intended purpose.
Uses: Employ this product to protect signs or similar when placed onto smooth surfaces. Some stage managers will use it to cover glow or fluorescent tape on a floor to protect those tapes from dirt and wear during long production runs. Use the highest quality product for this purpose, and use a thicker tape to prevent tearing by shoes and casters.
Disadvantages: Never use it outdoors or in temperature extremes unless you buy a top-of-the-line tape with acrylic adhesive. Ensure surfaces are free from moisture, and use a heat gun to warm cold surfaces before applying. Always pay more to buy a quality product; because dollar store packing tape shreds easily, your crew will cost you in time and frustration while they fiddle trying to find the start edge -- then cost more time as the tape unspools and tears incessantly. This type of tape is also the most likely to leave adhesive behind, so if it is being used for other purposes, make them very temporary.
Another detriment of cheap tapes is in dry weather they will exhibit static problems because of their thinness. So when the tape is unspooled and the end let go of, it will tend to be attracted to unwanted surfaces, or it will immediately fly and `grab' the intended surface before it is aligned. Under this same dryness, when applying the tape to labels or small signs and papers, as one approaches the surface with the tape, the label or paper will fly up to meet the tape and stick in an unsatisfactory way.
Sizes: Product lengths vary widely from just a few metres up to 50 metres, but even longer for professional products. Widths are typically 50mm or 75mm. The best packing tapes will have thick backing to prevent shredding; look for something in the range of 2.5 - 3.5 mil and made of polyester. A tensile strength in the range of 15 kg or better will maintain its integrity while being unspooled and applied.
A Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) product, this soft-backed tape has a rubber adhesive and will stretch to make a tight wrap around objects. The 7 mil grade is rated at 600 volts dialectric strength. It comes in a wide variety of colours, and it takes felt-tip marker ink well without bleeding. This tape is waterproof and thus can be used outdoors or in moist conditions as long as it is put on when the surfaces are dry. Wrap tightly.
Uses: Most road crews employ this product for its intended purpose to insulate electrical connections. However, it is also used as an identifying tape for marking, colour coding, and for coiled-cable securing. The latter purpose is not recommended, though. Good electrical tape usually doesn't leave glue (unless left on for too long a time or if the cables are stored in a warm area), but it can be hard to remove during a setup. Because of its stretchiness, one must unwrap or cut the tape; this slows down setups.
Sizes: Widths range from about 12 to 20 mm. 50 mm is available, but usually only in black. A typical roll length is 20 metres, although shorter lengths may be found. Beware of the down-sized roll; instead of 20 metres, one only gets 18. The two metres short in this example represent a price increase of 11.1%. This is a lot -- way above the inflation rate here in Canada! There are rolls that are shorter than this, too. Typically, these found in variety packs, but beware of some ones.
Warning: Stay clear of discount-store tape packs that contain a variety of rolls, each a different colour. The quality seems to rarely be high, and even when it is, the lengths on each roll are so short that the price is often considerably higher than if one bought a full-length roll. Price and cost do not always equate!
Figuring Value: Here is a quick formula to determine if the price on that package is higher than the full-sized roll you recently bought. Ignoring sales taxes (which balance out), do the following calculations to four decimal places:
This means to take a Package price (P$) before taxes, divide it by the Package's number of rolls (Pr), then divide that by the Length of one of its Rolls (R1l). This will result in the cost per metre for the package. It may be a small, decimal number, but don't be concerned. Now, multiply this small number by the Length of a full-sized Roll (R2l).
If the answer is a price higher than the price for the full Roll, you are paying too much for the Package. Essentially, one is calculating the price of a full Roll at the per-metre cost of the package. If the price is more expensive, the full Roll is cheaper because the result of these calculations is based on what the package is charging for its product. Essentially, the Roll's cost per metre is less than the Package's price per metre.Example:
Compare a package that retails four, two-metre rolls priced at $1.00 versus a 20-metre roll at your wholesale cost of $0.75: 1.00 / 4 / 2 X 20
The answer is $2.50 -- over three times more than you currently pay for the longer roll! In this example, the full roll would be $2.50 at the base cost of the package. Even at retail, I can't see a full roll of quality electrical tape selling for more than $1.50. It's obvious that the package is way more expensive. To sell this example package at the roll's cost, it would have to be priced at $0.32, not $1.00. Buy the quality, full rolls; they're cheaper and they provide a professional product with which to work.
If your roll turns out to be more expensive, one should question the quality, and therefore the suitability, before deciding on the cheap package. I have tried a few of these from different stores just to see what the tape was like regardless of cost. None I have ever encountered was worth using for professional purposes.
Colour Coding: Getting back to quality electrical tape, the wide variety of colours from which to choose makes it very suitable for colour-code marking. Some use it to even designate cable lengths, but I don't like this practice. It's too hard for a pickup crew to learn each company's length coding. (Yes, some companies use the resistor-code standard, but one can never be sure of that.)
Instead, we use strips of red-red-blue tape on all our cables (among other articles) as one way to designate our company's ownership. We display each cable's length by writing in black felt-tip marker right on each connector as " `n' metres ".
