Exploring the Differences Between Framing Tapes and Adhesives

So many different tapes, so many applications. Here's a guide to help you understand the differences so you can choose the tape that's right for you.

 

ADHESIVE TRANSFER TAPES

 

Adhesive transfer tapes are used primarily for sticking double mats together, attaching dust covers, gluing spacers and fillets in place , and, in some rare cases, mounting artwork to a backing board. They are characterized by high initial tack (which means they grab quickly) and a secure, long-lasting bond. They are applied by pressing the tape firmly against the surface and then peeling off the strip of brown release paper, called the "liner", that backs the adhesive. When the liner is peeled away, the other side of the adhesive is exposed, so that a second item (be it a mat blank or dust cover) can be pressed against it and stick. Because both sides of the adhesive are in play these tapes are often referred to as "double sided adhesive transfer tape."

 

ATG tape is a type of adhesive transfer tape where the adhesive is "reverse wound" meaning the adhesive is wound on the outside of the roll, making it cumbersome to work with manually but ideal for use in an adhesive transfer gun where the tape is threaded around the roller at the nose of the gun adhesive side out. The acronym A.T.G. stands for adhesive transfer gun. To operate the ATG gun you squeeze the trigger, releasing the roller and then press the nose against the surface to be glued and pull back. The roller rolls out the double-sided adhesive, peeling up the liner as it goes, threading it back into the gun. Clean and simple.

 

For those who prefer to work with adhesive transfer tape manually, the handheld adhesive transfer tape is the way to go. With this tape, the adhesive is "interior wound" which means the adhesive is turned to the inside as it comes off the roll, making it less of a hassle to deal with. Yet, for long term economy there is no real advantage to buying handheld adhesive transfer tape except to avoid the one time cost of purchasing the adhesive transfer gun, because ATG tape actually costs a penny less per yard than handheld adhesive transfer tape.

 

Acid free ATG tape promises an adhesive that contains no harmful acids. Acid is a nemesis of artwork. Given enough time, in direct sunlight and high humidity, it can cause a hazy brown effect called "acid burn" that can devalue and ruin artwork. But remember, adhesive transfer tape is rarely used to mount artwork to a backing board because it creates a permanent bond by sticking the artwork permanently to the backing so that it cannot be removed. The very act of taping artwork permanently to something else devalues it! If it is adhesive transfer tape is used for this purpose it should only be used on artwork that is unlikely to increase in value, such as posters or easily reproduceable photographic prints. Moreover, adhesive transfer tape can only be applied in long strips, which means the bond will not be uniform across the back of the item to be mounted. For permanent mounting it's preferable to coat the back of the item with adhesive, creating a uniform bond to avoid air pockets and creases. This can be done more affectively with Positionable Mounting Adhesive. So adhesive transfer tape is rarely used for mounting artwork to a backing board, which leads to the conclusion that it rarely contacts the artwork, and since the danger from acid burn occurs when the adhesive is in contact with the artwork, the need for an ATG tape that is acid free is somewhat questionable.  Still, if you want to create a frame package that is entirely acid free, acid free ATG tape is the answer.

 

MOUNTING AND HINGING TAPES

 

Mounting tapes, unlike adhesive transfer tapes, are designed primarily for the mounting of artwork to a mat or backing board. They are also commonly used to attach the mat and the backing board together along the top edge, what is called "hinging", so that they remain aligned in the frame. Paper mounting and hinging tapes are simply those where the tape itself is made of paper, as opposed to, say, linen or tissue. They are the most common type and are used to mount most art on paper.

For heavy watercolor paper and large posters, Lineco Linen Hinging Tape is preferred as the greater tensile strength will prevent tearing under the weight of the artwork. Mounting and Hinging Tissue is employed on lightweight or translucent artwork, such as rice paper. Where other types of tape can be seen through the paper, mounting and hinging tissue is virtually invisible.

 

In application mounting and hinging tapes are typically in contact with the artwork. Because of this, to be safe for the artwork, the tapes must be pH neutral or acid free, but since all mounting and hinging tapes are, as a matter of course, pH neutral or acid free, it's a little like looking for a car with headlights. They all have them, so we can take that as a given and move on. The two main qualities to look for in a mounting tape are ease-of-use and reversibility, and here one quality is often traded off against the other. For ease-of-use Framers II Tape is probably the best. It comes off the roll ready to stick with no annoying liner to have to peel away, but it is only reversible with heat. Reversibility is the ability to release the adhesive bond, making it unsticky so it can be peeled away from the artwork without tearing it. If you have to put the mounted artwork in a heat press to reverse the bond, you cannot effectively release it unless you have a heat press. This is not easy reversibility. Nevertheless, if the artwork is relatively inexpensive, and you cannot not foresee the need to reverse the bond, and you just want a quick, easy way to mount it, the Framers II Tape is a good choice.

