Kapton tape vs. Blue painter’s tape

Head-to-head comparison.

Keeping your models firmly placed on your print bed during the printing process is crucial to getting a high quality print.

Many of us have known the disappointment of returning to your awesome print in progress only to find the corners lifting off the print bed. The resulting warping throws the rest of the model off axis and subsequently ruins the remaining object being printed.

There are a number of solutions to help this 3D printing headache, however. One popular technique is to add either kapton tape or regular Scotch Blue painter's tape to the build plate to aid adhesion. The two tapes are very different in appearance and price, but both have reported similar results for helping 3D printers.

We put the two most popular choices for print bed adhesives head-to-head to see if you really do get what you pay for, and if all that glitters really is gold.


The contestants.

Before we jump into how each product performed in our tests, let's take a little time to get to know our contestants. I'm sure most of you, if not all of you, have come across Scotch Blue tape before, but if you're new to 3D printing, you're probably new to Kapton tape.

Kapton tape.

Kapton Tape for 3D printersUsed extensively in the Apollo space missions, Kapton is a heat resistant tape capable of withstanding extremely high temperatures.

Its super thin, film-like surface is incredibly smooth and easily bonds to your build platform.

Kapton tape, also known as Polyimide tape, is an electrically insulating heat resistant tape that has many applications for 3D printing:

  • Insulation/fastening
    Kapton tape is well suited for fastening heating elements. As such, it's the material of choice for fastening heating wire to the heater barrel of an extruder, such as the Mendel extruder. The Casainho extruder uses Kapton tape, for example. Kapton can also be used to tape the temperature sensor to the print head/extruder.
  • Print surface
    Kapton tape is a good print surface for printing ABS on a heated bed. For ABS to stick to Kapton, the Kapton needs to be hot (different sources mention minimum temperatures between 80-130 °C). Also, the Kapton should be free of grease, which can be removed with acetone or a propane torch.
Source: RepRapWiki

Scotch Blue painter's tape.

Scotch blue painters tapeKapton's main (if not only) competitor, good old fashioned Blue painter's tape, is the kind you find at any decorating, home improvement or stationary store and is a highly cost effective alternative.

For a long time, many 3D printer users have reported great results from Blue painter's tape, but does the low cost of the tape reflect in the quality of your prints?


 

Test 01: Covering the build platform.

Kapton tape.

Kapton tape for 3D printersLooking at my freshly covered build platform, I have to say the Kapton tape looks great, but getting it on was a pain in the butt. The super thin tape is hard to handle and challenging to apply the first time without air bubbles.

Using a credit card to place and smooth out the tape is recommended, but lifting off and readjusting the tape once stuck to the platform is very difficult.

The “Water method” is a great way to apply Kapton, but for the build plate we're using (FlashForge Creator) it's not a practical option.

One thing that was great about the super wide Kapton tape was it covered the entire build platform in one piece.

Blue painter's tape. Winner!

This stuff is made to be stuck down and removed easily, so applying it to the build plate was simple. The hardest part about the blue tape was lining up the two strips needed to fully cover the build platform. But the ease in which the tape can be removed and readjusted made the process painless.

One downside, however, is that no matter how well you line up your strips of tape, you can still feel a seam if you rub your finger over it. This won't be a problem if you print using a raft, but you may wish to look for the less readily available super wide Scotch Blue if you wish to print without a raft.

Click here to see reviews and prices for the best painter's tape on Amazon.com


 

Test 02: Surface quality.

Kapton tape. Winner!

Kapton tape texture 3d printingAs said earlier, the shiny surface of Kapton tape is incredibly level and flat, and as a result it's a perfect surface for printing without a raft. Kapton's glass smooth surface means it will not leave any marks or patterning on the bottom of your models, enabling for perfect prints.

It's about as thick as clear Scotch tape, although much more rigid. It's similar to the colored ‘gels' used to cover and filter lights in how it handles, so as said before, it's tricky to apply.

Once covered, Kapton is an extremely heat resistant, high quality surface material providing a micro-thin cover to your build platform.

Click here to see reviews and prices for the best Kapton Tape on Amazon.com

Blue painter's tape.

Blue painters tape texture 3d printingThere's no mistaking the texture of any masking tape and Blue painter's tape is no exception. The surface of the tape has the texture of the paper from which it's made, so raft-less prints may need a little love with some sand paper for a high quality finish.

Despite its rougher texture, painter's tape is incredibly durable and can be used many times over before needing to be replaced, so if you don't mind a little finishing work to your prints, painter's tape is still a solid low budget option.


 

Test 03: Model adhesion.

Kapton tape. 

Kapton TapeWith a properly calibrated printer, Kapton tapes performs well and makes a great surface for most prints. Its super smooth surface does bond with your models, but even the slightest inaccuracies in your build platform's calibration will quickly show themselves.

Kapton tape is a product better suited for more experienced makers than for those new to 3D printing.

Blue painter's tape. Winner!

Blue Painters TapeLike Kapton, Blue painter's tape is great for holding down models. This time, the texture of its surface helps, giving a little something for the model to bond with.

Where painter's tape stands out for me is in its forgiving properties. Where Kapton tape caused your print to show if your calibration is out a little, painter's tape still held everything down and got the job done. Admittedly, this came with a reduction in surface quality, but its ease of use continues to impress.

Click here to see reviews and prices for the best painter's tape on Amazon.com


 

Test 04: Durability.

Kapton tape. Winner!

Knowing that Kapton is good enough for N.A.S.A., you can imagine how well it performs in terms of durability. The memory of how annoying it was to apply faded (a little), as print after print came out without any major damage to the tape.

The surface held up well for 16 prints before it was damaged to the point of needing to be replaced, so for that reason Kapton is our winner.

Click here to see reviews and prices for the best Kapton tape on Amazon.com

Blue painter's tape.

This time, our low cost under dog came in second. While we did get more than one print per application, it did only take 4 prints before needing to change out the painter's tape.

One of old blue's positives (good bonding) sadly caused its downfall, as the paper surface stuck to the bottom of the print and tore off on print 4. Being so quick to re-apply, I didn't mind so much, but for this test we're looking at durability, so blue takes the silver.


 

Test 05: Removal.

Kapton tape. 

Sooner or later your build plate tape is going to need replacing and this is where the nightmare of applying Kapton comes rushing back to me ten fold. The tape tears into tiny thin strips whenever I try to peal it off and takes forever to completely remove.

The inconvenience of Kapton's application is just too annoying for me compared to Blue painter's tape.

Blue painter's tape. Winner!

This was no contest. The blue painter's tape pealed off easily and in one piece! Not much more you can say about that. 🙂

Click here to see reviews and prices for the best painter's tape on Amazon.com


Overall Winner……

Blue painter's tape!

Scotch blue painters tapeDue to its low cost and ease of use, Blue painter's tape is the best choice for me. I can overlook the surface quality issues since I normally do a little finishing work to all my best quality prints anyway. I do still keep a roll of Kapton, perhaps for if I'm doing a print that has a very long build time or just special occasions 🙂 But for everyday home 3D printing where you want to turn out a bunch of prints, I'd go with blue.

Blue painter's tape does what I need it to – it's quick to apply and remove and sticks to my models. My time is spent making things and not preparing to make things. It's cheap and easy to find and I recommend you use it! 🙂

Click here to see reviews and prices for the best painter's tape on Amazon.com