There are lots of things that we use as artists that may seem humble on the outside, but in reality they can be vital to the successful outcome of the work of art. A great example of this is that most overlooked item in the creative arsenal — tape!
We've all used tape plenty of times, I'm sure, since it's a handy tool to stick one thing to another, but beneath the surface of this seemingly simple item there are many things that you need to know in order to get the most out of it. Lets take a look at some of the different kinds of tape and how you might use them in the context of making artwork.
Thinking about using basic, everyday standard scotch tape for your artistic endeavors? STOP! We all love it because it's the only one we were allowed to have in kindergarten, but in reality this is the most destructive kind of tape you can buy for artistic use. The adhesive used in this kind of tape is very strong and very permanent, so once you've applied it to a surface and let it sit for even just a few minutes you are unlikely to get it off without wrecking something. Paper will rip, paint will be pulled off and the tape will likely leave some kind of nasty residue behind that you'll need an adhesive remover to get rid of. Of course if you're looking for a very strong bond then this may be the way to go, and a particularly useful variety of scotch tape is the double-sided kind that makes it so that you don't have to roll the tape up into one of those funny rings...
Slightly better than scotch tape, but just barely, is the venerable masking tape. Masking tape has a considerably weaker adhesive and you can, in theory, trust it to be removable for about 24 hours with no problems — but we wouldn't bet on it. Adhesive residue is a common problem with masking tape and the chemicals used in the glue make it almost certain that it will stain any surface that it sits on for too long. Once it does set, masking tape is just as devilishly hard to remove as scotch tape, so keep an eye on the clock. The good news about masking tape is that it's cheap, so it makes a good choice for taping sheets of newsprint to a drawing board for quick sketches and any other application where care and quality are not an issue.
A step up from masking tape is the ubiquitous blue painter's tape (yes the same one you use to mask off the trim when you're painting a wall in your house)! This type of tape is similar in chemical properties to masking tape, however it takes much longer for the adhesive to set and become permanent. There are actually different varieties of this tape that are rated at different time intervals. Typically there is a less expensive type that becomes permanent after two weeks and a more expensive type that is good for about 60 days, again in theory. This is the lowest level of tape that you might consider using to mask off portions of a painting or use as a guide to create straight lines, but since it was designed to go over latex house paint, the glue is still pretty strong, so it's not recommended for anything that has a delicate surface.
At this point it's worth briefly mentioning drafting tape. Drafting tape is a special type that uses a rubber cement-like adhesive. The primary purpose of it is to stick the various types of vellum and drafting films used by architect's, etc., to a drafting table and then be removed without harming the delicate surface of those papers.
The standard variety of tape used in art projects is the white artist tape. This is really the good stuff, because you can leave it on the surface for as long as 6 months in most cases without experiencing any residue. It removes easily and cleanly, and the glue is acid-free, so there should never be any discoloration of the surface underneath. For just about any fine art purpose, this tape will do the trick and do it cleanly and easily, so it is well worth the added expense. It's actually pretty amazing to see how the adhesive in artist tape is coherent enough to allow you to mask off an area with a perfectly clean line, and yet when you pull on it it just comes right off! That said, this is definitely NOT a permanent tape by any means and you may find that it comes off too easily (and perhaps at just the wrong moment...), but then again, you can't have everything!
There are still some surfaces that even the glue in artist tape is too strong for, such as a gouache painting. In such cases, the knight in shining armor is the Scotch 811 variety of tape. Unlike it's brutish and destructive cousin that we've discussed earlier, Scotch 811 tape has a very low strength adhesive and is really the only option for masking off areas of a gouache painting or for use on soft printmaking or watercolor papers. Don't count on this tape holding anything together for more than a few seconds, but if you need to do some masking on a delicate surface and you take some care to get a clean line, 811 tape can be a real life-saver!
That concludes our tour of the different species of tapes for fine art use. Remember, the more sophisticated your art is, the more sophisticated your tools need to be, and tape is no exception!