Gaffer tape (also known as gaffer’s tape or gaff tape as well as camera tape and spike tape for narrow, coloured gaffer tape) is a heavy cotton cloth pressure-sensitive tape with strong adhesive properties. It is widely used in theatre, photography, film and television production, and industrial staging work.
While similar to and often confused with duct tape, it differs in the composition of both the backing, which is made from fabric as opposed to vinyl or other plastics; and the adhesive, which is usually rubber-based, is more resistant to heat, and is easier to remove without damaging the surface to which it was adhered.
The precise origin of the name is unknown, one theory being that it is named for the gaffer (chief lighting technician) on a film crew.When cables are taped down on a stage or other surface, either to prevent tripping hazards or conceal them from view of the audience or camera,they are said to be gaffed or gaffered.
The original manufacturer was the
Permacel division of Johnson & Johnson,and until the brand’s discontinuation by the current owner, was both the preferred brand and a generic reference used in the film, stage, and TV industries.
Properties and uses
Gaffer tape is manufactured in many colors, including fluorescent and custom colors, but perhaps the most common variety is matte black. A matte finish keeps the tape from reflecting light so it blends in with a typical stage floor. It is sold in a variety of widths from 1⁄4 in (6 mm) to 4 in (102 mm), with 1 in (25 mm) and 2 in (51 mm) being the most common. Gaffer tape is strong yet can be torn by hand, so no cutting tools are necessary, and it can easily be ripped into narrower strips when desired. The synthetic adhesive typically leaves little or no residue and will generally not damage most surfaces when it is removed. This is, however, more likely in warm conditions, so care must be used in considering whether a different type of tape would be more appropriate in a given application. Gaffer tape is usually more expensive than duct tape because it is manufactured in smaller quantities, has more exacting specifications, and is marketed for professional use.
A common application for gaffer tape is securing cables to a stage floor, podium, or other surface, either for safety or concealment. It is also frequently used whenever a quick ad hoc fix is required, from temporarily attaching fixtures or props, to salvaging a broken piece of production equipment. A narrow version of gaffer tape, called spike tape, is used in theater productions for floor layout.
In the absence of console tape or artist tape, live sound engineers or lighting board operators may use a strip of white gaffer tape along the bottom of a mixing board, to label the channels or submasters used for a particular show.