Atlantic Illumination Entertainment Lighting

Purchase Guide

for the

(Image: Roll of Stage Tape)

    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 should be without a selection in his or her ready-for-anything kit.

This article will present a quick rundown of tapes that can be used
for performance purposes. Included will be typical sizes, lengths
and colours. Not every type on the market will be discussed;
only the most commonly used by crews across the industry.

Afterwards, storage suggestions will be given
and then a series of tape tips will be presented.



Tape Types     Storage

Tape Tips



Masking    Packing    Electrical    Microphone    Spike

Luminescent    Duct    Gun    Stage    Gaffer



(Image: Roll of Masking Tape)      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 tears too easily, and it 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 not tear as easily -- 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 Cordage Guide.)

    Disadvantages:  It does not perform well in the presence of moisture or in locations where the temperature is much out side of 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. Shredding is also a problem when removing these poor-quality tapes.

    Sizes:  Widths range from about 12 to 75mm, 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 out side of those ranges, too. As an example, some Painter's Tape comes in a 150mm width.



(Image: Roll of Packing Tape)      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 on to 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 is difficult to initially unspool and it shreds easily, your crew will cost you in time and frustration while they fiddle trying to find the starting edge -- then cost more time during unspooling because it tears incessantly. This type of tape is also the most likely to leave adhesive behind, so if it is being used for purposes other than sealing cardboard boxes, make them very temporary. In addition, packing tape is just not sticky enough to hold much weight, or keep cables on the floor from being a trip hazard.

    Finally, packing tape in dry weather will exhibit static problems because of its thinness and material make-up. So when the tape is unspooled and the end let go, it will tend to be attracted to itself or unwanted surfaces, or it will immediately fly to `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 jump up to meet the tape and then stick in an unsatisfactory orientation.

    Sizes:  Product lengths vary widely from just a few metres up to 50 metres, but even longer for professional products. Widths are typically 48mm or 72mm. 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.



(Image: Roll of Electric Tape)      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 dielectric 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 outside 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 20mm. 48mm is available, but usually only in black. A typical roll length is 20 metres, although shorter lengths may be found. Pay attention to 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 are found in variety packs.

    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:

P$ / Pr / R1l X R2l

    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.


 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 ".



(Image: Roll of Microphone Tape)      This transparent tape is used by audio crews because it will adhere to skin better and longer than any other tape discussed in this article. When a performer wears a headset-microphone, the mic boom is often taped to the cheek to keep it in place. This is especially true for active persons such as dancers and acrobats, or for those who will be engaged in a stage fight.

    Even for other performers, it is desirable to make sure that the microphone element does not encroach upon the mouth or nostril; otherwise, breathing sounds will become very evident to an audience. Also, it's important that the element not rub or strike against the cheek to avoid similar results, and that it be kept far enough out so as to prevent, or at least reduce, distortion during loud vocalisations.

    Structure:  Microphone tape's colouring and its see-through nature allow it to blend with caucasian skin colour to make it less obtrusive to audience members. (For other skin colours, darker shades are available by special order, or you can use a more transparent tape.) Its box-weave composition assures maximum strength, and the hypoallergenic nature of the adhesive prevents skin reactions. Because the backing is porus, air and moisture pass through; so the tape remains on the face without perspiration building up which would result in loss of adherence. Yet, it is easily removed without causing damage to skin.

    Be wary of cheap tape; the box weave may shred to leave threads of material hanging. These low-cost tapes also may leave glue residue on the skin, and may become gooey with skin moisture and heat. The price of better quality is such a small difference for the amount typically used as to easily justify itself, while at the same time a better-quality tape negates the frustration encountered when using a poor product.
(See Medical Adhesive Remover in the AIEL Lubricants and Solvents guide.)

    Sizes:  Widths range from 12.5mm to 25mm, with a typical length of 9 metres.



(Image: Roll of Spike Tape)      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. In addition, since painter's tape is meant to be easily removed, it may not stick well enough or long enough for spike purposes. A worst-case example is when it is used in areas with high foot traffic.

    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 persons 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. An alternative is to use a different colour for each act's items.

    Some manufacturers offer fluorescent Spike Tape, although one must question the use of this on a stage in sight of an audience for some types of performances. However, where a bright, but narrow, tape is required, this could be an option.

    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.



(Image: Roll of Glow Tape)      This tape is used as an identifier, as can be Electrical and Masking types. 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 usual, emitted colour is a bright greenish white. It is used to define backstage walkways as well as to indicate hazards in locations where it must be kept completely dark such as areas close to an audience's view.

    Buy quality Glow Tape. It will remain bright enough to last the length of a performance and beyond. Cheap Glow tape typically has inconsistent coatings, glows with a duller colour, and will only be useful for a half hour or so. (Some personal commenters say that some product is so poor as to only glow usably for 10 minutes!)

    Be aware that fluorescent tape is often advertised as "glow in the dark". This is misleading. In order to fluoresce, an energy source must be present all the time. Once charged, luminescent tape will glow with no light source present. If the latter is what is needed, do not buy fluorescent tape; it won't work.

