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Is there a suitable tape for permanently joining pieces of cardboard or paper together, that can then have paint (or other finish) applied to it just as it could to the paper/card itself?

I’ve been making some polyhedra out of cardboard—nothing fancy, just corrugated stuff cut from boxes, joined together with some painter’s tape that I had handy. This was originally in the nature of a prototype, before I draw up something to be printed on paper or card, complete with tabs for gluing.

The intended context is a school classroom. I’d like to make, or let students make, something reasonably sturdy that will last a few months, sitting around. (If I can make something more durable that will last me a few years, so much the better, but that’s a lesser consideration.)

But the more time I spent on this prototype, assembling the pieces with tape, the more I liked being able to use tape instead of glue. It covers the joins, and it’s easier to apply to the final joint than trying to press down a tab that’s on the inside of the object!

The trouble with painter’s/masking tape is that it’s meant to be peeled off, and so it doesn’t stick very securely. Already some of the edges on the earliest pieces are peeling up. But the more permanent tapes I have (or know of) have a plastic surface. I’d like the finished object to take paint, or pencil, or whatever—so students can decorate their work freely, and I can add some visual appeal (or mathematical info) to mine. And I’d like to avoid having to wrap it in a paper coat first! I want the tape to essentially give the same surface as paper or card.

My own searching hasn’t turned anything up. I did learn that masking tapes come in different adhesive strengths, so maybe just picking a stronger tape would serve?

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  • How big? I'm thinking you could cut strips from A4 or letter printer labels. The biggest aren't quite full sheet but they'd get you to about 25cm long. Some use really quite strong glue
    – Chris H
    Jan 26, 2023 at 6:35
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    minor consideration: I know you aren't thinking on long time scales, but after 15 years or so, virtually any tape adhesive will probably turn to powder and release on its own. Then again, the cardboard itself will become pretty brittle as well: cardboard is pretty acidic. (personal experience with old to very-old artworks and storage)
    – Yorik
    Jan 26, 2023 at 20:39
  • @Yorik true but not insurmountable. The cardboard could be dealt with by using mounting board (as in picture framing) which can be acid-free. It's more expensive but cuts cleanly with some effort and is robust. The glue is more of an issue. But I have inkjet labels that have stayed stuck securely to paper for over 25 years (labelling ownership in textbooks that I can date pretty accurately)
    – Chris H
    Jan 27, 2023 at 9:06
  • What kind of paint are we talking about? Something strong / hard, which lasts "forever", or some dusty something which goes away with any air movement around it? The answer to this might lead to some hack...
    – virolino
    Jan 27, 2023 at 11:58
  • @virolino I hadn’t thought that much about it! The most likely candidate is cheap school-supply acrylic.( Actually, the most likely thing to decorate them isn’t paint at all, but coloured markers…) I’ve added some extra context to the question, both to cover what it’s for and to clarify how “permanent” I mean. Jan 27, 2023 at 14:27

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There's carton sealing tape that's basically kraft paper, or two layers of paper with embedded threads for extra strength, with glue on one side. You typically wet the glue to activate it. It's used for shipping cartons, so it holds up pretty well.

The main caveat is that for permanence, you need to do a good job of wetting the glue and making sure it's well-adhered. That would work well for corrugated cardboard or chipboard. It might be a bit much for card stock. The tape is ubiquitous in the US. Your profile shows that you're in Australia. If this didn't come to mind, maybe it isn't commonly used in Australia?

The question mentions paper and card stock as well. For lighter materials like that, you could make your own tape with paper strips and a glue stick.

One other lighter duty option that comes to mind is variations on double-sided tape. Some types dispense like tape, you apply it, then peel off the top layer, which is some form of release film. Some others come in an applicator dispenser. You run the applicator over the surface and it dispenses a ribbon of adhesive that is ready to use. Use that in combination with a paper strip.

You can prefold the strip down the middle to aid in alignment. This is basically the paper and glue stick option, but a little faster and with less mess.

Actually, since the models don't need the kind of strength of a shipping box, the lighter-duty tape would probably be fine for the cardboard, too. The main thing to watch with recycled corrugated cardboard or chipboard is that they can collect a lot of dust on the surface in storage and use, which degrades how well the adhesive sticks.

Joachim's comment on paper tape warping is an important consideration. Paper that's glued down should be fine. But portions that aren't well adhered could warp or bubble when painted. You would want to test the double-sided tape option for that before using it since there would likely be portions of the paper not glued down. If using a glue stick, you'd need to be careful to get complete coverage. With carton sealing tape, you'd want to be meticulous about getting all the glue well activated and getting the entire piece of tape well adhered to the cardboard.

This would also be a consideration for using paper for the model. Almost any kind of paint could warp paper segments. With card stock, a few very light coats of non-water-based spray paint should be OK, but that might warp if painted with water-based paint. The surface of corrugated cardboard can distort if it gets wet, so don't saturate it with a heavy coat of water-based paint. It does better with several light coats of non-water-based spray paint.

Chris H makes a great suggestion in a comment:

Cut strips from A4 or letter printer labels. The biggest aren't quite full sheet but they'd get you to about 25cm long. Some use really quite strong glue.

That saves you the mess and time of working with a glue stick or double-sided tape. Just to take that idea a step farther, depending on the size of the segments, the needed tape dimensions might be close enough that a standard precut label would work.

