Duct tape is great, no question, and for certain applications it's probably one of the best tools around. It adheres to almost any surface, is highly water-resistant when applied dry and well-sealed, and its reflective surface is also useful at times.
There are many times, though, when duct tape isn't all it's cracked up to be. Times when its lesser-known cousin, gaff tape or gaffer's tape, is more up to the task.
Choose Cotton-Backed Gaff Tape for Flexibility and Versatility
Duct tape's vinyl or plastic backing makes it somewhat brittle and inflexible; wrapping around tight curves or folding across sharp angles can leave gaps that prevent a perfect seal, and left in place for a long time duct tape is prone to cracking.
Gaff tape's cotton backing solves these problems with its cotton cloth backing, which makes gaffer's tape not only more flexible than duct tape but which also gives it a slight stretchiness. This allows gaff tape to be used in places duct tape can't reliably go, and to stay put longer without presenting the same problems.
There's no loss in adhesion when you choose gaffer's tape, either; it sticks just as well as duct tape to any surface, and often has an even stronger grip. Better still, gaff tape removes cleanly from almost anything no matter how long it's been in place—adhesive residue and those pesky clingy strings are non-existent problems.
This is part of the reason why gaff tape has been the tape of choice in the entertainment industry for over half a century. Stick it down for a strong hold that lasts as long as you need it, then pull it up again and leave everything as clean and pristine as you found it.
Color Choice, Labeling, and Other Gaff Tape Benefits
The plus sides of cotton-backed gaff tape don't end there. Available in pretty much any color you can imagine, gaff tape can blend into the background or make itself known according to your preference, It's completely non-reflective, making it ideal for any use where catching extra light is counterproductive (that impromptu fishing rod or lure repair, for example), and its non-sticky side can be written on with pencils, pens, and felt-tipped markers for labeling ease.
Gaffer's tape also tears cleanly and easily, both across its width and down its length—you don't need scissors or any sort of cutting edge to get a piece of tape just the size you need, and with straight, clean lines to boot. Whether you're making a stage, keeping cords tucked away on a film set, bundling some camping gear or patching it up, having a roll of gaff tape handy will make your job easier and a whole lot more secure.
Keep in mind that because gaffer's tape is made with cotton instead of vinyl, it is water permeable and isn't well suited for applications where you expect abundant moisture. If it's going to stay dry, though, and especially if you want a secure hold that releases cleanly, gaff tape is definitely the way to go.