    Sizes:  Typical widths are 12mm to 25mm, although 50mm is available. 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 employed, shield the UV sources well so as to not produce visible glow to an audience. Also consider using Packing Tape to protect Glow or Fluorescent tapes when placed in traffic areas.



(Image: Roll of Duct Tape)      Many performance-oriented tapes seem to fall under the general term of "duct" tape which uses a cloth backing of various materials on to which an adhesive is applied. It was first developed in the 1900s as "duck tape", and after World War II came to be used by contractors to seal duct work in both heating and cooling systems, hence the "duct" name. It fell out of favour when better heat- and cold-resistant tapes were developed. The name has lived on despite no longer being used for that purpose, in most cases.

    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.

    Duct tape 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 usually with 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 many other colours. If you have a need to identify the purposes of Duct Tape usage, choose a range of colours to suit.

    Recently, a very cheap Duct Tape has arrived in the marketplace that comes in a variety of colours. Usually the rolls are only a few metres long, and are actually considerably more expensive per metre than a full roll of tape; plus the quality is almost 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. Fortunately, there are higher quality versions available now for those not needing a full-quality

    Sizes:  Typical lengths are usually around 50 to 55 metres, but shorter lengths in the range of 30 to 35 metres are not uncommon, and the lowest quality can be as short as 2 metres. Widths are usually 48mm, but other sizes can be 24mm and 72mm. Tapes from many manufacturers have now been slightly narrowed. They used to be 25, 50, and 75 mm. This reduction 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 at least some of the time.



(Image: Roll of Gun Tape)      Used by the military (at least in Canada), this is a good middle tape between Duct Tape and true Stage Tape. It is waterproof, has a tight weave and good adhesive. It can be expensive, but may be had at finer military supply outlets for a better price. Widths are usually 24, 48 or 72mm, with lengths in the 50- to 55-metre range. Colour is drab green in light and dark shades. We stock the 24- and 48-mm widths.

    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.



(Image: Roll of Stage Tape)      True professionals use actual Stage Tape -- often referred to as "gaff", but it is not necessarily an authentic Gaffer's 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 adhesive adherence. For extra strength, select tapes with a thicker backing in the range of 10 mil or better.

    Strength:  Sticking ability 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, to the point where it may actually be reused the next night!

    Coated Tape Backs:  If it is to be in wet conditions, get a tape with poly-coated backing. This plastic coating will give extra protection from moisture, and to some extent from direct sunlight deterioration when outside. Poly coating also adds to a tape's durability. We once used just such a 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 too thin of a 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 less expensive alternative to true Gaffer Tape around film, video, and photography sets where stray reflections are a problem. Stage Tape widths are usually 48mm, but 24, 72mm 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 48mm tape to bridge a group of cables, two strips of 72mm save time and will cost less than three of an equivalent 48mm tape.

    Threshold Usage:  If the cables must be run across a walkway or doorway and no cable mats are available or they are unsuitable, use a light-coloured tape. This is very important in low-light areas. A better alternative is to employ a specific Threshold Tape. This product has a shiny, metallic-style finish, so it will be easily visible to foot traffic, thus increasing the likelihood that a trip hazard will be seen. This type of tape is also more durable, so it is a better choice for something that will be walked upon.

    One could also use fluorescent tape to make the intrusion of cables across a doorway be more visible. Keep its usage to a minimum, though; it costs many times more than either of the tape types just discussed. Perhaps one might use a regular Stage Tape topped with a thin strip of fluorescent.



(Image: Roll of Gaffer Tape)      A product associated with the motion picture industry (hence its name), this is typically 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. The best products tear very easily by hand without shredding, and without needing a knife or scissors.

    Gaffer tape is designed to be removed easily without pulling paint or harming surfaces. No residue remains under most all conditions. However, tape left on for extended periods and/or that has been subjected to temperature extremes can result in some adhesive being left and/or some pulling of surface materials.

    Sizes and Colours:  Although available in a variety of widths, the preferred seem to be 72mm or 100mm by motion picture crews. However, 48mm should be sufficient on the theatre stage, and widths of 24mm or narrower are also available. Lengths are usually 25 to 55 metres. The most popular colour is black, but the variety of others is wide and includes fluorescent.

    Uses:  This is the best product for when reflections from the tape back must be kept to a minimum, where strength is a major requirement, and easy removal without surface damage is a required feature. Outdoor usage and high-temperature capability are also common abilities. Some of these tapes can withstand 90 degrees C and higher. Depending on the type, gaffer tape can be left for long periods outside as it repels moisture and can handle UV rays.



Storage Methods
for Shop and Road

(Image: Transparent Storage Box)      Containers and Separators:  Try to store tape in a thick plastic or cellophane bag, or better, in a snap-lid plastic container. Adhesives can, and do, dry out, or at a minimum become overly viscous. 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. A stage lighting level of 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 opaque 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 eventually reduce the length of usable glow-time after a charge.



Simple Methods to have your Tape
Usage be Easier and Less Wasteful

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