I’ll admit it: I probably paint my walls way more often than is strictly necessary. And yet, I often find myself forgetting to prepare all of the tools I need before I start painting. Now, I’ve already written about most of those items in the article I’ve linked to. However, I wanted to have a whole article about the first item on that list too. So today, we’re going to find out once and for all whether using a paint shield is better for cutting straight lines than painter’s tape.

There are pros and cons to using both of these methods. However, before we talk about the drawbacks to using tape and paint shields, I’m going to tell you what they are, what you can use them for, and how to use them to paint a straight line. Without further ado, let’s just get into it.

Masking Tape vs. Paint Shield Uses

If we want to determine which of these tools is the most useful one for painting walls, we first need to talk about what they do. Seeing as most people are more familiar with tape than paint shields, I’ll start by explaining what painter’s tape is and what you can use it for.

First, let’s talk about the history of masking tape. It may not surprise you to know that the first masking tape was invented by a 3M employee in 1925. The inventor of masking tape, Richard Drew, noticed that regular adhesive tape was so strong that it usually left residue and even pulled off fresh paint. While you definitely shouldn’t use masking tape on fresh paint either, it’s meant to be a softer alternative to duct tape.

Painter’s Tape Uses

Painter’s tape or masking tape is an adhesive roll tape that’s usually pretty easy to tear. Artists tend to use yellow crepe paper tape which is usually less sticky than blue painter’s tape. Drafting tape is also great for household use and for temporary placement because it loses its hold fairly quickly.

On the other hand, blue painter’s tape (like this ScotchBlue one) is usually more secure than most crepe tapes, at least if you use it correctly. Like crepe tape, blue tape is easy to tear, apply, and remove. However, it shouldn’t fall off on its own — and let me tell you, crepe tape does.

Now, let’s talk uses. In my article on wall painting equipment, I advised you to always keep painter’s tape on hand, even if you aren’t planning on using it for masking. That’s because this product can do many things besides masking edges:

  • You can use it to cover exposed outlets, lighting fixtures, and other areas you need to protect, whether you’re painting or not (many parents actually babyproof wall sockets with tape)
  • It can help you hold down your drop cloth or the plastic tarp you throw over the furniture you can’t push out of the room while you paint
  • Painter’s tape can adhere to different materials, including walls, wood, plastic, and many more
  • Some painter’s tape can even be used on freshly painted surfaces that are dry to the touch

However, most people use blue masking tape to get straight lines. Supposedly, painter’s tape is better at masking than regular drafting tape because it doesn’t leak. But we’ll see if that’s really the case a bit later on. For now, let’s talk about paint shields.

Paint Shield Uses

Paint shields are thin metal or plastic rectangles with handles along one of the long sides. They can have long handles that can attach to extension poles or have no handles at all.

Some manufacturers also call them trim or paint guards or even spray shields. For example, the second product I linked to above is a trim guard — so it’s basically a slightly thinner version of the shield I linked before it. Still, no matter what you call them, they do the same thing.

The first time I explained how to use a paint shield was in my article on how to paint trim without tape. However, I plan on expanding on that later on in this article.

Basically, unlike the painter’s tape, paint shields are pretty much meant to do only one thing — catch paint. You would wedge them into the area you want to protect then move your brush or spray the paint across the area.

As I have mentioned in my article about painting trim, you’d need to keep the shield clean and move it as you go along. That may not be the most convenient solution, either. So all of this means that as far as the sheer number of uses is concerned — painter’s tape wins this round.

Guides to Using These Tools to Paint a Straight Line

When it comes right down to it, your masking tools really aren’t the only things that matter when you’re painting. Personally, I’d be much more focused on my finish than on whether or not I have a few drops of paint where they shouldn’t be. But that may be because I’ve gotten used to having at least one mistake every time I paint my walls.

Still, in addition to getting the masking tool of your choice, you also need to have some other things in mind. So let’s talk about those before we go into how you can use your masking tape and paint shields.

Tips That Work for Either Method

First of all, if you want to be able to paint a sharp line, whether you’re using tape or a shield, you’re going to want to have all of the basics. In this case, the basics include the right paint and the right brush.

