Not all painter's tape is made alike. At the home store the most expensive tape is 2-3 times as expensive as the cheapest. What do you get for your money. Let's take a look at what matters when buying painter's tape.
First and foremost the tape must stick to the surface it is applied to, and must remain in place for a significant time. Almost all brands of tape stick well enough to be used for painting. Problems happen when the tape either sticks too well, or not long enough.
Tape that sticks too well can pull paint off the wall when it is removed. This can create a significant amount of additional work.
On badly engineered tapes some of the adhesive can remain on the wall instead of being removed with the tape. Removal is not easy, because the adhesive cannot be cleaned with water. If left on the wall, the adhesive will collect dirt. Packaging tape falls into this category. It was never intended to be removed in a non-destructive manner.
Most tape will stick well enough when applied. Cheap tape, however, can lose its grip and fall off after a couple of days or weeks. Direct sunlight can accelerate this process. Some types of tape will only stick for a couple of hours in direct sunlight.
Quality tape will stick properly and will stay in place for several weeks. The tape tolerates temperature variations, and does not leave behind any adhesive on the walls.
2. Paint Bleeding
When using tape for painting a straight lines, paint can bleed under the tape at it's edges.
Quality tape uses a special chemical in the adhesive that neutralizes paint. Any paint that gets under the tape will react with the adhesive. Instead of sticking to the wall below the paint, the paint comes off with the tape. The result is a crisp paint edge with no bleeding paint.
Cheap rolls of tape do not have this protection. Any paint that makes it below the tape will dry there. It's almost impossible to apply this type of tape and not come out with at least a few bleed stains in an average size room.
Quality tape with bleed protection has an expiration date. Most will lose their bleed protection capability after about a year. Buy only as much tape as you need. Storing painter's tape for extended periods of time is not recommended.
3. Easy removal
After the painting is done, the tape must be easy to remove and discarded. The property of strong adhesion that is so important in the prep stage becomes an issue during the cleanup. Good tape is just as easy to remove as it is to apply. The secret is all in the adhesive.
The Tale of two Tapes
All of this creates two types of painter's tape, each with its own usage.
Tape for paint edges
Tape that comes in contact with paint must be engineered for this event. Despite tape being labeled "painter's tape", not all tape is intended for this purpose. If you want a crisp edge, you must use a quality tape.
The two most popular types of painter's tape are:
3M Blue tape (Amazon):This type of tape has been around for decades. It works and is a favorite of painters all over the world. Still as expensive when it came out, 3M's blue tape is a good choice no matter the project.
The standard blue tape sold at the home centers performs well for all common painting tasks. Paint stores sell other types intended for special circumstances.
Frog tape: (Amazon) The new contender is a stiff challenge for the old master. Frog tape performs just as well as 3M tape. Some painter's prefer it.
Either one of these options will perform well. A novice will do well with either one. Pros may or may not notice a difference.
Tape for drip protection
Tape that does not come into contact with paint does not have to be high quality tape. For example, the tape used to tape plastic drop cloth to the floor does not have to have special properties. Professional painter's use cheap tape for this purpose.
While Frog tape and 3M blue tape can be used for this purpose, there is no reason to pay for all its paint blocking properties. The cheap tape gets the job done just as well.
Painter's tape that comes into contact with paint must be engineered for the purpose to prevent paint bleed through. 3M blue tape and frog tape are proven options for this purpose. The expensive stuff does really work better.
Tape used to for other task such as securing drip cloths, or creating a drip shield can be any type of tape. It's best to have a cheap roll around for these tasks, and save the expensive tape for areas where a sharp pain edge is necessary.