Gaffer Tape Is Better than Duct Tape

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Did you know that gaffer tape is superior in many ways to the legendary duct tape? Especially for those in the photography and video world, only one tape product reigns supreme over the pop-culture favorite. Not only is it great in studios and on sets, but gaffer tape also has almost unlimited uses in the home and garage and outperforms duct tape in many categories.  

Looking for a different kind of tape? B&H Photo has a huge selection of different gaffer and specialty tapes… including duct tape! 

The Legend—Duct Tape 

Over the years, the ubiquitous duct tape has gained a reputation for strength and versatility and has become the choice of handy people everywhere. Finding uses all over the Earth, on popular TV shows, and even in emergency repairs on and inside spacecraft in flight and on the surface of the moon, duct tape has proven itself to be an amazing product with an incredible number of uses. 

However, there is a better solution in almost every case… 

ProTapes Pro Gaffer Tape
ProTapes Pro Gaffer Tape

The Gaffer’s Secret Weapon—Gaffer Tape 

One of the biggest downfalls of duct tape is the fact that it leaves an incredibly messy residue when you remove it. If the installation is permanent, then all is good, but if, for some reason, you need to remove, adjust, or replace the tape, duct tape is proud to leave its “fingerprints” behind. 

Gaffer tape leaves little to no residue when removed and, for this fact alone, it has become a staple in the photography and video world—on location and in studios. With gaffer tape, you can secure cords and gear, mark spots for actors or models to stand, affix light modifiers, label and mark gear, etc., and then remove the tape without mucking up your cords, floors, backdrops, expensive lighting, cameras, and more. 

Advantages of Gaffer Tape Over Duct Tape 

Besides the huge no-residue benefit of gaffer tape, there are many more advantages to using it over duct tape. 

Gaffer tape is usually made in matte, non-reflective colors. This makes it better for studio use where it reduces the chance of unwanted reflections from lights, but also makes it stealthier for use around the home and office. 

ProTapes Pro Pocket Fluorescent Color Spike Tape Stack
ProTapes Pro Pocket Fluorescent Color Spike Tape Stack

Gaffer tape is more heat resistant than duct tape—critical for thermally sensitive applications around electronics, lighting, etc. While you will see gaffer tape and duct tape rated to 200°F, duct tape experiences altered performance between 140-180°F and can melt at 200°F—talk about residue! In fact, scientists at the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found, in a 1998 study, that duct tape sealed ducts poorly (why is it then called duct tape?) due to its thermal properties. 

While duct tape is easy to tear across a strip, depending on the brand, it can be frustratingly difficult to tear it lengthwise to make smaller-width strips. Gaffer tape is tear-friendly along either axis (when you need to tear it) and this makes it possible to quickly lay down strips of different lengths and widths. 

A Few Advantages of Duct Tape Over Gaffer Tape 

To be fair, gaffer tape doesn’t win in every category. Duct tape is a bit more flexible and stretches more than gaffer tape. Also, duct tape’s plastic coating makes it more water resistant than gaffer tape’s cloth. Some studies have found that duct tape’s adhesive is stronger than the adhesive in some (but not all) kinds of gaffer tape. Lastly, duct tape is cheaper than gaffer tape but, as the saying goes, “You get what you pay for.” 

Gaffer Tape in the Photography and Video World and Everywhere Else 

I mentioned some of the uses for gaffer tape above, but there are countless jobs for gaffer tape on any location set or studio in the photo and video worlds; some photographers and videographers never leave home without gaffer tape in their camera bags

At home, one of my primary non-photographic uses for gaffer tape is for mounting plastic tracks for small, die-cast cars on a stool—giving my son a steep slope down which to accelerate the cars. Because the tape leaves no residue, I can remove the tape from the tracks and stool and leave no evidence behind. And, if I am careful when removing the tape, I can even re-use the same strip of gaffer tape again and again! 

 

Gaffer Tape

Duct Tape

Leaves No Residue When Removed

X

 

Matte and Stealthy

X

 

Heat Resistant

X

 

Easy to Tear Widthwise

X

Easy to Tear Lengthwise

X

X*

Strength

X

X*

Water Resistant

 

Stretch & Flexibility

 

Price

 

Shiny and Noticeable

 

Leaves a Sticky Mess When Removed

 

* Depends on the brand/tape.

Do you have any questions about gaffer tape or its uses? Let us know in the Comments section, below! 

