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A lot of people use the term “packing tape” without being too specific about their meaning. Technically, packing tape is any kind of tape that can be used to pack a box. Any tape of sufficient strength is good enough to get the job done, but this article is intended for those who want to do it right. Let’s explore the little-known history of packing tape in its various forms, and take a look at the various types. Thus, we will provide all the information about packing tape that you are ever likely to need.

The History Of Tape

The very first tape was invented by a surgeon named Horace Day in 1845. Dr. Day was looking for a more efficient way to hold wounds together, and this was his solution. He took a rubberized adhesive and applied it to small strips of fabric to create the first surgical tape. Chances are, no one realized how important this invention would become.

The next evolution of this idea came from a cotton buyer named Earle Dickson. Apparently, Mr. Dickson invented this substance to help his wife. The story goes that she was a little bit clumsy in the kitchen, and would often suffer small cuts to her hands as a result. Dickson would bandage her hands using the strips invented by Dr. Day, but it’s hard to keep a bandage on your fingers while working. In frustration, he invented the first version of the band-aid in 1921. This invention was enough to land him a position as Vice President of Johnson and Johnson.

Another key innovation came from a product tester working for 3M, an adhesives company that remains influential to this day. This tester was named Richard Drew, and he is now credited as the inventor of scotch tape. His first invention was masking tape, which he developed after watching cars being painted in auto body shops. He noticed that it was always difficult to paint a car in more than one color because it was hard to get the paint lines just right. As you probably know, masking tape is a good solution for this kind of problem.

In 1942, duct tape was invented for the U.S. military. Some might call this the ultimate evolution of tape because of its legendary durability. This tape was developed as a means of binding large open wounds and repairing gear in the field. Obviously, it had to be waterproof and strong in order to survive the biggest war ever fought. After the war was over, duct tape became a staple of every repairman’s toolkit.

The Different Types Of Packing Tape

There are literally hundreds (if not thousands) of different kinds of tape. However, this article is written for those who need packing tape, so we will outline a few of the types that are well-suited for this purpose.

Gummed Paper Tape

This is the brown paper tape that you have probably seen before. It’s made from Kraft paper, which is known to be very durable. It’s the same kind of paper that is used to make cardboard and most paper bags. Some people refer to this as Kraft tape, so don’t get confused.

This tape is very good for large boxes because it is wide and strong. It isn’t hard to cover the whole gap when you are using this stuff, and its adhesive tends to be very strong indeed. There is also an anti-tampering aspect of this tape. If someone tries to remove this tape, it will be nearly impossible to do so without leaving something behind. Those telltale signs can let you know if someone has been into your package without your consent.

Duct Tape

This stuff makes great packing tape, and it’s very cheap if you buy the off-brand versions. Duct tape is the thing to use for those instances where strength is crucial. For instance, moving a large glass mirror would be a good job for duct tape. When you seal something with duct tape, you can be pretty sure that it’s not going anywhere.

Most forms of tape will start to peel away if they get wet. It usually doesn’t take much moisture to trigger this peeling process. Duct tape, on the other hand, has sometimes been used to patch flood levees in the south, so you can be pretty sure that water won’t ruin your work. Another great thing about duct tape is the fact that it can easily be torn by hand. That means you don’t have to worry about fumbling with scissors or a knife.

Poly Tape

Poly Tape

This is the clear tape that most people think of when they hear the term “packing tape.” Believe it or not, this stuff is actually stickier than duct tape. Its ability to bond with surfaces makes it an ideal choice for moving boxes and shipping boxes. Once this kind of tape is firmly adhered to a surface, you aren’t going to remove it without removing some of that surface as well. This just goes to show how well it bonds and how strong its adhesive must be.

Of course, you won’t get that kind of adhesion unless you put a little bit of pressure on this tape. After being put in place, it requires a lot of rubbing in order to bond properly. Thus, it isn’t the quickest stuff in the world to use. Still, it’s dirt cheap, semi-waterproof, and extremely easy to find.

Strapping Tape

This might be the strongest kind of tape you can get, although it is a close contest between the strapping tape and duct tape. This kind of tape is made in much the same way as any other clear tape. They start with a sheet of plastic (polypropylene, in most cases) and cut it into strips. Those strips are then smeared with glue on one side and then reinforced with little stringy fibers. If you’ve ever seen a roll of tape that looked like it had little strings running down its length, that was probably strapping tape.