Many peformance-oriented tapes seem to fall under the general term of "duct" tape. However, true Duct Tape is just that -- it is used by contractors to seal duct work used in both heating and cooling systems. It will work for stage purposes but has a number of inherent problems which ultimately make actual Stage Tape much more suitable -- and probably less expensive in the long run.
Disadvantages: The first problem with Duct Tape is that it is a thin, cloth tape with usually a coarse weave. This makes for a weaker tape for stage purposes. It can shred when removed after a show or even when just being torn from the roll. Because of this, threads can be left hanging and they can be left behind after the tape is removed.
Another problem is that Duct Tape is meant to be sticky under heat, yet remain stuck when cooled. Thus, it often leaves glue behind because the adhesive will separate from the backing when the tape is removed after usage -- especially if the tape has been on a surface for a prolonged period of time.
Colours: Duct Tape used to come in one colour: grey, but now manufacturers have expanded that to other colours. It is somewhat waterproof and so can be used outdoors or in moist conditions provided it is put on when the surfaces are dry. However, Duct Tape will not last long in outdoor elements.
Recently, a very cheap Duct Tape has arrived in the marketplace that
comes in a variety of colours. Usually the rolls contain only a few metres
of tape, and are actually considerably more expensive per metre than a
full roll of tape; plus the quality is universally inferior.
Uses: Employ Duct Tape for light-duty usage where the up-front cost must be kept low, and the possible lack of colour choice is not a factor. Choose it for temporary purposes so that left-over glue due to long-term adherence does not become a problem upon removal. Don't use the cheapest of Duct Tapes because they typically leave glue residue on surfaces even after short periods; and as already mentioned, these cheap tapes are more likely to shred.
Sizes: Typical lengths are usually around 50 to 55 metres, but shorter lengths of the lowest quality can be as low as 2 metres. Widths are usually 50mm, but other sizes can be 25mm and 75mm. Tapes from some manufacturers are slightly narrower by a few millimetres. This adds up over the length of a roll times thousands of rolls to be cost saving for those manufacturers. Slightly narrower tape may have little effect regarding its end purpose, but it smacks of downsizing so a manufacturer can make more profit, or appear to offer a lower priced roll. Where it costs a tech crew is when tape strips must be placed side by side to cover something. The narrower tapes may mean an extra strip has to be used each time.
Used by the military (at least in Canada), this is a good middle tape between Duct and true Stage Tape. It is waterproof, has a tight weave and good glue. It can be expensive, but may be had at finer surplus places for a better price. Widths are usually 25, 50 or 75 mm, with lengths in the 50- to 55-metre range. Colour is only drab green.
Counterfeit: Beware of cheaper tapes appearing to be gun tape (especially from low-quality surplus outlets). They come in the same military green colour, but are inferior. Some of them shred easily when being dispensed from the roll, and some may also leave glue behind after removal. Typical clues to identify these tapes are coarsely weaved backing and unevenly coated adhesive.
True professionals use actual Stage Tape -- often referred to as "gaffer's", but it is not necessarily a true gaff tape. Stage Tape is the big brother of Duct Tape in that it utilises a cloth backing and strong adhesive, but to a much greater degree. Look for a high thread count with a tight, fine weave, and good thread adherence. For extra strength, select tapes with thicker backing in the range of 10 mil or better.
Strenth: The adhesive should be very strong, with the best formula being a synthetic rubber adhesive. Typically, a good tape is hard to unwind from its roll when at room temperature because of its stickiness. Examine the adhesive side of the tape. It should be smooth, free from hollows, and the backing should not be very visible through the glue coating. A quality Stage Tape holds well but can still be easily removed, and frequently may actually be reused the next night!
Coated Tape Backs: If it is to be in wet conditions, get a poly coated tape. This plastic coating will give extra protection from moisture, and to some extent from direct sunlight deterioration when outdoors. Poly coating also adds to a tape's durability. I once used just such a high quality stage tape to hold an amber gel on a company vehicle's signal light. The lens had been broken by vandals and a replacement was unavailable. That gel and tape were there for over three years!
Thickness: If you need robustness, get a thicker tape. These tapes range from about 6 mil through 14 mil. For quick recognition, realise that for a given length, a roll of thicker tape will have a considerably greater diameter than that of a thinner, lower strength tape. Use thick tape where you need great holding power with no tearing. Be aware of thicker tapes that don't have correspondingly thicker adhesive. The backing will be easier to see through the adhesive side of a tape when there is a thin glue coating.
Colours and Sizes: Stage Tapes are available in a very wide variety of colours and also in a matte finish. The latter is usually used as a cheaper alternative to true Gaffer Tape around film, video, and photography sets where stray reflections are a problem. Stage Tape widths are usually 50mm, but 25, 75mm and 100mm are available. Common lengths range from a low of 5 metres up to 50 or 55 metres.
