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FAQ - "What kind of tape should I use to mask off trim?"

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The latest in my series of FAQ threads, addressing our most common questions and concerns with aspects of detailing.

To many new detailers and detailing enthusiasts there can be a number of processes or steps that seem confusing or are easily misunderstood. One area for confusion is masking and taping. For someone whos never performed serious paint correction before or ventured into higher level detailing taping up parts of your car seems a little strange. Some people take it too far (see below)... while others probably could take it further.

*photo credit to C6Bill. OCD manifests itself in strange ways ;)

A vehicle, especially late model cars and trucks, features a massive variety of finishes, surfaces, materials, and components - each requiring its own unique approach to cleaning and care. As such it becomes important in some cases to avoid getting products intended for some uses on materials they're not designed for. We've all experienced that annoying wax stain on a rubber seal or jammed a bunch of polish into that crevice and it seems almost like there is no way to get it out. These are situations where a little work with masking tape in the beginning pays off with time savings in the end.

There is no 'one size fits all' answer here, but you should always approach masking from a standpoint of preventing as many possible issues, without creating so much work for yourself that you add more work than you save.

  • TRIM - Mask off window trim where it meets paint. This will allow you to work right up to the very edge of the paint while polishing or waxing without fear of staining with residues or creating a mess to clean up later. It also prevents oxidized rubber transfer to your pads/applicators that causes staining.
  • GAPS - Any area that you feel might become a spot where product could get trapped and you can't easily avoid should be taped off. Panel gaps, areas around complex handles, tail and head lights, etc. If its easy enough to simply avoid these areas or clean them after the fact don't feel taping is required, but if it is an area where if product were trapped you'd spend time cleaning perhaps a few moments to cover that spot is a wise choice.
  • VINYL ACCESSORIES & PPF - Many factory cars include vinyl stripe or accent packages. Also many owners opt to install clear protective films on the front end of their cars (PPF). These surfaces have a very well defined 'edge' that can trap polishes and waxes, those products then make these lines very visible and unsightly. Residues trapped in these spots can be very difficult to remove so tape is an excellent way to save time/effort. Matte and satin vinyls can be easily stained or damaged by polishes and waxes, so it is key to prevent contact with those surfaces by masking.
  • BADGES & EMBLEMS - Just as much as you want to prevent product caking up along these parts, its also key to protect your foam polishing pads. Many badges feature sharp or hard edges, so while the badge might survive a hit from a pad or applicator, the pad or applicator may not. Losing a chunk of your polishing pad in many cases can lead to other issues.


  • PEELING OR FAILING PAINT - If your car has an area that has been damaged or neglected and the paint has begun to bubble, peel, flake, or look excessively thin its best to avoid masking so the adhesive does not cause or exaggerate the damage.
  • PINSTRIPES OR OVERLAYS - If you've had a pin stripe artist lay a design on your car that is OVER the top of the clear coat its best to avoid masking these. In some cases, if a section of the stripe is not fully adhered the tape can pull the stripe up. The same is true for overlays, silver/gold leaf, and other accents applied OVER the clear. If these areas have been applied then a clear coat has been laid over the top they are safe to tape off, otherwise use caution and avoid them.

Tape is tape right? WRONG! The choice of tape on the store shelf today is as complex and varied as its ever been and its key you select a tape that is appropriate as well as safe for the surface you're masking. NOT ALL MASKING TAPE IS APPROPRIATE FOR DETAILING! Be sure to choose a masking tape that is low tac, designed for delicate surfaces.

Avoid tapes with chemical edge additives (examples - 3M edgelock tapes, frog tape, etc) These tapes feature a chemical additive that reacts with moisture to form a barrier and prevent 'bleed' when painting. This is a great and handy little bit of chemical engineering when you're painting a bedroom, not so much when you're detailing your car.

Below is an example image of these edge protecting additives reacting with a rubberized trim piece. This symptom can potentially be seen on any rubber, plastic, or vinyl trim and in some cases staining may be seen on single stage, lacquer paint, and some gelcoat finishes. Trim will appear 'swollen' and applications of dressings or protectants to the effected area will not adhere.


Choose tapes like Adam's Professional Detailers Masking Tape feature:

  • Super low tac adhesive for delicate surfaces
  • No chemical edge additives that can stain trim or paint
  • Coated outside to remain slick under abrasion from polishing
  • Reusable after multiple applications
  • Semi-transparent on contact to make masking easier



  • TRIM - in most cases trim staining from edging chemicals is simply a matter of removing the additive from the surface and getting it out of the materials pores. Use a degreaser like Adam's All Purpose Cleaner and a microfiber towel to scrub the surface clean. A few repeat applications might be necessary to remove all the residues. Follow up with an application of a quality, water based, trim dressing like Adam's Super VRT to restore an even look and protection.
  • PAINT OR GLASS - Use a 50% diluted mixture of isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol and a microfiber towel to remove surface residues. If staining remains a light polishing might be needed to remove the issue. A fine grade polish like Adam's Paint Finishing Polish is often all that will be needed. Be sure to follow up with an application of your preferred wax or sealant to restore protection.
Edited by Chewy
Linked to new finishing polish
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Thanks for the info. I wonder about this every time I go to buy tape. There's so many different types at a wide range of prices. I guess someone needs to be a tape engineer to truly understand all the differences. BTW, I have yet to pick the right one for interior painting because none have worked perfectly yet. However, I've been lucky using them for detailing.

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It's a good thing I read this before I used the tape I just bought because its the 3m with edge guard or whatever it's called. I'll be taking it back and getting something else.


Thanks for the info Dylan, great work.



Dream Workz Auto Detailing using Tapatalk

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  • 5 months later...
  • 1 month later...
  • 11 months later...

Well it looks like I will be adding Adams Masking tape to my next order.


I love this tape!  And even though it is 'low tack' it sticks well.  And it is reusable too!  I will often polish one side of the car, then remove the tape and place it on the other side before polishing there.

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  • 1 month later...
  • 1 year later...

I noticed the online store doesn't have the tape mentioned above (must have stopped selling it?) - can anyone point me to a 3M product that is something similar to the old Adam's tape? I'm not trying to provide an external link or discuss the competition's products - since Adam's doesn't sell tape I would like your input on what I should buy. Thank you.

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I noticed the online store doesn't have the tape mentioned above (must have stopped selling it?) - can anyone point me to a 3M product that is something similar to the old Adam's tape? I'm not trying to provide an external link or discuss the competition's products - since Adam's doesn't sell tape I would like your input on what I should buy. Thank you.


3M #06529 (3/4 inch) Precision Masking tape is similar the tape Adam's carried.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Would 3M automotive performance masking tape be good? or no because it has high adhesive strength?


I believe the 3M part number is 03435.  Or is Adams bringing anything back to the market?

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I am saving this. I used some blue painters tape on my mom's new subaru and it left residue all over the place. I will grab some of this tape and give it a try! Terrific thread.

There's one type that has extra adhesive to get an improved seal. That's the one that leaves residue on trim.

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3M #06529 (3/4 inch) Precision Masking tape is similar the tape Adam's carried.


I saw this tape in my local Advance Auto Parts.  It is a lighter green than their painters tape.

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  • 4 years later...
1 hour ago, SgtLip said:

No pictures and web links in main article do not work.


Unfortunately, lots of old threads had photos hosted on Photobucket, and when they started charging people for an account, many photos were lost.


Website links have also changed over the years, and since Adam's no longer sells masking tape, the link cannot be updated.


Other than that, the info is still good!

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