If you’re painting your trim, I explained which paint and brush you should use in the article I mentioned earlier. Just remember to pair oil paint with natural bristle brushes, and latex paint with synthetic bristles. Additionally, you can check out which other features you should look out for in my article about the best painting brushes for achieving a smooth finish.

You should also pay attention to the type of paint you’re using. Both kinds have a time and a place when you can use them. However, you should always make sure that you’re getting the most of your choice. To that end, I’ll just point you to my article about how to avoid streaks when painting with a brush, where I explained what paint additives do.

Basically, if you add a paint conditioner to your oil paint, it should glide on more easily. Since oil paint doesn’t dry quickly naturally, it doesn’t need the additive to slow down its drying time. Conversely, that’s exactly what latex paint additives are meant to do: let the paint move more freely and dry more slowly.

How to Use Painter’s Tape

No matter which masking tool you’re using, you’ll want to prepare the room for painting first. However, cleaning the room is doubly as important when you’re dealing with tape. After all, the adhesive needs to be able to stick where you put it, not load up with dust.

After you clean the area where you want the tape to be, you should use long strips to protect the edge. Take the piece of tape with both hands and set it where you want it. Then, press down with your index finger, sliding it along one side of the tape until you get to the end. After one side is stuck, you can take a clean putty knife or any other clean, flat tool (even a credit card would work in a pinch), press it down, and slide it along the length of the tape you just put down.

When you add more tape, overlap each piece over the previous one to prevent leaks. If you’re putting the tape on glass, i.e., for masking windows, you can cut off excess tape with a utility knife.

Ideally, you would take the tape off while your paint is still wet. If you leave the tape on until the paint cures, it may prevent you from taking it off with ease. Still, if that ever happens, don’t worry: you can cut along where the painted surface meets the masking tape with a utility knife to release the tape. If you try to rip the tape off, you may take chips of paint along with it.

How to Use a Paint Shield

The correct way to paint with a paint shield is to hold your brush in your dominant hand while holding the paint shield in the opposite one. First, you’d wedge the thin metal shield against the surface you want to protect. Finally, pass your brush along the edge.

I always recommend wearing clothes you don’t care about getting dirty when you’re painting. In this case, you could wipe the excess paint off your shield on your pants. However, as long as you keep only one side facing you, the back surface should be safe.

Check out how to use a paint shield when painting different surfaces, including baseboards and window trim, in this video. Now that we have that sorted, let’s talk about some of the cons of using these two methods.

The Drawbacks to Using These Methods

As I have mentioned before, the main drawback of using tape is that it tends to bleed through. Well, that and that the cost piles up fast, especially if you’re painting a big surface.

However, I’ve recently discovered a new trick I wanted to share for preventing those unsightly leaks. After applying your tape, you can paint over it with the same color that’s currently under the tape.

That way, the leak will be the same color as the one that’s supposed to be there anyway. So you’d get a bit of leeway with the next color you put on there after the first one dries.

Now, obviously, this won’t work for all situations. Still, if there’s a chance that it could help you achieve a crisper line, why not try it.

On the other hand, using a paint shield also has its cons. For one, you’d have to keep moving it and cleaning it as you go along. Many people find this inconvenient, so they opt for masking tape.

Additionally, some paint shields are too thin for some people to handle well. However, I believe that that’s just a matter of practice.

Paint Shield vs. Masking Tape: Final Thoughts

So, after all of that, which masking method takes home the trophy? I’ve got to say, it depends. Overall, I think that using painter’s tape is more convenient. After all, you don’t have to move it around or clean it. However, it does tend to let paint bleed through.

On the other hand, having a shield keeps your tape bills low. Listen, they rack up when you paint your walls often enough! Besides, you can even use it on freshly painted walls, if you’re careful. Really, it all comes down to your preference and your technique.

Personally, I like using painter’s tape when I’m prepping the room for painting, particularly around the baseboard. I just don’t use tape to protect the corners of my walls. Instead, I use the cut-in method, which I explained in my article about painting trim without tape. Then if I mess up, I go back and fix it with a paint shield.

Basically, what I’m saying is that you’ll need to develop your own painting style, in a way. Trust me, when you’ve painted your walls a few times, you’ll be making all of these calls instinctively.

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