Duct Tape vs Gaffer Tape: Head-2-Head Challenge

Posted by Mark Gibbons on 12th Dec 2020

Gaffer tape and duct tape are essential toolbox items. They stick to almost anything, and their list of uses is virtually endless. But what is the difference between the two?

Duct tape has a strong, semi-permanent adhesive and offers excellent water resistance. It's versatility and economical value, make it popular in a wide variety of industries. Gaffer tape, on the other hand, has low-residue, removable adhesive. It's generally designed for short-term, on-the-spot applications and is very popular in professional film, TV and live events. 

We put a range of gaffer tapes and duct tapes head-to-head to see how they compared in real life.

Duct tape had the stronger adhesive. 

In our tests, we found that duct tape adhesive could be up to twice as sticky as some gaffer tapes. This allowed it to bond to a huge variety of surfaces. Additionally, they performed better on uneven surfaces, like carpet. It's this versatility that makes duct tape popular for everything from home DIY and gardening, to construction and automotive. It's even been used in space rockets - remember Apollo 13?

There was, however, one exception; Industrial Grade Gaffer Tape. This tape outperformed all other tapes in our test. It's far from the 'average' gaffer tape, we class it as a specialist product. But its impressive performance deserved a mention.

Best in test: 
High-Tak Duct Tape (Brand: MagTape® Xtra by Le Mark) 
Industrial Grade Gaffer / Cloth Tape (Brand: ProGaff by ProTapes)

Gaffer tape left less residue. 

We tested our tapes over a period of 60 days. All gaffer tapes removed cleanly from surfaces including steel, aluminium, vinyl, carpet, wood, ceramic tile and plastic. We found minor residue on rubber cable from two of the gaffer tapes, but it was minimal. However, the duct tapes left small amounts of residue on the aluminium, ceramic tile and plastic, as well as the cable.

We feel that, for this reason, gaffer tape is the preferred choice for film, TV and photography professionals. Equipment in this industry is highly valuable and residue needs to be kept to a minimum. See below for testing information.

Best in test: 
Pro Grade Gaffer Tape (Low Residue) (Brand: MagTape® Original by Le Mark)
Industrial Grade Gaffer Tape  (Brand: ProGaff by ProTapes)

Best in test special mention: 
Indoor/Outdoor Duct tape (Brand: MagTape® Utility by Le Mark) gave an exceptional performance. With only very minor residue on rubber cable, it was on a par with more premium gaffer tapes. 

Duct tape had the best water resistance. 

Our duct tapes scored highly in a 60 day outdoor weather test. At the end of the test period, most duct tapes remained unphased by wet weather, whereas many of the gaffer tapes had begun to lift at the edges.

A polyethylene top coating makes duct tape highly waterproof. As a result, they were more resistant to rain when compared to the non-coated gaffer tapes. See below for testing information.

Best in test: 
Multi-Purpose Duct Tape   
Indoor/Outdoor Duct Tape (Brand: MagTape® Utility by Le Mark)

Gaffer tape can be torn both ways.

Good quality gaffer tape is easy to tear along both its length and width, making it ideal for on-the-spot applications. This adds to its appeal in the TV & Film industry, where having only one free hand is a regular occurrence. 

We found that the duct tapes were easy to tear across their width, but due to a lower cloth content, it was much harder to tear length ways.

Best in test: 
Pro Grade Gaffer Tape (Gloss) (MagTape® Original by Le Mark)
Pro Grade Gaffer Tape (Matt) (MagTape® Matt by Le Mark)

So, which one is best?

Both gaffer tape and duct tape are loved worldwide, each for their own benefits. Gaffer tape is mostly used for short term, indoor applications where low residue is important. Whereas, duct tape's strong adhesive and water resistant coating makes it extremely versatile and able to be used both indoors and out.

As the saying goes: "If you can't fix it with gaffer tape, you're not using enough."

Testing information: We performed these tests in-house and in real-life situations - not in a lab. As a result, you may not get the same results for every application. Therefore, we recommend all users assess the suitability of any product themselves, and for their specific application. We also only tested a handful of products, therefore these results should only be considered as relevant for the individual products tested. 

Weather tests were performed by applying the tapes to a sheet of aluminium. They were placed outdoors and positioned at an angle of 45 degrees. The test period ran between October and December. Weather was a mix of cool sunshine, rainy days and low temperatures. 

Residue tests were performed indoors at room temperature (approx. 21 degrees Celsius).

Products we tested: Multi-Purpose Duct Tape, Hazard Duct Tape, Indoor/Outdoor Duct Tape, High-Tak Duct Tape, Low Residue Gaffer Tape, High-Tak Gaffer Tape, Industrial Grade Gaffer TapeUltra Heavy Duty Gaffer Tape

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