How to use masking tape without ripping your watercolour paper – 6 top tips!

Masking tape is jolly useful stuff, but the big down side is that it may well rip your paper, as you remove it at the end. Needless to say, this is incredibly annoying! Let me share a few tips to avoid this fate.

Masking tape

First of all – why use masking tape? Not only does it fix your paper to your board, meaning that should you need to tilt your work your painting won’t end up in a soggy heap on the floor, it also gives a nice clean border. Such a border helps focus the eye in on the painting. Though it will be hidden if you mat and frame your work, it gives a nice finish to a piece that will be living unframed. Finally, if you have not stretched your paper, taping it down does help prevent some cockling.

Tips to avoid tearing your paper

So – you’ve taped your paper down, you have painted a masterpiece and now you need to take the tape off. How do you decrease your chances of a horrible rip?

  1. Make sure your painting is really dry (really, really) – damp paper is far more likely to rip, so ensure it is bone dry. Use the back of your hand. If it feels cool there is still moisture in the painting.
  2. Remove it slowly – ripping off tape is fun, but dangerous! Do it slowly and you are far less likely to tear.
  3. Remove it at an angle – pull it off at an angle away from the painting, not vertically.
  4. Heat the tape – gentle heat (from a hairdryer) will slightly melt the adhesive and help the tape to come off easily
  5. Should it start to rip, stop and pull from the opposite direction – if you feel the paper starting to tear, stop and come at it from the opposite direction. This will minimise any damage.
  6. Should any paint seep under the tape, you can clean up edges with a damp magic eraser or touch up with opaque white gouache.

In addition, you may find that cotton paper is less likely to rip than cellulose papers. Lower quality watercolour paper will rip more easily than the good stuff, for sure. If you have a rolls of super-sticky tape, don’t throw it away. You can take off some of the tack, but placing the tape on your clothing before using it. The lint from your clothes will just reduce the stickiness.

Pro tip

You may see painter’s tape on sale – Frog Tape is a well known brand – it is low tack tape designed to not pull paint off walls. This stuff is great (though more costly than masking tape), however it tends to come in bright colours. I would try to use a light, neutral coloured tape. Our eyes judge all colours and tones relative to the ones near by. If you have a strong coloured tape it will throw your colour perception off. You may find that your painting looks totally different once removed, and not necessarily better-different. I would argue the same for Washi tape – pretty, but will throw your perception out.

How else to use masking tape

Simple study of birch trees

Bizarrely enough, masking tape is pretty handy for masking. In this study, the trunks were masked with tape. I tore each strip in half lengthwise to get a rough edge. I then put the two halves back-to-back, so the straight edges were together. This gives a more natural looking edge. Some paint will seep under the torn edge, but this adds to the effect. If you would like to see the entire painting please look at this film on YouTube:

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