 

Gummed tape is just the opposite of Framers II Tape in terms of its attributes. It is not terribly easy to work with, but it reverses very easily. Its a water activated tape which means it won't become sticky until you moisten it, and in this way it's very much like a postage stamp and has some of the same drawbacks. A moistening bottle typically applies to much or not enough moisture, so you end up licking it for best results. After you have licked mounting tape for awhile, self-adhesive tapes like FrameTac that come off the roll ready to stick look better and better. On the other hand, unlike FrameTac, gummed tapes can be released easily with water. Just take the head of a Q-Tip, dip it in water, then work the head of the Q-Tip in under the tape and the adhesive will release easily, letting the tape lift away and leaving no adhesive residue on the artwork.  We offer two brands of Gummed Tape: Lineco and ASAP. They are comparable for quality but the Lineco products are packaged in small boxes with feed slits and serrated tear strips while the ASAP products come without the fancy packaging in plastic bags. On the other hand, the ASAP products come on longer rolls and are generally a better value per yard.

 

Filmoplast P-90 tape has long been considered the Caddilac of mounting tapes. It comes off the roll ready to stick (it doesn't have to be moistened).  Yet it's reversible with water. Both desirable qualities in one tape. In addition, it's packaged in a small box with a feed slit and a serrated tear strip. And yet it's not without its shortcomings. The feed slit and serrated tear strip seldom work effectively. The tape tends to bind in the feed slit and the serrated tear strip can pull loose from the box so that you end up removing the roll from the box and working with it manually. The adhesive side of the tape is covered with a liner that has to be peeled away prior to application and working with it manually can be clumsy..

 

AbacaSA is a revolutionary new tape that combines the thinness of paper tapes, so it won't deboss through lightweight paper, and the strength of linen tape.  It's a self-adhesive tape made from the fibers of the Abaca plant which is similar to the fibers on the inside of the banana peel and are extraordinarly strong.  If Filmoplast P-90 is to get a run for its money as the Caddilac of mounting tapes, AbacaSA may be the one to do it.  

 

For more on proper framing using mounting tapes, and what to avoid when applying them, check out Vadim Makarov's article How Not to Ruin Your Picture By Improper Framing.

 

OTHER TAPES

 

Acid free needlework tape is a double sided tape with a release paper liner for the quick and easy mounting of needlework. It is applied to a mounting board and the release paper is peeled off to expose the other side of the adhesive so that the needlework can be pressed against the adhesive and stuck down. Adhering needlework to tape is not the best way to preserve it over the long term since needlework benefits from air circulation through its fibers, but for needlework that is unlikely to increase in value over time, it's a much faster and easier method than stretching and pinning the needlework to foamboard. Many professional framers recommend the use of needlework tape to their clients when the clients balk at the cost of stretching and pinning, which is so time-consuming to the framer. Well over half the needlework you see mounted is mounted with needlework tape.

 

Frame Sealing Tape is an aluminum tape used to seal the inside of a wood frame's rabbet to prevent acid migration. Wood contains lignin which can seep acid. Acid can migrate from the wood into whatever the wood is in contact with, and given enough time, can cause acid burn in that material. The stack of matboard, foamboard and glass that you place in the recess (the "rabbet") at the back of the wood frame, contacts the wood along the edges and is therefore susceptible to acid contamination. By using frame sealing tape along the rabbet, an aluminum barrier is put in place to contain acid migration and prevent the frame contents from falling victim to acid.

 

Acid free white artists tape and acid free masking tape are best used to seal the edges of the stack of matboard, foamboard and glass prior to placing them in the frame recess.  When you place the frame contents in the recess and press down on them to insert points or brads, the pressing and releasing of the stack can create a bellows effect which can suction lint and dust into the frame space.  By sealing the edges of the stack with white artists tape or acid free masking tape, you prevent debris from entering the frame space and avoid having to remove the contents from the frame to remove dust and lint from the inside of the glass.

 

Mending tissue and Document Repair Tape are used to inconspicuously repair tears in art on paper. The mending tissue can be applied to the face of the artwork where the repair tape is best used at the back.

 

This is an overview of the available tapes and adhesives you'll find at Framing4Yourself. Remember, nobody does more to keep you informed and lead you to the best possible buying decision.  At Framing4Yourself we're your partner in framing.