16 Comments

Back in the day, the 80's, I managed a plant that produced among other things duct tape and gaffers tape. I still have part of a roll of gaffers tape we produced back then and it is still going strong. As far as duct tape goes, if I ever produced materials like Duck Tape and others sell, I would have been fired. We made it for the named purpose, taping ducts!

Hey Phil,

Good stuff! Thanks for sharing. I, too, have noticed that gaffer tape doesn't seem to age while duct tape, left for years in the garage, turns into something unusable!

Thanks for reading!

Best,

Todd

Duck Tape (the original high quality tape that many others have made cheap imitations) and gaffer tape are two different things for two different types of use cases.

The real question I want to see answered is how much, if any, difference there is between high quality gaffer tape and high quality painter's tape, which is also a fabric tape that leaves no residue. And again, like authentic Duck Tape there are plenty of crappy imitation versions of painter's tape out there, but let's limit the comparison between high quality examples of each.

Hi Michael,

Interesting question to pose. In my experience, gaffer tape is much easier to work with, curve, and then re-use than painter's tape. Yes, there is a huge difference between brands and qualities of painters tape, and it certainly has its uses, but much more expensive gaffers tape is, in my opinion, more versatile and easier to use.

Thanks for reading!

Best,

Todd

I need to replace the sunroof frame on my 2011 Chevy HHR. One of the pivots that springs the wind baffle up is broken. The tilt up from the rear works, but it takes two people for the glass to slide back. I have gaffer tape covering the switch that slides the glass open and close.

Hey Ralph,

1000+1 uses! :)

I, too, have used gaffer tape in a car confident that it won't leave residue on the trim or paint.

Thanks for reading and sharing your experience!

And, thanks for reading!

Best,

Todd

PLEASE stop confusing and swapping "duct tape" for "gaff tape"! They are VERY different things, different compositions, different applications, and different price points. I have used hundreds (probably thousands) of yards of both in my career. I would not use gaff tape to seal my ducts or repair my tarps, and I would not use duct tape to repair, hack, modify, secure, or otherwise affix to or near my photo gear!
 

The difference between gaffer tape and duct tape is that the former is incredibly useful and the latter is worthless. Especially for sealing ducts. It dries out quickly and disintegrates. The uses of gaffer tape are endless.

I use a small strip of gaffers tape to hold down the pop-up flash on my camera while shooting a concert from the pit. it's very easy to accidentally bump the release button for the flash while moving around in a pit full of photographers.

One of the worst things you can do is to pop a flash while shooting a live concert. It's annoying to the artist as well as the crowd, and can get you removed by security...

Once upon a time, back in the early 70`s, duct tape was actually made for what the name implies, sealing HVAC duct work and came into favor with auto racers for impromptu repairs, frequently for securing damaged body work to prevent kiting, and became known as "racers tape", "100 MPH tape" and later, "200 MPH tape". Somewhere along the line the utility of duct tape was learned and became appreciated by many in everyday life and it became a favorite of those in the military. My own belief is that the demand in general, as well as the demand by DOD for duct tape resulted in the multiple off brand, crap quality products that are on the market as duct tape. Gaffer tape has seemed to have remained a high quality product, as I think it's limited application, use, and fairly high price, hasn't created a market demand that resulted in lowering of product quality.

Since I started using gaffer tape instead of duct tape, I've been able to eliminate the brush & touch up paint from my kit

They just said what they used it for and left out WHY it's awesome.  For those that have never used it and are wondering whats the difference from duct tape.

Gaffer tape is made out of a cloth-like material that is easier to tear, but at the same time is just as strong if not stronger than duct tape. The adhesive is also superior. It comes off cleanly instead of leaving a sticky residue and it can be re-stuck several times with almost just as strong a bond as the first time.

I am not a fan of the pop up flash on cameras. I do a lot of outdoor charity event photography, and the events go on, rain or shine. The last thing I need is to have the pop up flash pop up in a rain storm. First thing I do when upacking a new camera is to use gaffer tape and tape shut the pop up flash, plus those miscellaneous doors on the camera.

I have Gaffer tape and Duck® brand tape, not duct tape. Compared to DUCK BRAND tape duct tape is crap. Photographers should know the difference.

Once again, it seems that people - even pros - do mix gaffer tape and duct tape ...

 

I've used gaffer tape for hundreds of situations while shooting for 60 Minutes but the best was when I was shooting on boat in the middle of the ocean and the engine blew a hole in one of the hoses.  With no spare we repaired the hose With gaffer tape and finished the shoot and returned home safely......

thanks Mr. Gaffer wherever you are!