Cable Runs: The wider widths are typically used to tape down carpet edges or are placed on top of cable runs. Instead of using three side-by-side strips of 50mm tape to bridge a group of cables, two strips of 75mm save time and will cost less than three of an equivalent 50mm tape. If the cables are cutting across a walkway or doorway and no cable mats are available or they are unsuitable, use a light-coloured tape. A better alternative is an aluminum-finished or fluorescent tape to make the intrusion more visible. This is very important in low-light areas. Keep usage of fluorescent tape to a minimum, though; it costs many times more than plain-coloured Stage Tape. Perhaps use regular Stage Tape topped with a thin strip of fluorescent tape.
This type is used as an identifier, as can be electrical or masking tapes. However, it has a phosphorescent coating that will absorb light, especially from the blue/violet part of the spectrum, and then re-emit it in the dark for a period of time. The usually emitted colour is a bright greenish white. It is used to identify backstage walkways as well as hazards in locations where it must be kept completely dark such as areas close to an audience's view. Typical widths are 12mm to 25mm, although 50mm is available.
Buy quality Glow Tape. It will remain bright enough to last the length of a performance and beyond. Cheap glow tape will only give a useful glow for a half hour or so. (Some personal commenters say it is as few as 10 minutes!) Rolls are typically only two to fifteen metres in length due to the high price of this tape.
Extended Emission Time: To achieve continuous glow times, some theatres will use a low-wattage, blacklight-blue, or LED ultraviolet light source to make the tape glow all the time and to maintain its brightness. We feel this is a waste of the Stage Accessories Budget because Glow Tape is unnecessary where an excitation light source is always present. Given that this tape is often ten to twenty times the cost of fluorescent masking tape, use the latter instead. If this method is used, shield the UV sources well so as to not produce visible glow to an audience. Also consider using Packing Tape to protect Glow or Fluroescent tapes when placed in traffic areas.
Tape used for spiking (marking) the position of items on a stage is normally narrow in width (9 to 12mm) and comes in a variety of colours. It removes easily after a production closes, leaving little to no glue. The exception is if temperatures vary too much beyond those of a typical room.
Substitutions: Some stage managers use the narrowest-width Painter's Tape, which is a better-quality, coloured masking tape. The issues with this are that felt-tip label markings on this type of tape can bleed, thus blurring the labels; and it is generally much more expensive than Spike Tape.
True Spike Tape: This is typically narrower than Painter's. It comes with flat or smooth backing. The flat tape tears easily by hand, but usually exhibits the ink-bleeding characteristic. The type we sell is very smooth in texture so that marker inks don't bleed at all. This makes for completely legible writing (within the stage crew's penmanship ability, of course) so that crews working under dim lighting during set changes can easily discern which spike strip means what. The smooth-backed tape does require scissors or a knife to cut, but this means a more robust product that can withstand months of a show's run.
Colours: The wide variety of colours available for this tape means that each item or group of items on a stage can have its own colour coding. So table spikes might use Yellow, chairs could be designated as Green, and so on. Some manufacturers even offer fluorescent Spike Tape, although one might question the use of this on a stage in sight of an audience for some types of performances.
Spike tape removes very easily after a show leaving no residue, and its low cost of around only 4 to 6 cents per metre makes it very affordable, even for the lowest of budgets. Typical roll lengths vary from a few metres to 60 metres.
A product associated with the motion picture industry (hence its name), this is often the highest quality tape available for performance purposes. It is an 11- to 14-mil, cloth-backed tape with a matte finish, and has a superior rubber adhesive that does not leave residue under most conditions. Although available in a variety of widths, the preferred seem to be 70mm or 100mm. Colour variety is wide and includes fluorescent. Lengths are usually 45 to 55 metres.
Uses: This product works well where reflections from the tape back must be kept to a minimum, where strength is a major requirement, and/or where high temperatures might be encountered. Some of these tapes can withstand 90 degrees C and higher. Depending on the type, it can be left for long periods outdoors as it repels moisture and can handle UV rays.
Containers and Separators: Always store tape in a heavy-plastic or cellophane bag, or better, in a snap-lid plastic container. Adhesives can, and do, dry out. Insert wax paper sheets between each roll and the sides of the bag or container. The separators will prevent the edges of rolls from sticking to one another over time. If left long enough, such unseparated tape might need a pry bar to get apart if the tape uses a high quality adhesive.
Silicone Lubricant: Even waxed paper separators can still stick to tape left too long in containers. As such, for long-term storage, it is suggested that you apply a light coating of silicone lubricant on the waxed paper. An industrial-level silicone spray is available from us, but a lighter-duty commercial version may be found at some hardware or automotive stores. The light-duty one should be fine for this purpose.
Do not overuse the silicone. Put a dab on the wax paper and distribute it with a cloth or paper towel. Use too much and it will get on to the back of the tape making it too slippery to grip, and thus, to tear off.
Light Ageing: Keep fluorescent and glow tapes in opague boxes. Light, especially that from the sun, will reduce the life of fluorescent tape, and possibly some glow-tape coatings. When this happens, light emissions will be lower in intensity, and in the case of cheap Glow Tapes, may reduce the length of usable glow-time after a charge.
Simple Methods to have your Tape
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