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    I do think that any kind of paper tape will start to warp once it's painted over.
    – Joachim
    Jan 26, 2023 at 17:37
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    @Joachim yes, and if you could find some that wouldn't, it wouldn't take water-based paint nicely
    – Chris H
    Jan 27, 2023 at 9:07
  • @fixer1234: what is the life expectancy of that glue on the carton sealing tape? Usually these glues become brittle and unusable after some time, letting the box spread wide open.
    – virolino
    Jan 27, 2023 at 12:00
  • @virolino, I know what you're referring to. I hold onto cartons for reuse and sources of cardboard. On some old ones, the tape is held on in only a few spots and on others, you can't scrape the tape off without tearing the cardboard. I've noticed the same thing on newly delivered cartons. I think it's a case of people in the shipping room doing a haphazard job of wetting and applying the tape. My assumption: if it's applied well, it becomes permanent. If not, it can come loose. But we can't rule out differences in glue between tapes.
    – fixer1234
    Jan 27, 2023 at 18:19
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You might try a paper self-adhesive or gummed (water-activated) hinging tape. These are designed for framing applications, and tend to adhere well to paper; they're similar to the carton sealing tape described by fixer1234, but without the reinforcing threads. It's rather easy to get your hands on, as it's extensively used in framing applications; I'd suggest sticking to paper over linen (search for "paper hinging tape" instead of just "hinging tape" to find sources available to you). It should take paint equally as well as your paper and/or cardboard base, as it's also paper-based.

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Drywall tape is cheap and pretty permanent. It is designed to have drywall mud applied over it, but paint sticks to it as well.

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In our first aid kit there's always a roll of sticky tape to apply wound dressings. Since we almost never use the first aid kit, this tape is used for various different situations.

The base material is a thin, lightweight fabric, so it's extremely bendable but doesn't tear. There are woven and non-woven varieties. Since the non-woven ones stretch, I suggest using a woven one.

The glue also sticks much better than most standard sticky tapes or paper labels (we use it to label freezer containers. Paper labels simply fall off in the freezer). You can write on the tape with a pen, so I assume you can also paint it.

I don't know what this tape is called in English. I found terms like "surgical tape", "cloth tape" or "fixing plaster" (might be a bad translation). It looks like this:

enter image description here

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    Certain ones could be really good for this, but you have to be careful to get the right one. Big range of materials, some are water-repellent. Big range of adhesives, very temporary to pretty sticky, etc. Also, medical tape is intended for temporary use, so there isn't a focus on the adhesive being long-lasting and not deteriorating or breaking down. If you identified good candidates for this, any chance of finding more specific identification or product info? People could always test different ones, except for how long the adhesive holds up. And they all look pretty much like the picture.
    – fixer1234
    Jan 27, 2023 at 7:12
  • If you can't find more specific info on what you found that's good, maybe just add a caveat to try different ones and test them? These comments are for your info. Use them as you see fit and just delete them after you've seen them.
    – fixer1234
    Jan 27, 2023 at 7:16
  • "Micropore" may be a brand name or generic, either way worth a look. The stuff I repurposed recently for packaging (first aid kits in work go out of date; it seemed a shame to waste it) was stuck so well after a few months that the glue was stronger than the tape. Eventually it will fail though. The brand I have here would be no use - I have no paint but it would bead on the surface based on what water-based pens do. Even some solvent-based inks are repelled
    – Chris H
    Jan 27, 2023 at 9:12
  • Some "surgical tape", most (medical) "cloth tape", and all "sticking plaster" or similar would be rather too thick
    – Chris H
    Jan 27, 2023 at 9:13
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If you want your "art" to last a long time, I would exclude any ribbon product with glue on one side from the factory.

First you should find a good glue for paper, which will not die in a few months / years. Then make your own "ribbon" of paper - cut long stretches of paper from something. You might even find for purchase such ribbons - without the glue. Then apply the glue, apply a ribbon of mesh of fiberglass (used in constructions and home repairs), then the paper ribbon. Make sure that the fiberglass mesh is fully "immersed" (covered) with glue, before adding the paper ribbon. Paint as needed when it is cured.

If the glue is paintable when cured, you might not even need to use a paper ribbon. Just glue the fiberglass mesh on one side of the carton box, let it cure, glue it to the other side, let it cure. at the end, if needed apply another level of glue (it will also minimize the height of the bumps created by the fiberglass). Paint as desired.

If you look for additional artistic effect, use some fabric instead of fiberglass. Hemp sack comes first to mind. Either cut it as ribbons, or use it to cover large areas. Apply it as I described before. he surface of your art will now have the texture of the fabric (hemp sack or something else), and the color of your choice.

You might even use different fabrics on different areas / edges, for more artistic flexibility.


The thing you were doing at the beginning with those tabs was actually one of the better things you could to - quality wise.

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    Are you attaching pieces of a paper sculpture or repairing a concrete wall? :-) The sculpture pieces aren't under any kind of stress. Good point that you don't want the adhesive to dry out and fall off, but using a fiberglass web or hemp cloth would create a thick layer vs. just a strip of paper. Wouldn't it make more sense to focus on a good permanent adhesive that could be used with a thin connecting material like paper? Using thin fabric would open up some artistic possibilities, though.
    – fixer1234
    Jan 27, 2023 at 18:35

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