The Tale of Masking Tape

Wrote Tuesday, by Ionela Stetco


Very few know that masking tape was born specifically to suit the needs of the automotive sector, introducing a product that would have transformed the world of professional painting and the industrial sector as a whole. Automotive masking tape, in fact, played a primary role in the development of adhesive tapes for industrial applications. Let’s discover the history behind the tiny roll of crepe paper that thousands of professional use every day.

Before Masking Tape: butcher paper and hospital tapes

Before the introduction of masking tape, automotive professionals used to mask auto body parts with butcher paper, a common variant of Kraft paper used to wrap meat, fish, and other food products. In automotive painting, butcher paper was spread with a strong adhesive and applied to the area to mask: this solution was able to guarantee clean lines, but gave problems upon removal. In fact, due to the aggressive adhesive, the paper peeled some of the paint off the masked surface. As a result, the painter was forced to spend time and more paint to give the needed adjustments.

It is curious that, at the time, adhesive tapes were almost unknown to the industrial sector. These products found their main application in the hospital and first aid fields, working as plasters to treat wounds and injures. The introduction of adhesive tapes to the industrial market would have happened only in the 1920s, precisely with the invention of automotive masking tape.

The invention of automotive masking tape

Paintjobs with butcher paper became more difficult as two-tone design rose as a popular trend in the style of cars during the Roaring Twenties. The sharp lines between the colors required high amounts of paper to be treated properly, and we can just imagine how many adjustments the painters had to provide after removing the paper. Fortunately, their frustration was about to end.

Richard Drew was a young inventor who worked for a sandpaper manufacturer in St. Paul, Minnesota. Drew was only 23 when, in 1922, realized that the essential point to solve the problems of automotive masking was the need of a gentler adhesive. He experimented for three years on the new technology, looking for the right combination of materials for the backing and the adhesive. He ended up choosing crimped saturated paper for its flexibility, and coating it with a layer of pressure-sensitive adhesive: the idea of masking tape was born.

Actually, the first product was a failure, as the adhesive on the backing of the tape was too slim and weak. The stripe of paper fell off the car and spoiled the job of the painter. Drew went back to his laboratory and, with few modifications, in 1925 came out with the improved version of the tape, the true masking tape we all know.

Drew’s invention was an important step for the industrial sector as a whole: the development of saturated paper tapes, in fact, found application far beyond automotive masking. These products remained for a long time the most used and requested tapes in the industrial world.

The following evolution of automotive masking tape

Over time, masking tape diversified into a wide range of products for different applications. High temperature resistant tapes were introduced to withstand paint drying cycles in spray booths and, recently, new products such as Trim Masking Tapes and Foam Masking Tapes were launched to meet specific requirements when masking difficult surfaces. In particular, Trim Masking Tape is ideal to protect rubber trim moldings and Foam Masking Tape is designed to fit into grooves and jambs to prevent paint bridging.

The Tale of Masking Tape has just begun.


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