This kind of tape is meant to provide maximum reinforcement on box seams. The fibers have a tensile strength that is greater than that of most boxes, so this is a serious option. As the name implies, this kind of tape is also used for bundling items together. Anytime you need to strap something down securely during shipping, this kind of tape is likely to come in handy. The only downside is the fact that this tape is a little more expensive. As such, we would recommend saving it for the heaviest of jobs.

Tamper-Evident Tape

This is a type of tape that is meant for a very special purpose. Rather than being used to hold things together, it is used to ensure that no one tampers with an item while it is in transit. This kind of tape is often used for pharmaceutical shipments, which present a high-value target for thieves.

This tape works by leaving ink behind after it has been peeled. Thus, it is easy to know if someone has removed the tape at some point. Of course, there are ways to get around this measure, but it serves as one more thing that helps to maintain good security.

Water-Activated Tape

This is a special type of tape that provides amazing strength and adhesion. Its adhesive behaves a lot like superglue: Once you add it to something, you will not be able to remove it easily. However, it’s also very easy to control this tape because it requires water in order to work.

Until you add water, this tape just has a layer of dried adhesive on one side. By using a small sponge to dab water on this dried adhesive, the glue can be revived and will become wet and pliable again. The chemical reaction that follows will turn it into another substance, so you don’t have to worry about the glue dissolving on contact with water.

This stuff is great for a few boxes, but it’s not practical to use this kind of thing for mass quantities. Not only is it a little more expensive, but it also takes more time to use. Also, we aren’t sure why this kind of tape is usually backed with Kraft paper. Kraft paper is not water-resistant, so it would seem like a bad choice.

Should I Use Custom Tape?

A roll of tape can be customized in a lot of different ways. You can add different colors, designs, letters, etc. You can also have your tape made in a custom width, length, or thickness for certain jobs. However, these things will add extra steps to the manufacturing process. As a result, custom tapes are a lot more expensive. According to some estimates, the difference is pretty big. While a roll of packing tape is usually somewhere between $1 and $5, a roll of custom tape can cost as much as $40!

While a little bit of flair can be a good thing (especially for business owners who want to catch the customer’s eye), this is just too big of a price difference. If you can find custom tape at a reasonable price, it might be worth it to get a few rolls. All we can say is this: Good luck.

How Is Packing Tape Made?

The tape-making process is naturally going to differ from one type to another. As a general example, let’s look at the way that standard poly tape is made. According to this video, they start with a big roll of polypropylene plastic. The roll is placed on a machine called an unwinder. Before anything else is done, workers will add a strip of strapping tape to the end of the roll. In this way, one roll can be made to stick to the next roll. This helps to save time in the manufacturing process because they can effectively treat all their plastic as a single roll.

The unwinding machine uses a tension device to make sure that the plastic is pulled evenly, making a nice even base layer. A hot adhesive is then added to the surface of one side. This adhesive is a type of glue, but it’s nothing like the bottle of glue in your kitchen drawer. It’s made from a mix of rubber, UV protection agents, antioxidants to prevent aging of the material, and sticky synthetic resin that gives it the adhesion that it needs.

The adhesive is also the thing that gives poly tape its color. This type of plastic is completely transparent under normal circumstances, and that’s why the cheapest varieties are clear. However, some types of packing tape have dyes added to the adhesive mixture. This way, companies can manufacture this tape in any color that they (or the customers) want. Sometimes, a tape will be made with specific lettering to go along with the color change. Police tape is a good example of this, but it’s only one of many.

After the adhesive has been applied, the rolls of coated plastic are rolled back up and stored. When their time comes, each will contain about 8500 feet of tape. By cutting the big roll into smaller rolls, they create the small and convenient rolls of tape that we know so well.


Packing tape is definitely one of those things that people take for granted. However, we hope that this article has given you a whole new appreciation for all the work and ingenuity that went into the development of this stuff. Tape might have been invented for the purpose of closing ghastly wounds, but it has proven to be one of the most versatile and useful things on earth. That might sound like an exaggeration, but how many other things can be used in so many ways? If you have enjoyed our work, please fill out the contact form below so that you can receive more of our expert advice.