Gaff tape: it can save the day in a million ways and needs to be in every camera bag or stage manager’s kit. Here’s the lowdown on everyone’s favorite tape and why it’s so useful on any set.
First, a little history on our friend. Like any bff it has lots of nicknames: gaff tape, gaffer tape, or gaffer’s tape are the most common. It is also referred to as spike tape and camera tape. However, it’s original uses lay outside of the entertainment industries. It was developed in World War Two by Johnson & Johnson to seal ammunition boxes. When the war ended, the tape went on to be produced in a multitude of colors and sizes for television, film, photography and theatre industries.
Primarily, the tape is used to conceal and secure cables to the floor on film sets or theatre productions to keep cast and crew from tripping. This action literally means ‘to gaff.’ Many think the origin of the name links to film as well, as the lead lighting technician on film sets are referred to as gaffers. A thinner version of the tape is referred to as spike tape on theatre productions and is used to mark the layout of the set and furniture on stage. For photographers, gaff tape is often used to label their equipment and to reduce lens flare. Other than that, gaff tape can be used to to quickly repair just about anything on set.
So what separates gaff tape from its competitors? Mostly, the fact that it leaves behind no sticky residue. That’s right. The tape provides a strong, reliable hold, but comes off without a trace or damage to the surface. The waterproof tape is also desirable because it can be torn by hand and easily ready on the go. Lastly, unlike many of its counterparts the backing of the tape is matte cloth (meaning it’s typically black color blends in easily into stage or film floors), and its adhesive is rubber based and better at handling heat. The fact that it comes in a variety of colors also makes it ideal for labeling camera equipment.
So all in all, gaff tape seems to be pretty awesome. No matter what you call it, chances are it’s probably holding your life together, just like any good BFF.