Gaffers Tape or Duct Tape?

Gaffers Tape or Duct Tape?


Gaffers tape may look similar to a roll of duct tape, but those who use it regularly know that the performance of gaffers tape is far different from duct tape.

The most obvious difference is in the material that is known as the substrate. Substrate is the cloth-like material that makes up the non-sticky side of the tape.

Duct tape uses a vinyl substrate that is reinforced with a woven cotton mesh. It is designed to give the tape strength and minimize stretching, but it is not woven tightly enough to actually be considered cloth.

The substrate of gaffers tape is actually woven cotton cloth. It is a much tighter weave than mesh and actually looks like cotton cloth. This makes gaffers tape much stronger than duct tape and makes it easy to tear straight so that no cutting tools are needed. The tightness of the fabric weave means that gaffers tape does not stretch like duct tape.

These two tapes also have adhesives that are formulated in a very different manner.

Duct tape adhesive uses a base of natural latex, rubber from a rubber tree. While quite sticky with great holding power, duct tape usually leaves adhesive residue behind when it is removed.

The adhesive on gaffers tape is based on a petroleum derivative and is designed to remove cleanly from most surfaces. This is particularly important when gaffers tape is used for temporarily securing cables to the stage or the floor.

Duct tape and gaffers tape are impacted differently when exposed to water. Duct tape is considered to be waterproof, which makes it ideal for short term repairs and sealing. Gaffers tape is water resistant, but will not completely seal out water and moisture.

Conformability is another area where these two tapes differ. Conformability (the ability for tape to be shaped around irregular surfaces) is greater with duct tape. It is more flexible, will stretch and mold itself around complicated shapes. Gaffers tape is conformable as well, but since it does not stretch, it is more difficult to get it to conform. Duct tape's conformability also makes it a better choice for sealing against air flow, particularly when weatherproofing.

Another characteristic of gaffers tape that is important to users is its tearability. Because of the tight weave of the cotton cloth substrate, it is easy to tear gaffers tape by hand, negating the need for a cutting tool. While duct tape can be hand torn, it tends to stretch, meaning that torn edges can be irregular and may not have as much adhesive as the rest of the piece of torn tape.

Response to high temperaturs is yet another area where the gaffers tape and duct tape differ. Because it uses natural latex adhesive, duct tape tends to become very gummy when exposed to high heat, even over a very short period of time. Gaffer tape's synthetic rubber adhesive is more stable and can be exposed to higher temperatures without losing its adhesive stability. This makes it possible to use gaffers tape in high heat applications like stage lighting.

Both duct tape and gaffers tape are made in multiple colors, but there are many more colors for gaffers tape than for duct tape. This makes gaffers tape useful for matching floor finishes like carpet colors and for making "invisible" repairs on items like stage curtains. The color in duct tape is mixed in to the vinyl part of the tape's substrate, while the color in gaffers tape is dyed into the cotton cloth.

The tighter weave of gaffers tape material means that it can be converted (slit) into much narrower strips than duct tape. Gaffers tape slit to widths as narrow as 1/8 inch can still be handled an manipulated by the user. One inch width is the narrowest available size for duct tape, since narrower widths would be all but impossible to handle.

The cotton cloth substrate of gaffers tape give it a matte finish which is less likely to show up in film and video or onstage. The vinyl in duct tape's substrate make it more visible since it reflects light.

While both duct tape and gaffers tape can be written on with an indelible marker, writing on duct tape is much more likely to smear, since the writing stays on the surface of the tape. Since gaffers tape has a fabric surface, marking adheres to the tape much better and is less likely to smear or wear off.

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Harrison Bros. Inc.
47 N. Chatham Pkwy.
Chapel Hill, NC 27517